Mikhailovka Doukhobors Commemorated by Spring Naming

For Immediate Release – November 29, 2008

A spring near Thunder Hill, Saskatchewan has been officially named to commemorate the Doukhobor pioneer settlers of Mikhailovka. The name “Mikhailovka Spring”, proposed by Doukhobor researcher and writer Jonathan J. Kalmakoff, was recently approved by the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board.

Mikhailovka Spring is located on the NW 1/4 of 36-34-30-W1, two miles south of Thunder Hill, Saskatchewan and four miles northwest of Benito, Manitoba. It flows into an adjoining creek which empties half a mile east into the Swan River. It flows year-round and is considered an excellent source of fresh and abundant natural water.

“Place names reflect our country’s rich cultural and linguistic heritage,” said Kalmakoff, a leading authority on Doukhobor geographic names. “In this case, the name Mikhailovka Spring commemorates the Doukhobors of Mikhailovka, their settlement and their story.”

Mikhailovka village, 1908. The spring was located along the creek beside the bridge, center. Library and Archives Canada, PA-021116.

The village of Mikhailovka (Михаиловка) was established at the spring in 1899 by Doukhobors from Tiflis, Russia who fled to Canada to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. It was the first Doukhobor village in Canada. For eighteen years, the villagers of Mikhailovka lived, worked and prayed together under the motto of “Toil and Peaceful Life”. Then in 1917, the village was abandoned as villagers relocated to individual homesteads in the area or to communal settlements in British Columbia.

The Doukhobors of Mikhailovka had a strong and direct connection to the spring,” said Kalmakoff. “Indeed, the spring was the primary reason the settlers chose the site for their village. They dammed the spring and utilized it as a drinking water source and as a water source for their farming operations. In many ways, it defined the village settlement. Travellers of the Fort Pelly Trail, which ran past the village, also used the spring as a source of nourishment.”

The prominence of the spring at Mikhailovka was noted as early as 1899, when the famous Canadian woman journalist Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1862-1933), writing under the pen-name Lally Bernard, made note of it in her book “The Doukhobor Settlements” which describes her visit to the Doukhobors of Mikhailovka village that year.

Another view of Mikhailovka village, 1908. The spring was located along the creek near the bridge. Library and Archives Canada, PA-021129.

The official name comes after a year of consultations by Kalmakoff to gather input and support for the name from local stakeholders. The response was firmly in favour of the name. The landowners, Robert and Daren Staples of Benito, Manitoba, provided a letter of support. The Benito Doukhobor Society also endorsed the naming project. As well, the Rural Municipality of Livingston No. 331 passed a resolution in favour of the name.

The consultations were followed by a formal detailed proposal by Kalmakoff to the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board, the Provincial body responsible for place names. The Board reviewed and investigated the name proposal in consultation with government departments and agencies. In determining the suitability of the name, the Board was guided by the Geographic Naming Policies, a stringent set of principles governing the naming of geographic features. Its decision – which supported the name Mikhailovka Spring – was then recommended to the Minister Responsible for the Board, the Honourable Ken Cheveldayoff, who approved the decision.

Now that the name is official, the Saskatchewan Geographic Names Board will supply the information to government ministries and agencies, cartographers, geographers, publishers and other persons engaged in the preparation of maps and publications intended for official and public use.

“The naming of Mikhailovka Spring reflects the area’s strong Doukhobor heritage and their important contribution to its historic development,” said Kalmakoff. “The name is a culturally important connection between past generations, present and future.”

For additional information or inquiries about Mikhailovka Spring, email Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

A Doukhobor Wedding Dress

by Leslee Newman

In 1867, a wedding dress was handmade and worn in a traditional Doukhobor wedding ceremony in the Caucasus, Russia.  Thereafter, it was carefully preserved and passed down through the generations.  Today, over one hundred and forty years later, this historic garment is part of the extensive collection of Doukhobor artifacts held at the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.  The following commentary, reproduced by permission from the Saskatoon Sun, April 25, 1999, outlines the story of the dress from its origins to present.

Within sight of Mount Ararat, which according to the Bible was the resting place of Noah’s ark, Onya Kabaroff and Fedyor Perehudoff pledged their union. The young Doukhobor couple began their life together in 1867. Half a world away in North America, four provinces joined to form a new country, Canada. Onya (Anna) and Fedyor (Fred) could not have known that they would someday leave their small village in the Russian province of Georgia to make this new country their home.

Anna’s mother began to prepare for her daughter’s wedding long before the special day. She spun flax into thread, wove the thread into cloth, sewed the cloth into a full length dress. The dress has long sleeves, with gathering so fine at the wrists and neck, and embroidery so delicate, that it challenges you to imagine producing such work by the light of a flickering flame. A hand-woven geometric-patterned band decorates the hemline.

The blue woollen apron also was made from hand-woven cloth. After washing and carding, the wool was spun, then woven into a fine cloth. The apron was gathered at the waist. The hem was decorated with a colourful woven band and hand-knit lace.

Dress worn by Onya Kabaroff on her wedding to Fedya Perehudoff in 1867 in Russia.

The short, padded vest was hand-sewn from cotton. Since cotton was not a cloth that could be produced at home, it was likely purchased on a rare trip to a large trading centre. All items must have been lovingly prepared by Anna’s mother for her daughter’s hope chest.

Thirty-two years after their marriage, Anna and Fred made the heart-wrenching choice to leave their home and travel with 7,500 others of Doukhobor faith to Canada. Leo Tolstoy, the well-known Russian writer, sponsored Doukhobor immigration to what is now Saskatchewan, financing the trip with proceeds from his book Resurrection. The Quakers, another pacifist group, also came to their aid.

Anna’s wedding dress was packed and made the long journey from Russia to the tiny village of Ospennia, 15 kilometres southeast of Blaine Lake in what was then, Canada’s North West Territories.

It is likely that Anna wore her dress on Sundays and special days like the annual June 29th commemoration of the Burning of Arms. On that day, a large tent was set up to house the people who gathered for prayers, songs and ceremony.

Firm in their belief in the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” Doukhobors rejected the call to serve in the Russian military. On June 29, 1895 they collected their weapons and burned them. Thousands were punished with death or exile. Doukhobors have commemorated June 29th faithfully since that time.

On Anna’s death in the 1930s, the dress was handed down to her daughter, Dasha (Dora) Postnikoff. When Dora died, Anna’s dress went to Dora’s daughter Agatha. It was donated to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum by Anna’s granddaughter, Agatha Stupnikoff, on behalf of the Postnikoff family.

“The people then tried very hard to accept the Canadian way of life, so they switched over to Canadian dress quite early. Anna’s dress came out only on special occasions,” recalled Agatha.

“Doukhobour people come from all walks of life. It isn’t a nationality, it’s a belief,” Agatha explained as she mused about the exodus from Russia her grandparents joined in 1899. They were not young people, both in their fifties when they came to Canada, with the strength of their belief sustaining them through hardship.

Agatha Stupnikoff’s sensitivity to her family’s story and Doukhobor history was shared by her husband Sam. Motivated by their desire to preserve these cherished garments, they consulted family members, then offered the wedding outfit to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum.

Ruth Bitner, WDM Collections Curator, accepted the donation with gratitude, stating “Despite the fact that people from so many different cultures made Saskatchewan their homes, the WDM has few examples of traditional clothing. Costumes like this are a tangible reminder of personal journeys, leaving the familiar culture of the homeland for an unknown future in faraway Saskatchewan.”

For More Information

The Saskatchewan Western Development Museum (WDM) is the museum of social and economic history for the Province of Saskatchewan. It is a network of four exhibit branches in the cities of Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Saskatoon and Yorkton. For more information about the WDM, its programs, events, exhibits, and the many Doukhobor artifacts in its holdings, visit the WDM web site at: www.wdm.ca.

My Life Story

by George P. Stushnoff

In his later years, George P. Stushnoff (1922-2001) wrote about the history and settlement of his family in the Langham district of Saskatchewan and of growing up there in the Twenties to the Forties.  In simple and straightforward style, he recalls the everyday scenes of Doukhobor life on the Canadian Prairies.  Written in 1990, his “Life Story” was published posthumously in 2003 in “The Stushnoff Family History: Kirilowka and Beylond” by Fred & Brian Stushnoff.  Reproduced by permission.

Alexei and Anna Stushnoff were the earliest settlers of my family name.  Born in Russia – he moved to the Republic of Georgia in the Caucasus Wet Mountain region, east of the Port of Batoum on the Black Sea, and some 50 miles west of Tibilisi (Tiflis) Georgia.  To escape from religious persecution, they came to Canada because the Canadian government by Order-in-Council granted them religious freedom and military exemption from war service, which was not available in Russia.  They traveled by refurbished cattle freighters from Batoum and arrived at the Port of Quebec on June 21, 1899, then went by train to Manitoba, Yorkton, and Saskatoon.  A much larger contingent went on to Rosthern to settle in the Blaine Lake area.  The Saskatoon group, including my parents, settled originally in the Doukhobor village of Kirilovka, 4 miles west of Langham.  Others of this group settled at Bogdanovka village at Ceepee and still others settled the Pokrovka village in the Henrietta school district.  My grandparents arrived in Canada with no personal possessions except their clothing.  Their two sons, Peter (my dad) and my Uncle John were 10 and 16 years of age respectively.  Peter married Helen (Hannah) Voykin.  John married Dora (Doonya) Woykin while living in the village of Kirilovka.

My grandfather Alexei had one married brother who arrived at the same time and settled in the same village.  His name was Dmitry and his wife was Maria. Dmitry and Maria had one son and four daughters.  Alexei’s twin sister Anyuta also arrived married from Russia.  Her husband was Savely Dimovsky. Alexei and Anna had a daughter who died back in Russia at 16 years of age.

Alexei Stushnoff family c. 1914. (Back L-R) John, Nick, Pete; (Middle L-R) Dora, Alexei, Anna, Helen; (Front L-R) John, Pete, Bill. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

Prior to 1906, the village produced goods more or less for self-sufficiency as lands were broken up gradually.  The first crops were used predominantly for feeding the increased livestock herds of cattle and horses.  My parents did not move into the Lutheran-Lynne school district until 1919.  At that time, cattle and grain were taken to Langham and shipped to Winnipeg.  Sometimes the returns did not cover rail shipping costs.  Saskatoon and Rosthern were the nearest trading centres and sources of supplies.  In the first two years, groceries were brought in by backpacking.  Even bags of flour were carried this way in emergencies.  Other times, several men would pull a load of wheat to Saskatoon and return with a load of flour.  Garden vegetables were hauled occasionally to Saskatoon by team and wagon and sold from door to door.  By late afternoon, any unsold vegetables were sold at minimum prices to restaurants so that groceries could be purchased before store closing and returning home during the night.  We depended on the horses to take us home while we slept in the wagon box.  The return trip took two nights and one day plus a day in digging and preparing the vegetables for sale.

Development took place by working communally in the village.  My dad Peter was only 10 years of age upon arrival in Canada.  As he grew up he began earning and saving his own money building railroads.  Upon getting married to Helen Voykin, he and his brother John struck out on their own by jointly renting out a 1/2 section of land, which was later purchased by Paul Edie (East 1/2 of S-31, T-38, R-8, W-3M).  On August 30, 1919, my dad made a purchase agreement on the home place (NE 1/4 of S-29, T-38, R-8, W-3M) from Tumble Company Ltd. as the original owners of title granted to them on August 19, 1919.  The home quarter, without any buildings, was valued at $5000.  Title was attained on December 30, 1925.  It had originally been designated as school land with a legal right-of-way for the Battlefords Trail.  The countryside had lots of bush and grass (parkland) with a few scattered settlers.  No graded roads existed.  The Saskatoon/Battleford Trail cut diagonally across the Northeast quarter.

Most of the prairie sod was broken a little at a time with a two-furrowed gang plow pulled by 4 horses.  After all the grassland was broken, additional acres were made by pulling trees out by their roots.  The trees were either chopped down or bulldozed and the land ploughed with a tractor and breaking plow.

The first set of buildings on our farm consisted of a house, granary, horse bam, cow barn, and a chicken coop.  These were made of logs, with clay-mudded walls and a sod-covered roof.  They were all set in a row and adjoining one another.  Later, a modest two-storey wood-frame house was built, with dimensions of 14′ x 20′.  A year or two later, a lean-to kitchen was added on the end.  It had a clay-mudded floor to begin with, and later, a wooden board floor was put in.  The farmyard also had a clay-mudded, log-walled, sod-roofed steam bath house (banya) which was put into operation every Saturday night.  Neighbours were always welcome.  Our Norwegian and English neighbours often paid us a visit.  It became my job to heat up the stones and supply the water.

Peter A. Stushnoff family c. 1927. (Back L-R) Bill, Pete; (Front L-R) Mary, Helen, Annie, George, Peter. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

No modern buildings were put up until I started farming in 1948.  In 1928, after a Model T Ford was purchased, we managed to build a little garage for it.  It was made out of axe-hewn and split poplars with a cedar shingled roof.  This was a big spending splurge just before the great Depression of the 30s when land was sold to pay the taxes.

Later, Uncle John and his family moved to the Canora, SK, area.  His son Alex remembers riding on the freight train in 1934 with their horses and cattle to the Canora district.  Later, most of Uncle John’s family moved to British Columbia.

There were no roads to speak of in these early times.  There was a Saskatoon/Battleford Trail that ran diagonally across the farm that dad bought in 1919.  As lands became cultivated and fenced, people were forced to develop trails along the surveyed road allowances.  So the Trail became a hit-and-miss affair and was eliminated by the mid-Twenties.  I was born in 1922 and have a recollection of one Ford Model T traveler who tried to follow the Trail.  I remember opening a gate to let him through our land.  We privately kept a trail across our farm to shorten the distance to Uncle John’s place.  We used to visit back and forth with our cousins quite frequently.  We were almost like brothers and sisters.  There doesn’t seem to be such closeness between cousins anymore.  As cars became common, municipalities started grading up the low spots so that the cars wouldn’t get stuck in the sloughs of water in spring and after heavy rains.  More popular roads became graded their full length.  Grading probably began in the mid-Twenties and accelerated in the Thirties.  Farm grid-roading and gravelling started in the Fifties and completed in the Sixties.  As Councillors of the R.M. of Park, Norman Westad and myself had the grid road built through this community, past the Lynne School and connecting the No. 14 highway with the No. 5 at Ceepee.  For my ancestors, modes of travel commenced with walking, then proceeded to the use of oxen, horses, buggies, wagons, bicycles, cars, trucks, trains, and finally, airplanes.

Our post office was 10 miles away at Langham and neighbours would take turns bringing out the mail, which probably averaged once a week.  Rural mail delivery came to our place, I believe, in the early Thirties, every Tuesday and Friday.  In winter it was delivered using horses and sleigh.  There was no mail for us before the establishment of the Langham post office.

Most illnesses were treated at home with home remedies.  We didn’t seem to have needed any doctors except when my younger sister was born.  Dr. Matheson from Asquith came out to the farm.  Mother had arranged for our cousins to pick up my sister and me and go out for the whole day picking strawberries along the roadsides.  When we came home, we saw our new baby sister and other evidence that a doctor had been there.  When I was in about grade six or seven, I sprained my ankle playing football at school.  My dad took me to a Mennonite self-taught chiropractor (naturalist).  He had my ankle set and bandaged.  I limped for a while and it gradually healed perfectly.

Lynne School was located 2 miles south of our farm and was of frame construction with stucco finished walls and tin roof shingles.  It had a full basement with a coal-fired furnace.  When I started school, there were about 40 students from Grades 1 to 8, plus my brother Bill and Clifford Lindgren taking Grade 9 by correspondence.  Later I also took my Grade 9 and 10 by correspondence and finished Grade 11 and 12 at the Langham High School in 1941.  I also earned enough money, being a janitor for Lynne School, to buy myself a brand new bicycle.  I was so proud of it!  I didn’t mind the extra early hours I had to get up on winter mornings so I could fire up the furnace and have the school warm enough for classes.  Of course, when it was -40, it never warmed up till the afternoon.  Kids spent the mornings huddling around the floor heat register.

Looking back on harvest, to me it was the best of times and the worst of times!  The crops were cut with horses and binder and I usually ended up having to do the stooking with my sister Annie.  The first day was an adventure, especially if the crop was good and the stocks were free of Russian thistle.  Day after day the job became more tedious!  My dad bought a George White threshing machine and a Lawson tractor.  Every fall, Dad would line up about eight or more farmer customers for whom we threshed.  While Dad and my brother Pete operated the threshing outfit, my brother Bill and I would haul sheaves, each with a team of horses and a hayrack.  This job was really a test of endurance.  There were eight teams on the crew, four to each side of the threshing machine.  You had to load up your rack while three unloaded.  Of course most people took pride in their work by bringing in a reasonably good load and on time so that the machine didn’t run half-empty.  There was always one or two workers who rounded off their load a little smaller and always had time for a rest in between.  Not me!  My foolish pride made me work till I ached all over!  Since the family owned the threshing outfit, I felt obligated to set a good example of work ethic rather than slacking off and embarrassing them.  However, the social contacts were a good experience plus the most wonderful food was served.  The servings of food were only equaled on festive occasions such as Christmas or weddings.

Winter evenings were a time for sitting around the wood heater and eating sunflower seeds and visiting relatives.  To help prepare the wood supply, trees were chopped down and hauled into the yard.  Many wood-sawing bees were held in the neighbourhood.  There were never-ending chores of feeding cattle and horses twice a day, and palling water from the well to water them.  And, there was the stinky job of cleaning out the manure from the barn and hauling it by stone-boat to spread out in the fields.

Young unmarried adults used to take turns hosting parties in their homes over the weekends.  This meant overnight stays, so you can imagine wall-to-wall people sleeping on the floor on all available homemade mattresses and blankets.  Some of these were brought along to keep warm in the sleigh, since the party goers came from as far as 10 miles away.  These were not exactly pajama parties; people slept in their clothes, if sleep were possible.  My 12 year old cousin, Johnny Malloff, who came along with his older brother Bill, kept annoying one of the older guys by repeatedly tickling his feet.

George & Laure (Petroff) Stushnoff wedding photo, 1946. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

In summer we used to gather at the ball diamond and play baseball with pickup teams.  The better players were selected for the ball team that competed at the various sports days.  We had some winners!  Our team even played at the Saskatoon Exhibition.  I am referring to the Doukhobor boys from Ceepee/Henrietta communities when I talk about our team.  We maintained close cultural ties.  For several years the ball diamond was located on my brother Bill’s farm.  It was also a place for picnics and Peter’s Day.  As I was growing up, I was really a part of two communities.  I played on the Lynne School softball team, which was one of the best in the district, and I was goaltender for their hockey team.  When I attended Langham High School I was also on the softball team that played against Borden, Radisson, and Maymont.  My schoolmates from Lynne School (Ivan Thue, Larry Aune, and Norman Westad) were also on the team.  In hockey we sometimes played against the adult Doukhobor team from west of Langham, with whom I also had close relationships.

Christmas was celebrated strictly as celebrating Jesus’ birthday through worship services.  There was no gift giving.  However, it wasn’t long before the commercialized Canadian custom had its negative impact.  So much to be said for assimilation!  Our most important cultural/religious event was the commemoration of Peter’s Day on June 29 of each year.  On June 29, 1895, our ancestors, while still in Russia, collected all of their personal weapons and made a huge bonfire out of them as a sincere declaration of refusal to bear arms or participate in military service.  It stemmed from the religious belief, “Thou shalt not kill,” or destroy the body’s temple in which God resides.  The soul, being the image of God, resides in every human body, without exception.  It was the Burning of the Arms that precipitated severe religious persecution and consequent migration to Canada.  The Doukhobor decision to migrate to Canada was made only after Canada passed an Order-in-Council.  Some boys were imprisoned while others served in labor camps. I, personally, was exempted from service because I happened to be employed in two high-priority essential industries: education and agriculture.  The government seemed to respect that more than the legal religious freedom that had been granted by law.

I started my off-farm career teaching school after a short 12-week stint at the Saskatoon Normal School.  I taught at Worthington School, southwest of Loon Lake; Morin Creek School, west of Meadow Lake; Henrietta School, west of Langham; and Smeaton public and high school.  I resigned in June 1947.

My dad operated the farm till the spring of 1948 when I took over by renting.  Dad gave me 4 horses and 2 cows plus the old horse machinery consisting of a gang plow, 4 sections of harrows, a disc, a seed drill, mower, and binder.  Since Dad decided to retire at 60, I quit teaching school and took up farming.  After the war, there was a shortage of new tractors so my first attempt at motorized farming was the purchase of a Wyllis-Overland Jeep in 1949.  It served the double purpose of tractor and automobile.  After a good crop in 1950, I managed to trade the Jeep as a down payment on a new International 3/4 ton truck and a W6 tractor.  We grew wheat and raised cattle, milked around six cows and sold cream.  Later, we raised 4000 broiler chickens per batch, turning 3 1/2 batches per year.

While farming, in 1952 I volunteered to canvass the district for interest in Rural Electrification.  It was a successful venture and electricity came through in 1953 to this particular region.  SaskPower put in the power after I proved that 75% of the farmers would sign up and pay their deposit of $750.

In 1955, I organized the Central Park 4-H Beef Club which later became a multiple project club including beef, grain, automotive, gun safety, and home economics.  In all, I was 4-H leader for 13 years, with 3 of those years as the district chairman.  I served as a trustee on the Lynne School Board until its integration into the Saskatoon West School Division at Langham.  I also served a 3-year term on the R.M. of Park municipal council.  My voluntary services also included the chairmanships of the Farmers Union Local and the Langham Doukhobor Society.

In 1968, at 45 years of age, I quit farming and took on a job with the Federal Dept. of Indian and Northern Affairs.  I leased the farmland to Mitch Ozeroff for 8 years, and then made an agreement for sale to my daughter Sandra and her husband Edward Walker in 1976.

In 1973, I transferred to the Dept. of Secretary of State to administer the program of Human Rights and Multiculturalism.  In these past years I lived in Prince Albert, Yorkton, Regina, and finally in Saskatoon, where I retired in 1988.  Laura and I now live in the Brandtwood Estates, a seniors condominium in Saskatoon.

George & Laura Stushnoff, 1999. Photo courtesy Fred Stushnoff.

As Russian speaking people of the Doukhobor (“spirit-wrestlers”) faith, our people have retained the traditional worship and funeral services to this very day.  Traditional clothing was always worn for worship services, but lately, it is only worn on occasion, such as a choir costume for special festivals.  Traditional foods of borshch, blini (crepes), perohi (vegetable and fruit tarts), ploe (rice and raisins), vereniki, and lapshevnik (a noodle and egg cake) are still very much in vogue.  We are just beginning to conduct our worship services in both Russian and English languages, eventually becoming English for the sake of all the intermarriages taking place.

Doukhobor to Doukhobor marriages are becoming a rarity.  With freedom and democracy breaking out in Eastern Europe, we feel that our pacifist beliefs are coming of age and should be shared with the rest of society.

George P. Stushnoff (1922-2001) exemplified the Doukhobor ideals of toil and peaceful life. Chairman of the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society and the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan for many years, George strove to preserve and share the Doukhobor way of life, and to promote inter-cultural harmony in his community. He once stated that “I find it spiritually fulfilling to participate in promoting local and international harmony among all people.” In 1995, he recieved the United Nations 50th Anniversary “Global Citizen” Certificate for contributing to the advancement of peace and global harmony.

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

My Beautiful Sons – Why Did You Have to Die?

by Akim A. Fominov

In the 1890’s, hundreds of young Doukhobor men endured persecution and suffering as a result of their refusal to perform military service. The following is a true, first person account of Doukhobor Akimushka A. Fominov’s visits to where his two sons were exiled for denouncing military service and surrendering their army tickets. Reproduced by permission from the pages of ISKRA Nos. 1915-1916 (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C., 2001) it features the struggles and tragedies that occurred during that time. Recorded by William A. Faminow. Translated by Vera Kanigan

I

After surrendering their army tickets and denouncing military service because of their newly declared pacifist beliefs, Vanya (Ivan) Fominov and Grisha (Grigory) Gorkov were first arrested and then placed in prison in the Kars Region. Soon thereafter, they were led on foot to Tiflis where they were exiled to the Tartar villages close to a place called Agdash.

On the way to Agdash, the military horsemen herded them 40 kilometers on foot, attempting to cover this distance in one day. The young men were humble and obedient, walking diligently. It was very hot, and they got extremely sunburned and thirsty. Coming upon a creek by the road, they drank with great zeal – they were unaware that the water was not suitable for drinking. When they had arrived at the designated place of the wealthy Becka (officer who looked after exiled people) it would not have been too bad, as he gave them adequate quarters; however, shortly after, they both turned very ill. They wrote to the Fominov family and explained their situation. I, Akimushka Fominov (Ivan’s father), decided to secretly go to visit them.

When I arrived, I tried to make them as comfortable as possible and looked after their needs before returning home. After some time, they wrote once again, telling me that their illnesses had continued, and indeed, gotten worse. This time I invited my daughter-in-law Masha (Ivan’s wife) to accompany me.

When we got off at the last train station, we were supposed to walk another 40 verst (kilometers) on foot. Here I asked my daughter-in-law to dress in a man’s attire, as the road was very remote, frightening and open to all kinds of occurrences. This precaution of ours was very wise as two Tartars happened to catch up to us on horseback, and with suspicion, asked us many questions.

By the time we arrived at the young men’s living quarters, the sun had already set. Grisha Gorkov sat beside the house leaning against the wall, apparently feeling very sick and not even noticing us until we came up very close. As we walked closer, the thought went through our heads, “God, why are you young people suffering here, as you have not done any evil to anyone in the world?”

My son Vanya was in the house and he looked a bit more cheerful. We did not waste much time in pleasantries but immediately tended to the tasks at hand. I went to see the Becka and took from him a kettle and started to heat water for a bath as they had been eaten up by lice. First of all we bathed Grisha and then Vanya and then we boiled their clothes to get rid of the lice.

In the morning Grisha looked more cheerful and asked me if I could arrange to move him to another village – Kietkeshen. This village was eight or nine kilometers from Agdash and they had good water and a more tolerable climate. In that village were two more exiled young Doukhobors – Feodor Ivanovich and Nikolai Vasilievich Tikhonov. I went to address this request to the Becka. He agreed and sent a Tartar on a bullock-cart to transfer Grisha and his belongings. I went with Grisha and helped him settle in with the Tikhonovs and then returned to my son and daughter-in-law. We discussed with my son that we needed to return home, so we proceeded to arrange our return trip. But Vanya’s health had not improved, and he asked us not to leave him alone. His wife, Masha, decided to stay with him for the winter while I returned home. I agreed to come for her in the early spring. 

Burning of Arms, June 29, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

When I came back to the village on February 25th, I spent some time with Vanya and Masha and then walked to visit Grisha Gorkov. Grisha appeared a bit more cheerful this time, but both Grisha and our son Vanya’s health was not very encouraging. When March came, we decided to travel home to the Kars Region. Vanya became very despondent but said: “Once you have decided, do not delay your plans: I will accompany you to Agdash.”

I then went and asked the Becka if he would allow for such a plan. The Becka agreed and even gave us a horse for Vanya to ride on. When we woke up in the morning, preparing for our return trip, Vanya appeared very ill. He hardly ate anything for breakfast, drinking only half a cup of tea. We started to talk about postponing our trip, but Vanya would not agree to this, and we proceeded on our journey.

Vanya rode horseback, and we walked on foot. By the time we arrived at Agdash, our young man turned worse, swaying on the horse, and when we helped him off the horse, he lay down and was unable to walk on his own. We were unable to leave him alone, so I decided to find temporary living quarters. I was unable to find anything. The only place where there was vacancy was in a small hut where a single woman, a Kazonian Tartar, resided. She agreed to allow us to lay Vanya on her porch providing that Vanya’s wife would look after him, as to leave a single man with her would be viewed questionably by the surrounding residents. She made a living by doing laundry in the region, and if people would hold her in suspicion, her source of income could cease. 

We were glad even with this porch, laid Vanya there, and then I proceeded to find the village doctors. They prescribed medicine that did not help at all, so we decided to transport Vanya back to the Tartar village of Agdash. To our good fortune at this time, a Tartar from his village was here on a bullock cart. For three rubles, he agreed to take Vanya, cautioning us that he would travel very slowly, as that is how his buffalo are accustomed, and he did not want to ruin them. 

After travelling all night, we arrived in the morning. My ill son had turned worse and passed away on the second evening. I went to tell the Becka about what had happened. He sympathized and asked, “What are your plans now?” I replied that we want to bury him according to our own tradition, and therefore, needed to make a coffin.  He gave us some boards and sent a Tartar somewhere for the tools. He also sent another rider to Kietkeshen to get the Tikhonov cousins to come and help with the burial.  The rider returned quickly and said that half way to the village he met up with a messenger from Kietkeshen, sent to inform us that Grisha Gorkov had died as well – he was on his way to tell us that we should go there to help with that burial! 

We buried my son on our own. Even though the tools were not adequate, somehow we were able to cut the boards and nail the coffin together. The Tartars dug out a grave at the place where we requested. The police officer came, offered his sympathy, wished him to enter God’s Heavenly Kingdom, and left. With the help of the Tartars, we lowered the coffin into the grave and covered the body with dirt, while I said a prayer for my dear son: “Please accept his innocent soul into Your Everlasting Abode, as this sacrifice was offered for the adherence to the great commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill…” 

Upon returning to our quarters, I asked my daughter-in-law to assemble the clothes and belongings in order so that I could go to Kietkeshen to see if they buried Grisha Gorkov. When I had arrived and asked the Tikhonovs about Grisha, I was told that Grisha had died the same morning; and unbeknownst to me at the time, at the same hour and at the same minute as our son Vanya. I stayed a while at the Tikhonovs, then gathered Grisha’s belongings and returned to my flat.

When we got ready for our return trip home, we realized that we had too many items for us to carry and went to the district police officer to request permission to give us a ride. He did not allow us to take Grisha’s clothes, as according to the law, they were required to be returned by mail. When I objected, he said: “Aren’t you satisfied with all that I have allowed already?” My orders from my superiors were not to permit you to even make contact, but you were here and even lived here. If the authorities learn this, I will be fired from my position! I need to feed myself!”

I did not pursue my request any further, but thanked him for all of his concessions and left. Without Grisha’s belongings, we were able to proceed on foot. On the way, we stopped at the Becka’s quarters. His Matushka almost cried at Masha’s leaving because she had been a big help to her while looking after her husband Ivan.

When we arrived at Agdash, we realized that we didn’t have enough money to go by train. To our good fortune, however, Molokan carriers were travelling to Alexandropol and they agreed to take us along. On the way, they stopped in their village, Voskresenovka right on Sunday. We all attended moleniye (prayer service) together. These were the steadfast Molokans. They were not jumpers. Their Father Superior read the psalm: “Listen, King of Everlasting Glory.”

When we arrived with the Molokan at the town where we were supposed to get off, and we started to give them the promised 1 1/2 rubles, he took into consideration our hardship and did not accept any payment. We thanked him sincerely from the bottom of our hearts and bade him farewell.

From the town we traveled home with our neighbour. Our relatives gathered to meet us but all we brought with us was unbearable pain. Everyone who came cried and expressed their sorrow for Vanya. Only his very own mother, and my wife, did not shed a single tear, but paced around the house, whispering and praying to God…

II

My son, Fedya, for refusal to serve in the army along with others, was sent to the disciplinary battalion at the Ekaterinogradskiy prison. We received a letter from him that they were badly beaten for the second time; that is, they were whipped with birch rods. Military officers were trying to change their minds about serving in the army, and we heard that they decided to obey by using some of the firearms.

For that reason, I decided to travel and find out for myself how they were and what was being done to them, as many elders, both men and women, begged me to go there as soon as possible. They said that I had a son there and I would be allowed to speak to him. I decided not to put this off, gathered my belongings, bade farewell to my family and went on my journey. I travelled with my neighbour as far as the town of Aleksandropol and immediately came to the post office and asked the postmaster when the mail would be leaving. He told me that in a 1/2 hour it will leave to Delezan and that I can go with the driver in the wagon. I was happy with this arrangement.

I sat down and we left on our way. When we arrived at the train station, I got on board and traveled to the city of Tiflis. There, I had a chance to see many brethren (Kholodenskiye). They were dispersed among the Georgian villages. I had an opportunity to speak to several of them, and I learned that with the majority of them, their situation was very dismal.

I continued my trek further, from here to Dushet, travelling by train. From Dushet I traveled on the letter-carrying horses, over the Kazbetskiye mountains to Vladikavkaz, then by train to Prakhladnoe. From there, I went by horseback to Ekateringradskoye station, where the prison was located and where my son Fedya was being held in the disciplinary battalion. In the station there lived mainly Leninskiye Cossacks. I entered my former quarters where I had once previously stayed.

Group of Russian Prisoners with Heads Half-Shaven, circa 1890’s Photo by John Foster Fraser.

The proprietors welcomed me pleasantly and said: ” So, Starichok (“Elder”), have you come to visit your lads?” I replied that, yes, I want to see them. They said: “This is the situation, old man, that we need to tell you. Please do something about your lads. Ask them to serve in the army like everyone else, or ask the authorities not to punish them so harshly, or approach the Tsar himself so that he could arrange some sort of lenience or pardon. Just a short while ago they were so harshly beaten and tortured that they screamed and cried with inhumane sounds. It is getting to the point where it is impossible for us to stay here, as their cries break our hearts. At this station reside five hundred families, and the last time nearly all of us moved three kilometers away just so that we couldn’t hear their heartbreaking screams…” I replied that I’ve come here for that very reason, to speak to the lads and the authorities. At this time I went to the fortress.

From a distance, I noticed that six people sat on the roof of a new building, which was part of the prison stronghold. They were covering the roof. I walked up closer to the gate of the fortress and saw a soldier walking away, carrying a garbage pail. Behind him was a corporal. I walked up closer and started to greet them loudly. “Good day, countryman! Are any of our Doukhobors here?” The sentry man answered: “Certainly not!”

Apparently, those who were on the roof heard me and when I looked up, I noticed that there were only five of them, as one of them had already left. He ran and climbed along the wall of the fortress and started to greet me. It was Lukyan Fedorovich Novokshonov. He immediately started to say: “Akimushka, I beg you, please leave from here immediately. Do not even show yourself to the officials. They are extremely angry right now. The other day they tortured us almost to the point of death. We barely survived. They told us that if any of your hometown people come here for a visit, we will also rip a strip out of them and will deport them home like convicts. ” I gave him some money and said that it is to share with those in need. He jumped off the wall and ran away from me. I looked up and there he was, once again, sitting on the roof in his own place. Obviously, he was afraid of being noticed.

He frightened me so much that I stood still for a long time, contemplating my next step. What should I do now? Should I listen to Lukyan and return home? But everyone would gather and ask me: “How are the lads, what is with them?” I would have to tell them that someone warned me not to show myself to the officials for they would tear me apart, and therefore, I was too afraid to stay. What will my people say then? The lads are so young and are enduring such extreme torture -“for whom and for what? For our common cause, and you, old man, are running away?” I thought to myself, “let them flog and cut me up in small pieces, but I must speak with them in person.”

It was Friday evening. I went back to my quarters and almost all night thought about my situation. How could I arrange it so that the officials would not suspect me and catch me?

On Saturday morning I woke up, washed myself, prayed to God and then went to the fortress, thinking that I may see one of the lads. I stayed quite a while, not too far from the gate of the fortress and not seeing anyone walk out. I checked around from another wall, thinking that someone may be there. In one place were a group of soldiers. I walked closer to them and noticed that they were digging dirt. I didn’t know for what purpose. Two officials walked up to me, very quickly, and immediately started to say: “Did you know Mikhail Shcherbinin?” I answered that although I did not know him personally, my son had written me about him, stating that he was ill. They replied, pointing: “Do you see those black gates, that is a cemetery. Remember, he will be there soon! Do you know Fominov and Malakhov? We will build them coffins as well for they are very stubborn. But in this group, (pointing to someone), one of your Doukhobors, since he came to this battalion, has not received even one whipping.”

He stood there smiling and I thought to myself, “Fominov is my own son, and you are such hypocrites, you want to take one to the cemetery, and for the others, you wish to build coffins, and the other one is laughing.” Then I spoke up: “Aren’t you afraid to punish innocent people? You should fear God,” They replied: “Here no one speaks of God, they only say hit and whip… We simply obey our commands.”

I did not continue this conversation and went back to my place. As I was walking, I thought to myself -”as if no one speaks about God?” Here, in this fortress, stands a church, one that is called “Orthodox”. Our lads were forcefully driven there, that is, as if they had strayed from God’s path. Where should there be more conversations about God than in this church? At that point, a thought came to me to enter this church and there, hopefully, see my lads, but I couldn’t figure out the way to get inside.

I approached the store to buy some bread. It was possible to buy some good bread there, as well as watermelons. Several area villagers were also in the store. I started to ask them whether they attend the prison church. They answered yes, some of them do attend. I said that I wanted to attend the church but had no idea as to the procedure. They suggested that tomorrow was Sunday and when others start to assemble, that I could join them and walk inside. I went back to my room and didn’t go anywhere else. I lay down to sleep early, but couldn’t sleep as I kept thinking about how to attend the church and how I could see my son. I woke up way before dawn, washed up and went to the fortress. There I stopped and stood and waited for the people to arrive.

It seemed to me that I stood and waited there the whole night. Finally, the church bell tolled and I thought that now people would assemble. I waited and waited but no one came…

Then the bell tolled a second time and still no one came. When daylight arrived, the third bell tolled and I saw one family corning. I walked up to them, thinking that I could walk in with them, but when we walked to the gate, there stood the sentry soldier. He opened the gate, let them in and yelled at me: “You! Stand there! Where are you going?” I answered that I wanted to attend the church service. He said that he could not let me through until he consults the sergeant major. He went to confer with the sergeant as I stood thinking: here I wanted to walk through so that I wouldn’t be noticed, but the sentry went straight to the major, who would order the soldiers to put me in jail. But, so be it, if it is God’s will. I will not run away!

During the time I was waiting, more people assembled. At last the sentry came, opened the door, allowed others through and also told me to enter. I walked with the other residents, thinking, wherever they stand in church, I will stand with them. We entered. The plain folk stood on the left and the soldiers stood on the right. Everyone looked at the priest who waved the censer and read something. When he would say “Amen”, the soldiers knelt on their knees and our boys remained standing. Doing so, I was able to see the boys, and my son Fedya, but they kept looking straight ahead, not even glancing to the side. I thought to myself, you poor soldiers, you are under strict discipline, even in church. I started to think of a way to move closer to the front, so that the lads could notice me for the moleniye would end soon. They would be taken to the back and they wouldn’t even know that I was here. I started to slowly and inconspicuously move forward.

I hardly moved a half-meter when an officer on duty called out from the back: “Leave the church at once! You came here not to view the church, but to see your lads.” I begged his forgiveness and said that I simply was not aware of their procedures, that when we have visitors at our moleniye, we do not restrict their movement, nor do we tell people where to look or not to look. He once again sternly warned me that in their church, they have their own rules and that I should follow their procedures. I promised to do so, and he left me alone. As a result of this argument, our lads clearly recognized me, and when the church service concluded, and the soldiers left, our boys came over to me, walked by, greeted me, and said, “Thank God, we are still alive!” My son rushed up to me, said that he was okay, and continued walking after the others, not stopping for a moment. I went outside and looked sadly upon them and thought – “I sure have heard lots about God, and was almost beaten on the neck! I didn’t even have a chance to get a good look at my son because they were driven away. What sort of a place is this Russian Orthodox Church?”

I stood and glanced around. I noticed that I was not too far away from a large house where a man in an overcoat was pacing on the balcony. At that moment the sergeant major came up to me, and simultaneously, I heard a loud voice blare out from somewhere near the balcony: “Well, old man, do you want to see your son now or after dinner?” I realized then that I had not remained unnoticed. I thought to myself, “Let whatever happens, happen. I am already in their hands!” and replied, “If possible, right now.” The sergeant major said: “Okay, I will relay this to the colonel.” 

The colonel turned out to be the fellow pacing on the balcony, and I overheard him say that a Doukhobor from the Kars region had come and wanted to meet with his son Fedya Fominov. I noticed the colonel waving to me to join him. I came forward, removed my hat, bowed, and said, “The best of health, Gospodin Colonel,” and then placed my hat back on and stood still. At first, he harshly reproached me: “You come here for a visit and then simply confuse your children! Not too long ago an old grey-haired elder like you came from the Kazbetski mountains and do you know what happened? The boys had just started to settle down here and had begun to finally serve, but the old man knocked them off the path of reason, confused them, and they, once again, refused to take up arms! We whipped and ripped strips out of them that they will never forget! Do you know that this is a correctional prison, that not only your lads, but if an angel from heaven were here we would have to make him serve. And you, old man, refuse to submit to authority and the Tsar. You and all your people have been dispersed over all of the Kazbetski Mountains!” 

Russian Prison Warden and Guard, c. 1890. >Photo by John Foster Fraser.

I turned to him and said “Gospodin Colonel, we are not against obeying the will of God, but we are against that which contradicts His will.” Here the colonel started pacing even faster on the balcony, almost running. He walked over to me and hollered: “Tell me, what here is against the will of God?” I noticed that he was very angry, so I decided not to answer, thinking that in this case, silence was the best answer. For quite a while he continued to pace the balcony, cursing and calling me all kinds of names, then he ceased and became calmer. He stopped pacing, turned towards us and addressed the sergeant major: “Go with him and let him meet his son for one hour.” We hadn’t walked more than five steps when he yelled for us to come back. I felt shivers down my spine, thinking that he had changed his mind and would now put me in jail. As we got closer to him he turned to the sergeant major and said: “Let him visit for two hours, one hour is too little. After all, the old man traveled a long distance and the trip cost him money.”

We went to the area where visitors were allowed. The sergeant major told me to wait there while he went to bring my son. Soon after, my son arrived, accompanied by three soldiers. They took us to another room and set us side by side on a bench. One soldier sat beside me and the other sat beside Fedya. The third soldier stood across from us, glancing quite often at his clock. They were instructed to listen to our conversation. In fact, we couldn’t talk about anything confidential. My son simply asked a few questions about news from home and I answered. As soon as the two hours were up, the soldiers got up and led my son away, and I stood for a long time with tears in my eyes, watching as they left. I felt so sorry for the poor lad. All of our boys looked very beaten, and with inadequate nutrition, they had become mere shadows of men.

The thought occurred to me to go to the colonel and ask him where I could purchase a few things to treat our lads. I walked up to his home. The sentry informed him of my coming and he walked outside. I thanked him for allowing me a visit with my son, and then I asked him: “Gospodin Colonel, allow me please to buy some bread and watermelon to treat all of the lads.”

“Absolutely not. I have everything here – bread, borshch, meat, and kasha, and if your lads do not wish to eat these things, that is not my business,” he replied. With this, he concluded his conversation with me, and I walked away from the jail with great sorrow and grief. I thought – “What authorities, they are whipping and beating our sons and won’t even allow us to treat them with bread!”

I went to my quarters, had breakfast and lunch at the same time and then sat down, thinking about what I should do next. Since it was impossible during my visit to discuss the most important issue, I decided to try get a secret meeting with my son. During the last two times I had been within the prison, I noticed that one sergeant major by the name of Zaitsev often left the jail for one reason or another. I decided to go, watch him more closely, and hopefully, talk to him. I walked up to the prison wall, and to my good fortune, he soon came out. Immediately, I went and started to speak to him directly. “Gospodin Zaitsev, could you please arrange a secret meeting for me with my son Fedya A. Fominov?” “If you will give me a ruble, then I will,” he answered. I agreed and we arranged to meet in a large new building in the early morning.

That night I hardly slept, praying that our meeting would pass safely. When I arrived that morning, the non-commissioned officer was already waiting for me with new plans, for the colonel had ordered the new building to be plastered, and therefore, it would not be possible to have the meeting there. He took me to a far corner of the prison grounds where tall weeds grew. He told me to pick some and make a wall so that I would not be seen and then went to go get my son. I made the wall and sat down waiting. Some cattle were grazing nearby and some of the cows came up towards me. At this point I started to worry, thinking that the soldiers would come for the cattle and see me. Here, I would get caught! They would whip and exile me. And that was almost exactly what happened…

A soldier came for the cattle, but because he was deep in thought, he did not pay any attention to me, took the cattle and chased them away, shouting at them to leave. Soon, the non-commissioned officer came, bringing Fedya and Kuzma Pugachev. We exchanged greetings as necessary and then I started to talk. “Before I left home. I met with Vasya Obetkov and he said that if I had a chance to meet with you, that I should advise you if I can. Since it is very difficult to bear the torture of this disciplinary battalion. You lads should concede. When everyone is returned to their own regions, then again they could refuse military service. There in their own regions they will not be subjected to such torture.” 

The lads answered that this plan would not work, as no one is released until they have served their entire sentence in the disciplinary battalion. Then I answered them: “If so, then stick to your convictions, as you are the first detachment (the vanguard) of our people. If you change your direction, the rest of us will surely be shipped through this battalion.” They answered that in spite of the hardships, they would endure suffering as long as they would have the strength.

I further started to tell the lads that when I was getting ready to come here many of the elders wanted details as to the reason why many of our young men were backing down and serving. Somewhere they had heard that one Russian man had been flogged to death, but that he never conceded to them; but none of our lads had, as of yet, died from the flogging. 

When I told our boys about this, both in unison started crying like small children. “We could endure almost everything from the flogging. The pain is unbearable at first, but afterwards, the body becomes wooden and a person loses all feeling. At this point the doctors’ assistants pay closer attention as to how much you can endure. When they see that a person is close to death, they cease the flogging. They rip the meat off your back, then put your clothes back on. They drag you to the punishment cell, pushing you there like an unfortunate animal. In this cell there is no bed and no bench. The floor is cold cement, and one can only lie on the stomach. The clothing freezes, turning to wood. For food, they bring a piece of bread and water. When the wounds heal a bit, the commanders come and tell you to now accept military service, and if you don’t, tomorrow you will be flogged twice as hard. At this point, one, not having any more strength, agrees, telling them, I will pick up a rifle, but we pretend it is just a stick when we agree to serve, and under no circumstances will we kill anything or anyone.

They continued, stating that even if angels from heaven were to come here, they would not be able to endure the punishment and would submit to military service. They told me that if I were to arrive home safely, I should ask the elders to take the brushwood which they use to light a fire and imagine themselves being whipped, as the lads are here. I asked them about those who had totally agreed to serve in the same way as the soldiers. They answered that even though their situation was already unbearable, that this has made it even more difficult. At this point the non-commissioned officer rushed in and told the lads to hurry, it was necessary to go to the colonel. They left with him, and I left the fortress. When I came to my living quarters, I had breakfast, packed my belongings, bade farewell to the proprietors and left on my return home.

I arrived home safely, passed on regards to my family and shared all about my visit in detail. When all the rest of our people assembled, I explained what the lads had told me and passed on regards to their families. Soon after my trip, Nikola Chevildeev went to the disciplinary battalion as well. His son Kiryusha was there. During his time there, a new agreement was made in regards to the imprisoned Doukhobors. A decision was reached that would have all the Doukhobors who were refusing to serve in the military, sent to the Yakutsk Oblast for eighteen years. Therefore, Nikolasha Chevildeev accompanied the lads to Vladikavkaz. The boys were driven further, but Nikolasha returned home.

On the trip to Siberia, our son Fedya had mailed a very sad letter home. “My dear parents, father Akimushka and mother Polyusha, sister-in-law Masha and your son Petya, my dear wife, Anyuta, as well as my children Mavrunya and Malasha, brother Vasya and your wife Tanya, and also my sisters, Hanya and Marfunya, all of our dear Fominov family combined.” 

Siberian Prisoners Starting Up-Country, circa 1890’s. Photo by John Foster Fraser.

“At this time I wish to tell you about myself and about our present life here. My health is very poor. From day to day I feel as if I am drying up like the cut grass in a meadow.”

“What stands before us is a very long walk. Some people say it is more than a thousand verst. We must walk 35-40 verst a day, and when we arrive at the station, they send us to a convicts’ building which is infested by many different insects, especially bed bugs. We must sleep right on the floor, but the bed bugs eat at us all night, not giving us any peace. We have to get up early in the morning and proceed on the trip once again. When I get up and start to dress, my feet are so swollen that I am barely able to pull on my boots, but we must walk another 40 verst.”

“When I lag behind the group the soldiers walk up to me and start to nudge me with the nose of their rifles. They aren’t the ones to blame though. Those to blame are the higher authorities that do not give us more transport carts. The carts are only given to the convicts who are shackled. But even amongst the shackled convicts, there are kind people. When I start to get weak, almost falling down on the road, someone from the group of prisoners gets down off the cart, walks up to me and says, “well brother, I see that you are exhausted. Go to the cart and sit in my place, rest, and I will walk in your place.” Such people support me, and if it weren’t for them, I would long ago have been left alone on the road.”

“My dear family, I beg you, don’t worry about me and don’t feel sorry for me. Even though this trip is extremely difficult, I do not complain, nor am I sorry. Yes, I cannot com plain, for I chose this path myself. After all, our Lord Jesus Christ took the cross and carried it on His back to Golgotha: “He who wants to follow Me, take My cross and follow Me.” On this cross He was crucified. We must also continue without complaining, and with God’s help, we will reach our destination. If something should happen to me on this trip, then this will be the will of our Lord in Heaven. With this I will end my letter. I send you all my love, warm kisses and hugs. Your son, husband, father and brother. Feodor A. Fominov.

III

Following after Fedya’s letter were several other accounts about our ill son and his friend.

Misha V. Arishchenkov’s Account

“When we were brought to the town of Yakutsk we bought ourselves some warm clothes, especially good, warm valenki (boots made out of felt). From Yakutsk we had to go further north to the place where we were to serve our 18 year sentence. We arrived at our destination and occupied an abandoned yurta (nomad’s hut). It was very cold, and the windows were all iced up. There were approximately thirty of us. We installed some glass windows, and with difficulty, built a Russian kiln for baking bread in the middle of the hut. Beside the kiln, we set up a bed for our sick friend, Fedya Fominov, and for the rest of us we set up nari (plank beds). In order to sleep, we would lay down with our heads towards the center of the hut and our feet towards the wall. We always slept in our valenki. The weather was fiercely cold and the nomad’s hut was so poor, that by morning, our valenki were frozen to the wall…”

Grisha Sukharev’s Account

“My responsibility was to look after our ill friend. Near him, I tied a belt to the crossbar of the hut. This was done so that when I went elsewhere, and Feodor needed to sit up or turn on his other side, he took hold of the belt, and although with great difficulty, he slowly turned himself over. After the winter was over, Fedya spoke gravely to us: “Brothers, tovarishchi (comrades) I want to ask you to please take me back to the town of Yakutsk, to the hospital. Even though I feel that I will not survive, I wish to at least free your hands as there is enough for you to take care of in order to survive. You must go and earn your daily bread without having to also care for me. There, in the hospital, it may be easier for me…”

Narrative of Seoma S. Usachev

“I chose to go with our sick tovarishch to Yakutsk and take him to the hospital. With difficulty we brought Fedya to the river and set up a tent. I stayed to look after him: We waited for the ship to arrive. On this particular river, the steamboat comes only once throughout the whole summer. Apparently, the boat was in Nelkan picking up winter tea brought from China on the backs of deer. We had to wait a long time. At one point Fedya said: “Seoma, tovarishch, are you here?” I replied that I was. He called me forward and said: “Please look at my side, there is something soft. ” I opened his shirt and saw a lump as huge as my fist. I got scared and explained that the situation was not very good. He turned and said: “if you have a knife, try and cut it off.” I started to carefully cut it off, ask- ing him if ithurt. He said that he didn’t feel any pain. When I finished I carefully cleaned the area and bandaged it up. It was a chunk of old, black blood. Fedya had been unmercifully beaten in the disciplinary battalion. His sergeant-major was strong, almost the same size as Fedya, and was an extremely angry man. He would often beat Fedya with his fists, on his cheeks, on his head, on his side. He also beat him with a stump of wood or with the butt of his rifle. His last beating was the most injurious, when he was beaten with an ammunition belt filled with shells on the back of his head, and both of his ears were severely scarred. They were always pussing. Almost all of his skin hung from his bones.”

Group of Doukhobor Exiles in Yakutsk, Siberia, circa 1904

“I wanted to look after Fedya until his bodily existence came to an end. However, to my regret, before the arrival of our ship, a man from our work party walked up to us and told us that he was also ill, and was going to Yakutsk and could take Fedya with him. I did not argue with him.”

“When they arrived in Yakutsk, he placed Fedya in the hospital, but he did not consider it necessary to constantly visit him and Fedya was left alone. Soon afterwards, a few middle-aged Doukhobors, exiled from Elizavetpol (including several brothers of Peter “Lordly” Verigin) arrived in Yakutsk. Petrunya Dimovsky, a middle-aged man, exiled for incitement, was also placed in the hospital because of his illness. He was not altogether bedridden, and at times, looked in on Fedya Fominov. When Fedya became even more tired and exhausted, Petrunya asked him: “What is with you, brother Fedya, how do you feel?”

“I feel that I will soon die and return to my Heavenly Father…”, replied Fedya. “What should be done about your clothing – should it be returned to your family?” asked Petrunya. “No, my family has everything, give it away here amongst the poor,” further stated Fedya. And so, on the 20th of August, 1897, in the Yakutsk hospital, one of our Doukhobor martyr’s earthly existence came to an end.”

IV

When we received a letter and learned about our son’s death, all of us grieved and mourned for him. Only his own mother did not shed a single tear, but prayed to God, so that the Lord would receive her son in his everlasting abode. She considered crying a sin, and said that her sons went to share the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, after the sorrowful news, she stayed in bed for a whole week -“and how could she not lie in bed, when two of her sons died at the height of their youth, both in the same year?”

Our eldest son, Vanya, passed away in the Georgian villages in March at the age of twenty-six, and our middle son, Fedya, passed away in the Yakutsk Region in August at the age of twenty-four. Their families never saw them again. Their mother (and my wife) lived very well with her daughters-in-law. They looked upon her like their own mother, and she considered them like her own daughters. When they remarried and took her grandchildren with them, only then did our mother cry out loud, repeating, “Only now do I see that my devout family is torn apart!” She had three daughters-in-law. For many years they lived together and never spoke a harsh word to each other. They always tried to live a happy, Christian life.

My Doukhobor Ancestors

by Evgenia Kabatova

Evgenia Kabatova is a Doukhobor schoolgirl at the No. 8 Grammar School in Volgograd, Russia. Her excellent article examines the Doukhobor movement in Russia, the history of the Kabatov family and Doukhobor traditions, past and present. Reproduced from Pervoe Sentyabrya magazine (No. 26, August 12, 1999). Translated by Jonathan Kalmakoff.

In our family, the memory of our family history remains carefully preserved. Father and mother’s stories and grandmother’s memoirs have inspired me to commence a study of the history of Kabatov family and to draw up our family tree. Over the course of two years, I attended the “My Family Tree” section of the Volgograd Children’s Youth Centre. Thanks to the knowledge and skills received there, a genealogical book was begun by my elder sister Tatiana and continued by myself. It consists of the story of the Kabatov history, the life of my family, photos and memoirs of loved ones. A genealogical family tree was created and a genealogical dictionary compiled. The subject of the following work is the history of the Dukhobor movement in Russia in connection with the history of my family. 

The Kabatov family belonged to the Dukhobors (Dukhobortsy) as members of one of the largest Russian religious sects which arose in the 18th century. In Soviet times, the literature devoted to the history of this movement, to Dukhobor views and beliefs, was almost absent. Information on this sect was limited to the information in the encyclopaedic dictionary or Atheist Dictionary. The most complete, realistic and revealing histories of the Dukhobors are the books of I.A. Malakhova and N.M. Nikol’skii. In spite of the fact that these books consider the issue of Russian sectarianism from an atheistic perspective, the material collected by the authors promotes the study of the origins of the Doukhobor movement and the history of the sect’s relations with authorities.

The position of believers in modern times is told in newspaper and journal articles, which our family collect and carefully preserve.

The basic source from which it is possible to find out about Dukhobor beliefs is the Living Book (Book of Life). It consists of questions and answers, psalms, verses, incantations and spells which to this day occur among the Dukhobors – it is a source of their belief. 

A copy of this book is kept at my grandmother’s in the distant village Slavyanka in Azerbaijan republic as a family relic. I was able to get acquainted with the text thanks to my father, Vasily Fedorovich Kabatov, who wrote out the basic provisions in a copy-book and exported them to Russia, and who also made a videofilm about Dukhobor life in Transcaucasia. 

The Dukhobor Movement in Russia

The origin of Dukhoborism relates to the last quarter of the 18th century. The first Dukhobors appeared in Ekaterinoslav province among the Cossack population which was ruined and constrained by distributions of Ukrainian Cossack lands to landowners. Soon this movement spread among the state peasants, odnodvortsy and small merchants of Ryazan, Samara, Astrakhan, Voronezh, Penza, Kharkov and other provinces of the Russian Empire. 

The followers of the sect considered themselves “wrestlers for the spirit”. They asserted that “the spirit of God also serves as the spirit of vigilance”. Hence their name. 

The basis of Dukhobor dogma lay in Christian principles relating to notions about the after-life and salvation. According to Dukhobor doctrine, the official Orthodox Church with its ceremonialism and pompous services is detrimental to spiritual belief and is perishable rather than eternal: “priests are an invention of people so that it is easier to live”. The Dukhobors did not recognize communion with bread and wine, comparing this ritual to the reception of ordinary food “giving nothing good to the soul”. They rejected icons, sacraments, ceremonies, priests and monks, reckoning them superfluous. 

Dukhobors typically assert that it is not the Bible – a source of sacred precepts and instructions – but the “words” of Dukhobor leaders, psalms and the records collected by them in the Living Book that constitutes Dukhoborism. 

The Dukhobor dogma defines their attitude towards the most various questions: to politics, war, nationalism and economic systems. Referring to Christ, believers assert that all people are children of one father, God, and are therefore brothers among themselves. Therefore Doukhobors count all people, irrespective of race, nationality and creed as equal, having identical rights to life and earthly blessings. 

From the very beginning, authorities received the new movement with hostility. Dukhobors were banished to settlements in Siberia, sent to penal servitude and to obedience in monasteries 

Dukhobor resistance occured in the form of petitions and complaints to government bodies. The “Dukhobor Confession” serves as an example of this. The Dukhobors sent this justificatory declaration to the governor of Ekaterinoslav. The confession stated Dukhobor belief, demonstrating the absence in their religious views of ideas undermining the foundation of the state. The authors of the petition sought to convince authorities that it was necessary to look upon their deeds as primarily spiritual, concerned only with the salvation of the soul. In reply to this application, the petitioners were banished to Siberia. 

Thus right from the beginning, the Dukhobor movement has underwent persecutions and reprisals. A vast number of communities were broken up and Doukhobors turned into exiles and convicts. 

In 1801, the manifest of Alexander I granted amnesty to those suffering for religious belief. And in 1802 an imperial decree was issued according to which lands on the Molochnaya River in the Melitopol district of Tavria province, the so-called Milky Waters, were allocated for Dukhobor settlement. Here believers from Ekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Ryazan and other provinces and from exile were settled. Dukhobors were given 15 desyatin of land, exempted from taxation for five years and given a hundred roubles travel expenses per family. 

For many years the economy of Milky Waters achieved tremendous successes. Horse breeding and sheep breeding developed, fulling mills and weaver’s linen workshops were constructed and record yields of grains and vegetables were harvested. By 1830, there were 9 large villages at Milky Waters with approximately 4000 inhabitants holding 49,235 desyatin of land. 

Evgenia Kabatova in traditional Dukhobor dress.

In the late 1830’s and early 1840’s a new wave of persecutions began. The Dukhobors were declared an “especially harmful sect”. In 1841 under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I, the Dukhobors were exiled to the uninhabited lands of Transcaucasia. Over 4,000 Dukhobors were deported and resettled on lands in the Akalkhalak and Elizavetpol districts of Tiflis province. There Russian villages were established: Slavyanka, Gorelovka, Orlovka, Kalinino, Spasovka and others. 

It was necessary to be equipped for the hardest conditions: stony mountain ground, spring and early autumn frosts, lack of water and constant attacks by Turkish and mountain tribes. In spite of this, the hardworking Dukhobors were able to quickly acclimatize to the unfamiliar environment and soon their villages were distinguished by their prosperity from the surrounding local villages. The Doukhobors lived more prosperously than the peasants of Central Russia. 

In 1887, universal compulsory military service was introduced in the Caucasus. Many Dukhobors who adhered to the principles of nonviolence were compelled to renounce their beliefs and obey civil laws. Not all obeyed, however. In 1895, as a protest demonstration against military service the Doukhobors publicly burned all the weapons in their possesion.

The reprisals against the Dukhobors were severe. Cossacks were sent to suppress the “revolt”. People were lashed and beaten, whole families were exiled from Dukhobor villages and settled in other districts of Tiflis province – without land and without the right to associate among themselves. 

Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy rose up in defence of the Dukhobors. Thanks to his articles, the world found out about the fate of the exiles. The great Russian writer dedicated the proceeds of his novel “Resurrection” to assist the Dukhobors and organized a fund to support the movement through which resources from different countries were chanelled. However, the Dukhobors’ position remained difficult and uncertain. 

The act of the Burning of Arms on June 29, 1895 has remained an unforgettable feat in people’s memory. In 1959, the Canadian Dukhobor magazine ISKRA published a list of names of believers who were thrown in prisons for refusal of military service. 

However, after the reprisals which befell them the Dukhobors continued to place their hope in God and on imperial favour which was requested in the most august name in numerous circulations. And only after repeated failures to reply to their request and further persecution by authorities did members of the sect reach the extreme decision to go abroad. The new motherland for the majority of Dukhobors became Canada. With the funds collected by L.N. Tolstoy, four steamships were chartered on which more than seven and a half of thousand Dukhobors sailed to Canada. 

However, not all left. A portion of the believers remained in Transcaucasia. Considerable difficulties fell on their shoulders. 

The Revolution, with its slogans of equality and brotherhood, did not accept sectarians even though the Dukhobors were regarded as the first founders of communistic economy in Russia, long before the origin of Marxism. The new authority did not like the Dukhobors’ independence and their prosperity based on great diligence, technology and emulation of German colonists. 

For refusing to participate in collectivization, the Dukhobors had their cattle and grain taken away and their property requisitioned. Dissatisfied families were exiled to Siberia and Kazakhstan. In the terrible years of repression, a large number of Dukhobors were arrested and dissapeared in the gulags. 

Yet still it could not break the Dukhobors. They continued to live, work and hope for a happy future. Among the Dukhobors were many heroes in the Great Patriotic War who renounced their principles in the name of protecting the motherland. They were awarded on account of their worthy efforts. 

In recent times, the Soviet press practically made no mention of Dukhobor life, even though they invariably achieved unknown economic successes. In the manufacture of milk, butter and cheese, only the Baltic could compete with the Dukhobor economy in the whole USSR. 

Years of persecutions, reprisals and exiles could not destroy the Dukhobors’ belief in kindness, justice, fairness and decency. It was their salvation in difficult times. 

My family, the Kabatov family, underwent all the difficulties that befell the Dukhobors and has passed a long and thorny way. 

A History of My Ancestors

The origins of the Kabatov family are lost in the depths of Russian history. It is known that my ancestors were natives of Central Russia. The Kabatovs appeared among the adherents of the Dukhobor movement exiled from Russia under the decree of Emperor Nikolai I in 1841. My ancestors were one of the founders of the Russian settlement of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol district of the Transcaucasus. 

Nowadays this large settlement is several kilometers from the regional centre of Kedabek in the Republic of Azerbaijan. A mountain resort area has been created around the village. The vicinity of Slavyanka is presently an empire of botanical gardens, vineyards, market gardens, millet and potato fields and apiaries. In many places in the immediate area, mineral springs with medicinal properties flow from underground.

However, in the middle of the 19th century, this district represented a fruitless desert. The stony ground seemed unsuitable for cultivation. Yet thanks to the colonists’ diligence it was possible to transform a mountain plateau into a blossoming paradise. 

As was already mentioned, following the introduction of universal compulsory military service in the Caucasus, the Dukhobors resolved not to bear arms. In 1895 as a protest demonstration against military service, the inhabitants of Slavyanka performed the act of the Burning of Arms. My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov and the inhabitants of Slavyanka led by Kuzma Tarasov, one of the leaders of the Dukhobor movement, took part in this event. Firearms and cold steel were carried by horse-drawn cart, dumped in a heap, stacked with firewood, doused with kerosene and set ablaze. The people stood facing the fire, singing psalms. They believed they had achieved a worthy cause. 

This fire was necessary. It swept away death, war and conflict. Faith and conscience made these people the first pacifists in the land. Faith that it is possible to live without killing each other, and a readiness to live according to conscience, doing everything to prevent war and violence. 

After the reprisals, many Dukhobors abandoned their accustomed surroundings and left for Canada in 1899. Those that remained hoped for the favour and indulgence of the new emperor – Nikolai II. However, their hopes did not come true – persecution and reprisals against the strong-spirited, freedom-loving Dukhobors continued. 

At the beginning of the 20th century Russia, not having had time to recover from the 1905 Revolution and war with Japan, began to make preparations for a new war against Germany. The Dukhobors steadfastly objected to these escalating events. And a number of them – basically the inhabitants of Slavyanka village including my great-great-grandfather and family – resolved upon a desperate measure. In the early spring of 1912, they left their accustomed surroundings and journeyed to their fellow countrymen and spiritual brethren in far-off Canada. 

At that time, Petro Semenovich and Tatiana Ivanovna Kabatov (my great-great-grandmother) had four children: Pavel, Grigory, Mikhailo and Nikolai. 

Upon their arrival in the new country, the Kabatovs settled in the area of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and were established in no time as Petro Semenovich was a hereditary smith, and the work of a smith in the countryside is always necessary. Within a year a fifth son, Vasily, was born to my great-great-grandparents. 

However, the Dukhobors’ quiet life did not last for long because the Government of Canada chose to relocate them on uninhabited western lands (Note: this may be a reference to the closing of Dukhobor village reserves by the Government of Canada). Tired of wandering on the land and yearning for their motherland, in 1914 the Kabatov family returned by its own means to Slavyanka.

How they were met in the motherland? As always, with difficulties. However, they had become used to starting anew – it was not the first time they grew new roots. 

The Kabatovs always adhered to the Dukhobor principle of “Toil and Peaceful Life”. The Dukhobors explain it as so: “to work, to earn one’s livelihood, to not enslave another and to not use one’s work to satisfy avidity and greed. To be content with little and what is necessary for bodily livelihood, sharing with others not only the surplus, but also what is necessary”. The Kabatovs were never afraid to work – that is why the land generously provided for them. 

My great-great-grandfather Petro Semenovich Kabatov died in 1925. My great-great-grandmother Tatiana lived to 98 years and died in 1978 in the village of Slavyanka. There their remains are buried. 

My great-grandfather Pavel Petrovich Kabatov was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1898. Like all Kabatovs, he was distinguished by a strong constitution and cheerful character. He was an exceptional smith. Till now the ramrods made by him are kept in our family. On the handle of each one is his name brand. They say that great-grandfather played the guitar and accordion well. 

In 1920, Pavel Petrovich married Maria Fedorovna Khudyakova. Great-grandmother was literate, she completed four classes at the Tiflis women’s grammar school. Maria Fedorovna was distinguished by her diligence, efficiency and kind nature. 

While Pavel Petrovich refused to directly participate in the Civil War, it placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of the family. The constant change of authorities resulted in the ruin of the peaceful country economy. In these foregone conditions, Pavel Petrovich organized forces for self-defense which courageously protected their native village from Midzhit detachments. Then regular units of the Red army crushed this group. 

In 1940, Pavel Petrovich was subjected to repression. The reason for the arrest is unknown till today. There are only piecemeal accounts of this tragedy. He was a great friend of the German colonists living in neighbouring villages. The Germans frequently asked Pavel Petrovich to assist in repairing agricultural machines and radio equipment. Such friendship seemed suspicious to local observers of the regime. Under Stalin’s order, the German population was removed from Transcaucasia and Pavel Petrovich was arrested. It took place in 1940 and in 1941 state papers arrived with the message of his death. 

The eldest son of Pavel Petrovich and Maria Fedorovna, Feodor Kabatov, was born in 1921 in the village of Slavyanka. He was my grandfather. Almost his entire life he worked as a driver in the collective farm “Il’ich Way”. 

Grandfather was very kind, caring and attentive to all. He placed great value in the education and formal training of his children. Grandfather imparted a love of engineering to each of his three sons – Pavel, Vasily and Ivan. From childhood, he accustomed them to physical and to mental work. 

In his free time, Feodor Pavlovich enjoyed reading military literature. His favourite book was G.K. Zhukov’s autobiography “Memoirs and Reflections”. In the evenings, grandfather would tell the children how he participated in the Great Patrotic War. 

War found Feodor Pavlovich in the army. In 1941, his artillery battalion was stationed in Ukraine where their military unit was encircled. Breaking out of the encirclement, grandfather found himself in occupied territory. For some time he hid among the local population, working as a smith. Then he began to make his way to the front. At the front line he was wounded and hospitalized. After recovering he found his unit and with it reached Berlin. Feodor Pavlovich participated in battles in Poland near Konigsberg. He completed the war in Germany. He was awarded with medals. 

Feodor Pavlovich had many friends of different nationalities. He easily mastered the Azerbaijan, Armenian and Georgian languages. Grandfather died in 1978. Unfortunately, I know him only from the stories of relatives. 

Doukhobor village in the Caucasus.

However, I know and love my grandmother very much – Fedosia Nikiforovna Kabatova. She is an amazing person. Now we see her seldom, as conditions in the Caucasus are very complicated. But earlier, my sister and I spent our summer vacations at grandmother’s in Slavyanka. It was an unforgettable time, the impressions of which remain for life. I remember how we impatiently waited for summer to go to our beloved grandmother. Every day that was spent in Slavyanka was interesting. 

She always had rabbits when I came. 

And what pies at grandmother’s! She baked them from ancient recipes in the Russian oven.

I remember how every evening I fell asleep to grandmother’s fairy tales. She did not read then in books, but heard them a long time ago from her mother and now told them to us, her grandchildren.

My grandmother is a very kind and sympathetic person. Besides this, she is a highly skilled craftsperson – thanks to her I learned to knit. Grandmother has worked her entire life as a teacher of geography at school. And though she has long since reached pension age, she has not retired and works to this day. 

There are presently few who may boast of knowledge of their family tree. That I know much about my relatives, I am grateful to my father. For some time he has been engaged in drafting and studying our family tree, and it is not an simple task. 

He was born in the village of Slavyanka in 1957. After completing high school, he arrived in Volgograd where in 1979 he successfully graduated from the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute, having received a degree in mechanical engineering. 

Daddy – the great conversationalist. It is always interesting to converse with him – he has seen much, was in all areas of our immense motherland as well as foreign countries. Thanks to him I too have travelled alot – I have been to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, the Caucasus, Stavropol, the Black Sea and twice to Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. 

My daddy – the inveterate mushroom picker and hunter. Every autumn we go to the woods where we spend unforgettable hours in harmony with nature. My father has achieved much in life but this is a priority. He has managed to open a business, and it requires great strength and persistence. 

Speaking of father, I should talk about my mom – Elena Petrovna Fokinoy. She was born in 1956 in Stalingrad. Mom, as well as daddy, was trained at the Volgograd Polytechnical Institute and has a degree in engineering-economics. My mom is a very kind, beautiful, sympathetic and caring woman. My sister Tanya (she is a second year student at Volgograd State University) and I feel this towards ourselves. 

Dukhobor Traditions: Past and Present

In our family some Dukhobor traditions are still kept. Regarding rites, many Dukhobors today observe only weddings and funerals. 

The atire in which my grandmother invited her girlfriends to the wedding in May 1949 is kept till today. At my request, she has described the wedding ceremony in detail. 

On the day prior to the wedding, the bride must invite her relatives or girlfriends. On the day of the wedding, between the hours of eleven and twelve, matchmakers on behalf of the groom go by horse and cart to the bride’s home carrying a barrel of wine (100 litres) and a keg of vodka (about 20 litres). At this time, attired maidens join hands and together with the bride go down the streets inviting the youth. Another attired messenger rides on horseback and invites other guests. 

The guests gather for dinner, dine and make merry. In the evening, the bride’s dowry is loaded on a cart. The bride, groom and youth sit down and carry the dowry to the home of the groom. The guests of the bride and groom follow on foot. They have supper and then disperse to their homes. The following day, everyone relaxes at home. At dinnertime, a party leaves from the home of the bride with an accordion – for the bride. They arrive at the house of the groom with songs, give greetings, dance and together with the bride and groom return to the home of the bride. There they have dinner together with the guests of the bride, make merry, have supper and carry the bride back to the home of the groom. 

It is a beautiful wedding ceremony which, of course, has substantially changed and altered over time. Dukhobor weddings are distinguished by their beauty, musicality and character. Beautiful songs resound. In some wedding songs the cult of the earth-mother is proclaimed. The Earth gives life and food – on her people are born, grow and have families. The groom thus speaks: 

I am taking a soul-girl as my wife.
I will love you, my sweet dove.
We shall live as one happy family.
Our native land will be able to feed us.
We shall not dare to hurt it.

In my family, all the women were good mistresses and skilled craftspersons. From long ago such verses were preserved: 

Our pies are a beauty.
Who tastes them say they are delicious.
It is impossible to describe, what goes into them at baking.
Particularly if you spread some sour cream over them.

It was (and is till now) a tradition to bake soroki. Thus grandmother liked to sing such verses: 

As soroki bake in the oven,
Little children gather under the window.
They are so beautiful, good-smelling and airy.
Put it in hand, then in the mouth, it’s very tasty.

Soroki are rolls made in the form of a flying bird. In one out of forty a coin is put. The one who receives it is considered lucky. In the future, they can expect good luck in all undertakings. 

All in the family love to sing. The Doukhobors sing in a capella chorus. They have beautiful voices and in songs, words full of feeling. It is not known who wrote the songs, but they were generally known by all – from youngest to eldest. Here is a passage from one: 

The soul of a person aspires towards peace, 
The strong heart castigate war, 
In peace we are devoted forever. 
We see only one purpose in peace. 

By the way, coming back to the wedding ceremony which is considered among the Dukhobors one of the most important, it is necessary to discuss wedding songs. They were not as melancholy as is typical in Russia. The songs little resemble lamentations, rather they resemble vows or wishes:

How my soul, oh my beauty, 
Is glad and exalted at seeing you.
And we won’t be now one without the other.
We shall live together in peace and accord.

My great-grandfather sang this song to my great-grandmother. And to him she replied: 

I have fallen in love with you, brave dear,
And I’m giving you my youth.
I will be your truthful and caring wife,
And our family will always be happy.

I do not know how my great-grandfather and great-grandmother got acquainted. Most likely they knew each other for a long time, as they lived in the same village. 

Doukhobors honour the dead. Actually, in this they differ little from other people.

The funeral ceremony lasts two days. On the first day, borshch and then noodles are served. Everyone eats with wooden spoons. On the second day – chicken soup. Red wine and loaves roasted in vegetable oil are obligatory. All meals are prepared in cast iron vessels in the Russian oven. 

The mournful ceremony is laconic. However, it is accompanied by songs, more truly, psalms – devoted to the hundreds of victims of the persecutions, reprisals and wars at the end of the last century. An unknown poet devoted the following verses to them: 

Your grave is not among those graves, 
That the land here keeps in itself. 
Both keeps and will maintain for centuries, 
But you are terribly far from the motherland. 
Who will plant a tree, begin to sing a song? 
Where are you, uncared for? Where are you, unwarmed? 
Scattered, poor fellow, over the world. 

Today many traditions are forgotten. Our family tries to preserve those few that remain. Ceremonies, songs, stories, fairy tales, even ancient recipes of the Russian kitchen – these also are a memory and tribute to our ancestors. 

Bibliography

  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. The Living Book of the Doukhobors. (Geneva, 1901).
  • Bonch-Bruevich V.D. Sectarians and Old Believers in the First Half of the 19th Century. (Izbr. soch. T 1 M. 1959).
  • Kireev N. “The Dukhobor Belief and Love Did Not Disappear in Foreign Land” in The Russian Gazette (No. 27, 1994). 
  • Klibanov A.I. A History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia. (Moscow: 1965).
  • Kozlova N. “The Long Road Home” in The Russian Gazette (No. 302, 1994). 
  • Malakhova I.A. Spiritual Christians. (Moscow: 1970).
  • Maslov S. “A Century Ago in the Caucasus the Dukhobors Burnt their Weapons” in Komsomol’skaya Pravda (No. 26, 1996). 
  • Nikol’skij N.M. A history of the Russian Church. (Moscow: 1985).
  • Novitskij O. Dukhobortsy, Their History and Dogma. (Saint Petersburg: 1909).
  • Gordienko N.S. (ed.) Orthodoxy: The Atheist Dictionary. (Moscow: 1998).
  • Fedorenko F.P. Sects, Their Beliefs and Affairs. (Moscow: 1965).

The Antifaeff Family –  Immigration to Canada

by Ruby M. Nemanishen

In 1899, when over 7,500 Doukhobors left the Caucasus for Canada, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev remained behind in their ancestral village of Bashkichet.  Unlike his brothers, who accompanied the movement to Canada, Grigory had no desire or intention to begin life anew in a strange and unknown land.  Little did he expect that within a year, unforeseen events would catapult the family on a long and harrowing journey to the domes and minarets of Constantinople, Turkey, through Budapest, Hungary and Paris, France aboard the Orient Express, to the narrow, bustling streets of London, England, before settling on the Canadian Prairies near Langham, Saskatchewan.  Reproduced by permission from “The Antifaev – Antifave – Antifay Family in Canada, The First 100 Years, 1902-2002” by Ruby M. Nemanishen, this excerpt recounts the sensational story of one Doukhobor family’s immigration to Canada.

Background to Immigration

The Doukhobors had already moved several times before their emigration to Canada.  The Tsarist government of Russia kept driving them to more remote regions because of their pacifist beliefs and consequent refusal to perform military service.  In the mid-nineteenth century, they located in the Transcaucasian region and while there, they expressed their opposition to warfare by burning their weapons.  That date, June 29, 1895, is known as Peters Day.

Prior to emigration, the Antyufeevs lived in the village of Bashkichet situated in the Borchalinsky district of Tiflis province, Russia (now the town of Dmanisi, Georgia) near the Black Sea.

Grigory Antyufeev and family, c. 1890

The Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev family did not come as part of the mass migration of Doukhobors from Russia in 1899, as they were not followers of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin.  However, Grigory’s brothers Nikolai, Mikhailo and Alexei belonged to the so-called “Large Party” and their families were on the first ocean freighter of Doukhobors, the SS Lake Huron, arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 23, 1899.  They all settled in the Pelly and Arran districts of Saskatchewan.  Shortly after arriving in Canada, Nikolai left for California and started a butcher shop, selling a variety of meats which grew into a huge packing plant.  A sister Agafia Vereshchagin remained in Russia after her husband was killed by thieving Armenians, however, her orphaned son Vasily Vereshchagin immigrated to Canada years later.

In Russia, the Antyufeevs were a wealthy family, owning many horses and cattle.  They had their own flour mill and a large blacksmith shop…also servants to look after the land.  Living conditions were wonderful in this southern region of Georgia.  The weather was mild and the soil fertile and productive…the fruit trees thrived and life was good.

An Unexpected Journey

In 1900, the family of Grigory Vasilyevich Antyufeev found it necessary to flee in the middle of the night, leaving everything behind, when a friend warned them that the police were coming in the morning to draft his sons for military service.  However, they managed to take gold and guns with them.  They fled along the Black Sea and eventually made their way to Turkey. 

While there, son Mikhailo contracted malaria fever and was incoherent and irrational for a month before a Turkish doctor was called upon.  The prescribed existing treatment involved shaving his head and administering a kind of powder (quinine).  In addition, sliced lemons were placed on his shaved head and wrapped in cloths, and before long he rallied and began to talk.

After the family crossed the border into Turkey they remained there for a year or more, unable to obtain passports because they were Russians.  Finally, Grigory bribed a friend who obtained Turkish passports for them.  They finally boarded the Oriental Express passenger train from Constantinople Italy…to Paris, France and then on to London, England where they arrived three days prior to Christmas.  Here they enjoyed their first Christmas dinner away from their homeland.  It was 1901.  Grigory continued to walk the streets of London still dressed like a Turk, believing he had to be “their” citizen so that he would be accepted. 

Anxiously, the family boarded a beautiful ship, the SS Ionian in Liverpool on December 26, 1901 and sailed to Canada, arriving in St. John’s, New Brunswick at 9:00 a.m. on January 5, 1902.  There was a total of 106 passengers including 10 crew members.  According to Grigory’s daughter Anna, food was plentiful and scrumptious…they realized they must have sailed first class!  The family – eleven in total – sailed on the SS Ionian as follows:

Antyufeev
Grigory 40
Maria 40
Mikhailo 17
Petro 16
Anna 15
Feodor 10
Vasily 7
Ivan 4
Pelagea 4
Elizaveta 2

The final leg of their journey took them by train to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  En route to Saskatchewan, their two little girls Pelagea and Elizaveta died of diphtheria within a day of each other.

The New Settlers

In 1903, Grigory, Maria and family came to a homestead in Raspberry Creek in the Arlee, Saskatchewan district as an independent group.  Because they brought their guns with them, their Doukhobor neighbours did not associate with the new settlers.  Nevertheless, the Antyufeevs began the task of building their large two-storey house complete with balcony, with Roman-numeralled logs.  However, within several years the family discovered they were too isolated.  They dismantled the home and floated the logs on beams downstream on the north Saskatchewan river.  The house was rebuilt where it now stands on SE 1/4 of 8-39-9-W3 in the Henrietta district of Langham, Saskatchewan, located one and a half miles north from the Doukhobor village site of Pokrovka.

Maria Antyufeev

Grigory bought this quarter of land from the Hudson Bay Company in 1905 and some years later Grigory, Maria and family lived temporarily in the Pokrovka village homes while re-assembling took place.  To this date, several log buildings stand in the farmyard, including portions of the house.  The land is presently owned by the Kasahoff family.  This house could be seen for miles around…and became the community landmark and “meeting place”.  It was also photographed by many and caught the attention of many artists.

George William Antifaeff (as Grigory was now known) was a solidly built individual of average height, broad-shouldered and was said to be of rather strict character…inclined to be a big spender, although a very good businessman.  George and his sons all had a penchant for mechanics and on one occasion they attempted to build an airplane on the home place.  It had wings, a makeshift motor and flapped like a bird…but when George tested it off the top of the barn the only result was an injured shoulder.  It was said that Mary was a very strong-headed person and did not have a close relationship with George’s two sons, Mike and Peter and their family.  After John G. Antifaeff married, Mary and George moved to live in son Fred’s house.  When George passed away, Mary continued living here for a short time, then spent her remaining years with Anne Popoff.

Antifaeff homestead, Langham district, Saskatchewan

The Antifaeffs became well respected in the Doukhobor community and all lived within a six mile radius of each other. Everyone shared in the hardships of pioneer life…building homes, breaking the soil and farming it with horses. There wasn’t a great deal of time for socializing after the farm chores were done.  Spare time involved the entire families in berry picking, preserving and picnics.  The winters would find the women knitting warm clothes from raw wool and sewing.  However, the children would assemble at a centralized location (ball diamond) to play ball or swim in the nearby creek and skate in the winter.  The arrival of the Model T Ford in the late 1920’s provided more freedom to visit and socialize with relatives in surrounding areas.  On occasional Sundays families would gather for prayer service (sobrania) at the local school…

Portrait of a Doukhobor Conscientious Objector: An Interview with Mike S. Nadane

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

Mike S. Nadane (1918-) is the son of Russian Doukhobor immigrants who arrived in Canada in 1899 and settled in the Kamsack district of Saskatchewan. Raised on the family farm, he received his early education at the Bonnybank one-room rural school before moving to the Town of Kamsack to attend high school. Upon completing his grade twelve, Mike worked at the Rexall Drugs store in Kamsack for three years and then established Nadanes Ltd., a general store with his brother Alex. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Mike refused to perform military service when he received his call-up papers. As a conscientious objector, he chose to perform alternative service instead. He was initially sent to Fort William, Ontario where he worked in a military aircraft factory. He was then sent to Montreal Lake in northern Saskatchewan, where along with 70 other Doukhobor men, he worked in a road construction camp, building Highway No. 2 between Prince Albert and Lac la Ronge. After completing his alternative service, Mike returned to Kamsack, where he raised a family and ran the store with his brother until his retirement in 1983. In the following interview, conducted by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff on September 23, 2011, Mike discusses his experiences of 70 years ago as a Doukhobor conscientious objector. 

Mike S. Nadane, Kamsack, Saskatchewan, September 23, 2011.  Photo by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

General

What is your full name?

Mike S. Nadane.

What is your present address?

Eaglestone Lodge, Kamsack, SK.

What is your date of birth?

February 3, 1918.

Where were you born?

On the farm, six miles south, three miles west of Kamsack in the Bonnybank school district.

What were your parent’s names and occupations?

Sam and Tatyana (Evdokimoff) Nadane. They were farmers.

Describe your upbringing as a Canadian Doukhobor. How did it influence you growing up?

Well, my dad – we never lived in the Community. Our dad went Independent and he got his naturalization papers – from Canada – and of course with that he was allowed to buy a quarter-section of [homestead] land for ten dollars – which they were giving away – which he did.

So we lived on a farm at the time I was born. The house I was born in became a chicken coop later!  [laughter]  It was a small house; dad after several years built a house that was, you know, like a house.

Dad – he farmed. When he started farming he didn’t have enough money to buy seed wheat so he bought oats. He broke on this quarter section of land that he bought about sixty acres that were prairie – he seeded it in oats. When he finished harvesting, he had six thousand bushels of grain – a hundred bushels an acre. At fifty cents a bushel, that was three thousand dollars. That was money. So he got friendly with a Jewish chap by the name of David Shwartzman in Kamsack – who ran a store – and he went in partnership with him; sold the farm for two thousand dollars, and had this other money, and he went in partnership. Well, he stayed in the partnership for a year, and it wasn’t his cup of tea. So he bought his farm back with his two thousand dollars, and he went farming again. [laughter] Got himself a line of machinery and went back farming. That’s where he spent the rest of his life – farming. He had cows, chickens, geese, ducks – everything.

We all ate meat – we were Doukhobors, but we ate meat. Dad – he was a small boy yet – back wherever he was, it was close to the Turkish border – in Tiflis. He was eleven or so years old; he went with this farmer and he was herding pigs and cows in the bushes. This farmer – he made him come to work sunup to sunset – he’d work for him all day and then go back home at night. While he was with him, they started eating meat then. When he was just a little fella. He said, “boy, it sure smelled good”.  [laughter]  So the rest of the villagers – they went blind after sunset – that’s the way it was. He was the only who could see. And his step-father – his father didn’t go with the Doukhobors, he stayed in Russia, and his mother, she married a Dubasoff. So, he says, we’ll eat meat. So that’s the way it was. And of course when they came to Canada, they didn’t stop eating meat. His step-father – he got his citizenship papers too, and they lived on the farm also. So dad worked with him.

When I was growing up, we had neighbours close by. We were on the northwest quarter; there was a neighbour across the road and a neighbour going west. These people – they were Ukrainians – the others were Doukhobors – they had a boy. I got to know him – think I was maybe four or five – he was my age, and a boy my younger brother’s age – Sam. So we played together – we all grew up till I started going to school. Then dad moved us into town.

Although I started school in Bonnybank. My two sisters and my older brother Alex – they had a previous education and they passed their grade eight school, so they had to go to high-school, and Kamsack was the place. And dad still had this little house, so he moved us into there. I started school in Kamsack in 1924-25. I went to high school and passed my grade twelve. During the summer holidays, I went back to the farm. Worked with four horses; six foot disc; two-share plow!  [laughter] And five sections of harrows. Did a lot of walking in those days. Of course the disc and plow I rode. Helped dad all the time I was going to school – every summer. When I finished Grade Twelve, dad, of course, he had bought another quarter-section of land closer to town – two or three miles out of town. And so he had that quarter-section and he kept the other farm too. So in the summer time, we moved over to the one closer to Kamsack, cause the farm that we were on didn’t have enough pasture for the cows; we had lots of pasture with this one. So we lived in both places.

Mom – we had chickens and cows and everything. So we were never short of food, anyway. A lot of people during the Thirties, they went on relief. Dad didn’t go on relief. Or anybody who worked for him, for five dollars a month.

And that’s the way I was brought up.

When I passed Grade 12, I got a job in the drug store – after 1936-1937 I was through high school. I worked for Jack Lipsett at the Rexall Drugs store for about three years. Then my brother, he opened up a store. He was working for this David Shwartzman after he finished his Grade Eight. Dad sort of set him up on the business – it was a grocery business and dry goods too. I worked for him till the war started; then I had to go.

First I was sent to Fort William – I worked in an aircraft factory for the United States Navy. We were building Curtiss Helldivers. The deal was, of course, I got the regular wages that everyone else got, but I had to pay $25 a month to the government for being a Doukhobor. That cut my living down!  [laughter]  I was there until the war ended. After that, I came back to Kamsack and I worked for my brother, for the rest of the time, until we closed the store in 1983.

Outbreak of World War Two

Where were you living when war broke out in 1939?

In Kamsack.

What was your occupation at the time?

I was working for my brother at that time. He had his business set up at that time.

What was your marital and family status at the time?

I was married. I had my first child, Karen.

What was your personal reaction to the outbreak of war? What do you recall thinking and feeling when you first heard the news?

At first – we were friends with people and this one friend of ours, Louie Eckford, he was a chiropractor. We were together friends. He had joined the navy, and I was ready to join the navy too. But then, my folks stepped in and said “no, you can’t join the navy”. And so I didn’t join the navy. I worked for brother until I had to go to camp. First was I had to go to Fort William.

What was the general reaction of your Doukhobor friends and family to the war?

Everybody – they used to have meetings about this and that with the government when they decided we had to go to camp – they were negotiating about what they were going to do with the young people that were of call-up age. The government said that you have to go to camp – they would send us wherever we had to go, which was mostly building roads. I forget what the government wanted to pay us, but the guys who negotiated for us said, “well no, they’re going to work for fifty cents a day”. That’s what we got paid – fifty cents a day!  [laughter]

What was the general reaction of your non-Doukhobor friends and neighbours to the war? Did it differ from the Doukhobors?

They were sort of belligerent about that – friends, you know. “Oh yeah”, they said, “that’s not right”. But they couldn’t do nothing about it.

Did you belong to a Doukhobor organization during the war? If so, what organization?

My dad was what they called an Independent Doukhobor. They weren’t in the Community, you see. We had services at the Kamsack Doukhobor Society. They belonged to that organization.

A national registration was carried out in 1940. The Doukhobors were permitted to register their own people. Do you recall that event?

No. I went and registered with the government [myself]. I’ve still got my registration card.

Compulsory military training in Canada was announced in 1940. Did this change your views about the war?

No – that really didn’t change my view. What was happening was happening.

How and when did you receive your call-up to perform compulsory military training?

I forget the date.

Opposition to Military Service

Did you object to military service when you received your call-up?

Yes. I was a conscientious objector.

Why did you object to military service? What religious and philosophical beliefs led you to this decision?

Well, mostly because of my parents. Their wishes were that I don’t go to war. So I listened to father and mother.

Mike S. Nadane (centre with guitar) with two tent mates, alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, 1941.  He was 21 years of age at the time.

Alternative Service

In 1941, Conscientious Objectors were allowed to perform alternative service, or jail, instead of military service. What was “alternative service” and what did this involve?

It was explained to us what it was – I understood what it was.

Given your objection to military service, why did you choose alternate service?

I didn’t want to go to jail – and be a jailbird.

Did you have to report and register with the authorities for alternative service? What did this process involve?

Not really. When the call-up came up for us to go to camp, we got letters, and we were transported. They provided transportation for us.

Where were you designated to perform alternative service? Did you know where you would be going and what you would be doing?

Yes. They explained where we were going.

How long did you have to perform alternative service? When did it begin and end?

I think it was thirty days. I wasn’t there for four months – maybe two at the most.

The Work Camp

How did you get to the work camp?

They transported us by train to Prince Albert. And then we were put on a bus after that, going further north on Number 2 Highway past Clear Lake. We went to Clear Lake – there was a camp at Clear Lake – another work camp. We stopped there for lunch. And then they kept us going to Montreal Lake.

Did you travel alone or with others?

There were others that went with me. From Kamsack – there was Al Malakoe, Alec Kalmakoff, John Cazakoff, John Vanin from Pelly was with us. There were quite a few of us from Kamsack together.

Describe the work camp you stayed at. Where was it located?

It was at Montreal Lake.

What was the physical layout? What kind of structures?

It was all tents. Maybe 10 in a tent. I shared a tent with Al Malakoe, and Bill Malekoff – on the farm we were neighbours, half a mile apart. I forget who else we had.
The cook shack was a tent; the dining room was a tent. There were about 40 or 50 of us eating at one time, so they had a big long table there for us to have dinners, breakfasts, lunch.

They had a first aid van there for us. Outside of that, it was pretty much all tents. Everything was all temporary.

Did you know of other CO work camps in the area?

There was another camp at Clear Lake. There were 16 Doukhobors there.

Did you know many of the Doukhobors at the camp when you arrived there?

Well, the ones that were in Kamsack. And of course, a few from Veregin that I knew. Demofski and Mahonin and guys like that. John Vanin from Pelly. Yes, I knew quite a few of them.

Did you make many friends with Doukhobors from other communities?

Oh yes, we were all together. We would sing songs. Al Malakoe – he had a guitar, and we’d sing Russian songs like you wouldn’t believe!

Who were the non-Doukhobors who stayed at the camp? What were their names and what jobs did they perform? What do you recall about them?

The foreman for the roadwork. And the cook. They were good company. Nothing was said about anything. We just had one happy gang. Everybody got along.

What were your assigned tasks and duties at the camp?

I was what they called a “bull cook”. I helped the cook peel potatoes, stuff like that, and we served the tables. That took all of our time – we were steady on that. We were up early in the morning for breakfast – to get all the dishes on the tables. The cook, of course, had everything prepared, because we helped him peel potatoes and whatever was needed for him. He did the cooking, and it was ready to cook, ready to serve. There were six of us altogether [helping the cook].

Of the other Doukhobors?

The rest of the men worked on road construction – most of them. What they did, I couldn’t even tell you. Where they were working was about five or six miles north of us. So they went in the morning and they went out there in a gang and came back at night. They had their lunch out there. They had trucks – it is possible they rode out there.

Describe the construction work itself. What type of work was involved? Was it manual labour or did you operate equipment?

Most of it was manual labour.

Would you say that the work was difficult?

No, not really. Nobody strained themselves.  [laughter]

Were there chores at the camp besides the construction work?

There were fellows who cleaned the tent – swept it out, things like that. Latrines, things like that. They were assigned from among the Doukhobors.

Were there any special dietary needs in camp? Were there any vegetarians?

Yes – one especially, I’ll never forget!  [laughter]  Alex – he was from Pelly. He claimed he didn’t eat meat. But you put baloney on the table, and he lapped ‘er up like you wouldn’t believe!  [laughter]

Did the kitchen staff make traditional Doukhobor food?

I don’t remember [any Doukhobor food]. It was English food – soup, meat and potatoes.

Were there any opportunities for recreation and relaxation at the camp, when you weren’t working? What did this involve?

Everyone was pretty well on their own. Nobody really had anything really going. The boys in our tent – we would sing – and guys from other tents, they’d come in to join us. Singsongs happened often – pretty much every night.

I don’t remember playing any sports.

Possibly there were opportunities to go swimming and fishing – if you were interested enough to go some place. But I never went swimming or fishing – although the lake [Montreal Lake] was close enough.

What reading materials did you have in camp?

I don’t remember reading a lot; although we’d catch a newspaper every once in a while. But outside of that, I didn’t have any books, myself, to read. I don’t know if the other boys read or not.

Did you listen to the radio?

Gosh, you know, I don’t remember.

Were Doukhobor spiritual sobranies and choir practices held at the camp?

No prayer meetings. No choir practices [that I recall].

What main language did you speak in camp?

Mostly English – even among ourselves.

Did you interact much with the local Cree Indian residents?

No – none that I remember.

What visitors do you recall coming to the camp?

Yes – we had, the odd time, visitors. That’s so long ago, I forget what really happened. We didn’t have too many [friends and family]. Didn’t have too many visitors that way.

Were you allowed to take leave from the work camp?

No – I was there for the whole time.

Do you recall any disciplinary problems at the camp?

Not really, no.

Were you paid for your work at the camp? If so, how much?

We got paid fifty cents a day.

All and all, did you enjoy camp life?

I enjoyed it – I think everybody there enjoyed it.

When your alternative service ended, how did you travel back home?

Same way we came. In groups – some went to Blaine Lake, others [elsewhere]. Prince Albert was sort of the centre – they dispersed from Prince Albert. We took the train from Prince Albert – I did anyway, and the boys from Kamsack did.

What’s your fondest memory of the camp?

The companionship, you know. We were all together – having a good time, so to speak. We were all there for the same reason. There were no big differences of opinion among the group.

When you arrived back home, how was the attitude of your family and local people towards you as one who chose not to go to war?

Nothing very serious about anything. It happened – it happened. You went and you came back. The local Doukhobor people were supportive. The local people who weren’t Doukhobors – maybe they made comments, but it wasn’t a big deal.

What did you do once you left the camp?

I went back to work in the store. That’s where I worked until my retirement.

Did you continue to keep in touch with the other Doukhobor men you met at the camp?

Once in a while, yeah. I remember John Bondoreff – he was asking me about something one time. Every once in a while, we’d get in touch – most of the time by phone.

And the men from Kamsack who were at the camp with you – did you often talk about that experience, later in life?

Well, yeah, we always got together, and said what a good time we used to have.  [laughter]

In Retrospect

Looking back, seventy years later, how did alternative service impact your life?

I can’t really say. I did it – and that was it.

Do you still feel as strongly today, as you did then, about your objection to war?

Oh yeah. I see no reason for it.

Based on your experience in the Second World War, what message would you give Doukhobors today, or in the future, about war and military service?

Well, I’d say that war is not the answer to the questions that have to be settled. They should be settled peaceably, across the table.

There is a proposal to name the highway you helped build the “Highway of Peace”. What do you think of this proposal?

Well, I guess that’s a good idea. That’s good… I support that.

Thank you, Mike, for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Group photo of 54 Doukhobor conscientious objectors – alternative service work camp, Montreal Lake, SK, August 25, 1941.  Mike S. Nadane is standing in the third row (circled).

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor conscientious objectors during the Second World War, see the following links: