Childhood Memories

by Alexey Ivanovich Popov

Alexey Ivanovich Popov was born February 8, 1876 in the province of Elizavetpol, Russia, in the village of Novo-Troitskoye. At the age of two, he and his family, together with a sizeable group of Doukhobors immigrated to the territory known as Kars near the Turkish border. There, they founded the village of Spasovka, where Alexey remained until manhood. Many years later, he recounted his Doukhobor childhood in his memoirs, written in 1953 but published posthumously. The following excerpt, reproduced by permission from Chapter One of “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” (Trans. Eli A. Popoff. Kelowna: 2006), chronicles the first fourteen years of Alexey’s life and provides a wealth of insight into Doukhobor life, events and beliefs, especially with respect to the upbringing and education of Doukhobor children in the Caucasus, Russia the 1880’s.

I, Alexey Ivanovich Popov, was a son of religious parents. They were a poor, peasant family of Doukhobor faith. I was born on February 25, 1877 in the Doukhobor village of Troitskoye in the Russian Gubernia of Elizavetpol, which is situated on the southern side of the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia. My father was Ivan Semyonovich Popov and my mother was Anna Semyonovna Popov (Androsov). They were humble, poor peasants who made their living as tillers of the soil. They were staunch in their Doukhobor faith and devout believers in their spiritual Doukhobor leaders. As true followers of their faith my parents migrated to Canada in 1899 with the Doukhobor mass migration of that time. Here in Canada, all the days of their lives they belonged to the Doukhobor group known as the Sons of Freedom. Both of them spent considerable periods of time in Canadian prisons and endured various forms of beatings and other persecution, but they did not change their beliefs to the very end of their lives. They passed away at different times; both are buried at the same cemetery in British Columbia. In their family they had seven children – three sons and four daughters. I was their third child.

Alexei Ivanovich Popov as an adult, c. 1915.

Recollections of what my mother told me:

When my mother gave birth to me, she had a very hard time and remained ill and in bed for months after my birth. It was my father who looked after all the farm chores as well as most of the household duties. Mother told me that I was a very quiet child. Very seldom did anyone hear me cry. During her illness my mother did not have any milk in her breasts to feed me. She was also not able to get out of bed and prepare any baby food for me. As was a common practice at that time among the Doukhobors, all the mothers who were breastfeeding their children in the immediate neighbourhood took turns and came to our house to feed me. Each came at their allotted time to feed me. At the same time when they came to feed me, each of the mothers would do some of the housework and look after some of my mother’s needs. This went on up to the time that I reached two years of age.

After two years of age:

Some of the following that I write about, it seems to me that I remember it myself, but it is possible that some of it may have been told to me by my mother, when I was still a child of eight or nine years of age. I remember that I was a healthy child and remember how I walked with steady feet all over the yard, but the events that went on in the family household at that time I do not seem to recall.

The first thing I remember is that on the south, sunny side of our house, right against the wall, the ashes from our Russian bake oven were always placed in a pile. In the summer this pile got very dry. I loved to play on it and sometimes would even fall asleep, half covered in the ashes. Sometimes I would sleep here till I woke up, and sometimes someone would carry me inside the house while I was still asleep. When I was two and a half years old, I was strong enough to roam around the whole yard and even outside the yard. At one time after it was past the noon hour of twelve o’clock, my mother decided to pay a visit to the nearby shallow river where the village women placed their flax straw to soak in preparation for the next stage to be made into fiber for spinning and weaving. This was a yearly practice that was done in the fall of every year. I was allowed to go with my mother for this visit. Shortly after we had already passed the outskirts of the village, I had my first sight of a large prairie jackrabbit. He had been lying in the grass, till we came quite close to him. Suddenly he raised himself and turning towards the nearby mountain, he ran with a brisk jump towards this mountain. The mountain was a landmark in the area that was called “Troitskiy Shpeel” (shpeel means a peak or spire).

After a short while we arrived at the river. The spot chosen here was a curve in the river with a very slow flowing current. The bottom was covered with a coarse gravel with scattered round and flat rocks. The depth of the water was from 6 to 18 inches. Between the scattered rocks it was excellent to place the flax or hemp straw for soaking. These bundles of straw would then have the river rocks placed on top of them. This was done so that the current would not carry away the straw and so that the direct sun would not shine upon it. When we came to this spot my mother took off her shoes and waded into the water. She reached into the water and took out a handful of straw. She rubbed it between her hands for a while and then put it back. Apparently it was not yet ready to take out. At this same spot, a little further up river, we saw that there was another Doukhobor woman who had come to examine her material. She was also finished with her examination, so we started going back to our village together – this lady and my mother, and me following them. On our way home we did not see any other wild life. Arriving at the outskirts of our village I noticed that the sun was now setting over that same mountain, “Troitskiy Shpeel”, towards which the jackrabbit had scampered.

When we came home, mother went to milk the cows, but as for me, I felt so tired from the walk of about four miles that I immediately climbed up onto the space above the Russian bake oven where it was always warm. Feeling warm all over, I fell asleep almost at once. And it was here that I slept throughout the whole evening and night and right through the early morning. It was never the practice of my mother to wake a child to feed him the evening meal, or to move him once he was comfortably asleep. She always said – once a child is comfortably sleeping in the evening, let him be. Missing the meal won’t hurt him as much as disturbing his peaceful sleep.

In the morning I got up from my place of sleep before my other siblings got out of bed and at once told my mother that I was hungry. Mother immediately poured some milk into the earthenware dish, along with some small chunks of leftover wheat bread. I took out of the cupboard one of the hand-carved wooden spoons and heartily ate what my mother had set before me.

Being only two and a half years old, none of the household or yard chores had yet been allocated to me, and so my daily life went on as with all other children in the quiet peaceful life of our agrarian village. At this age I was already quite articulate in my speaking. Although I did not have too broad a vocabulary, this was being added to from day to day.

As usual, I was always interested in what my father did as his village work routine. It was about three weeks after the visit to the river with my mother that my father brought home on a hayrack wagon the flax and hemp straw that had been soaking in the river. He carefully placed it under a roof to dry. After a period of drying, mother would go to the shed and take small bundles of the straw and with wooden tools she would work days on end beating the straw till it would separate into fibrous strands. The straw would be thrown aside for use in making fuel bricks, and the semi-clean fiber would be taken into the house. During the long winter evenings, in a special corner of the house both mother and father would keep on tramping this semi-clean fiber with their bare feet. Every once in a while they would take this mass outside to shake out the straw from it. When this mass was reasonably clean, mother would then card it piece by piece with special hand carders. Now this fluffy mass was ready handful by handful to be spun into yarn on the home made spinning wheel. In the evening mother would spin while father would be tramping the semi-cleaned flax fiber in the corner. During the daytime mother would work with the wooden tools outside, doing the first stage of the straw separation. In the evenings my father would continue the cleaning process of tramping by foot in the corner of the house that what mother had prepared outside, while mother would be carding or spinning in another corner of the living room. This kind of work continued up until about the month of February. At this time all of the cleaning, carding and spinning should be completed. Now the spun yarn had to be made into linen and hemp cloth in a process that was very fascinating to me as a child. As I grew older the process became clearer to me, but it is still quite hard to explain step by step how the yarn eventually became a very durable linen, hemp or wool material used for sewing the clothes that were worn by all the Doukhobors. All this was done in the living rooms of almost every Doukhobor family in the village.

The spun yarn was rolled into large balls. The place for preparing the yarn for its required width of usually about two feet was chosen along the longest wall of the living room. After a rotating walk around the set up pegs on a raised bench, the resulting unrolling of the large balls of yarn into a long pattern was ready to go into the set up loom for weaving. The loom itself was an intricate homemade wooden construction that a woman had to sit at. Working with her hands to put a cross thread through the two-foot wide yarn on the rollers, and using her feet to move the thing along was an art exclusive mostly to Doukhobor women. The work of weaving on the loom to make these two-foot wide and of various lengths materials or rugs went on into the months of March, April and even May. When it became warm enough in the spring to do this, then the women would take these rugs, which were still quite coarse, to the river again. There they are again soaked in the water and then spread out on the green grass to dry in the sun. As soon as they are dry, they are again soaked and again spread out in the sun. This process softens them, and also makes them become whiter. From this material the women then sew what the family requires. From the purer and softer white material they sew women’s clothes. Some of the coarser material is coloured, usually blue, and men’s pants are sewn from it, and also some women’s work clothing. The women do all their sewing by hand, and use their own, finer linen thread. A lot of clothing material was made from sheep’s wool. The process of preparing wool into yarn for spinning and weaving was a bit different and a lot of wool yarn was used for knitting.

All of this work with flax and hemp straw and sheep’s wool was done in the wintertime, and most of it was done by the Doukhobor women residing at this time in the Doukhobor villages of the Caucasus area in southern Russia. In the summer, during haying season, these same women worked side by side with the men. The men with hand scythes would be cutting the hay, while the women, with hand rakes made of wood, would be raking the hay into little piles, which they referred to as “miniature stacks”. At harvest time the women together with the men, using hand scythes would harvest the grain, tying the grain stalks into sheaves that they would later thresh together. Threshing of the grain was also done by hand by both men and women.

Besides helping the men in the fields, Doukhobor women also planted large vegetable gardens, which they looked after from spring till fall using hand tools. Every Doukhobor family had cows, which the women milked by hand. They also looked after the sheep and it was the women’s job to shear the wool from them every spring. Every family raised chickens, ducks and geese and the women looked after these as well. Of course it was the women’s duty to cook, to sew, to wash clothes, clean house and do all other family chores including the bringing up of children. Among all of these responsibilities the women still found time to go and pick the abundant wild flowers of the Caucasus area. They also picked herbs for their own medicinal use, as well as for sale.

One other very important responsibility of Doukhobor women was that they had to pass on the Doukhobor life-concept to the children by teaching them to know from memory Doukhobor psalms, wherein was contained the aspects of the Doukhobor faith. When a child was still quite young, the mother taught them the psalms only for reciting purposes. As the child grew older, the mother was required to see that the child would start learning the melody of each psalm. This was in order that the child could participate in mass prayer meetings, which were based on the reading and singing of psalms. The melody for Doukhobor psalms was very intricate and not easy to learn, even if you were growing up as a Doukhobor. For most outsiders the melody of Doukhobor psalms is very hard to understand and almost impossible to sing in the same soul stirring way.

When I was two years and eight months old my mother taught me one short psalm, which was specially composed for children. It was easy to read and I learned to read it quite fluently. It started with: “Lord, give us your blessing.” “Thou art my God and I am your slave. You will not desert me, and I will not ever leave you” and ended with “Honour and Praise to our God”. This psalm I learned to read from memory while we still lived in the house where I was born in the village of Troitskoye (Elizavetpol Gubernia).

In the spring of the year 1880 a sizable group of Doukhobors including our villagers and also from the neighbouring village of Spasovka of our Gubernia of Elizavetpol, decided to move to the Kars area of the Gubernia of Tiflis. The distance to cover was about two hundred and fifty plus Russian “Versti” (about 150 miles). My parents decided to make this move with the group. Being merely three years old at this time, I was not too aware of the hardships of this trip. I only remember the convoy of covered wagons following one another and slowly making their way along wagon trail roads, which were often muddy and soft. The wagons were heavily loaded and sometimes got bogged down in the mud so that the team hitched to the wagon would not be able to pull the wagon out. I remember cases where all the wagons would stop and they would hitch teams from other wagons at the head of those stuck. After pulling out the stuck wagon, the whole convoy would then proceed. On the third day of our journey our convoy had to cross a river. Its depth was from one to three and a half feet. Its width was about three hundred feet and it was quite fast flowing. My father was driving a four-horse team hitched to our wagon and it appears that he had moved a bit to one side of the regular track where it was safe to cross. There was a huge unseen rock in the water that stopped the wagon and the horses could not move it. Many men from the other wagons immediately came to the rescue. They waded into the water, and finding out what the problem was, they placed themselves at the wheels and at the back of the wagon and helped to get the wagon over the rock and safely to the other side.

A sample page from Alexey’s handwritten memoirs of 1953, painstakingly translated by his son Eli A. Popoff in 2006.

At the other side of the river, all of the convoy stopped for a meal, to rest and to feed the horses. Feed for the horses was not being hauled because the wagons were overly full with all the household and other belongings that were being transported to the new place of abode. So the horses were fed merely with the local grass that they grazed and any fresh hay that could be cut on the way. The early spring green grass was not very nutritious for the horses. They weakened day by day, and so the journey was longer than it should have been. What added to the hardships was that there was much rain during this trip –making the roads wet and soggy. The wagon wheels kept sinking up to four inches – making ruts as they proceeded. Because of all this the convoy used to make as little as fifteen versti, and at the most 30 versti of travel per day (a “versta” is approximately one kilometre. – Ten kilometres is approximately 6 miles). It was fortunate for the whole convoy that the climate of this Caucasus area was reasonable during the spring. While there were times of very heavy rainfall making puddles three or four inches deep on the roads, within the same hour the sun would come out and in a short time the water would all disappear. The rain did not bother the people or their belongings because all of the wagons were well covered with good frames covered with durable canvass. The food brought along for the trip was very simple. Basically everyone had sacks full of “sookhari” or twice baked bread chunks, made from whole wheat. They had a supply of potatoes, millet grain and salted chunks of sheep’s fat. The road from Elizavetpol to the Kars area was very hilly and rocky and there was a considerable amount of forest growth all around. The territory that was being crossed was all Crown Land and therefore it was permissible to let the horses graze at every stop that was made. We children always rode in the comfort of the covered wagons, where we also slept every night. All of the men usually walked behind or beside the wagons. They did not have to drive the horses most of the time as the Caucasus horses were better trained to keep to the trails, than the Canadian horses that we have had to use. It was only once in a while when a steep hill would appear ahead that the drivers would sit down on the driver’s seat to urge and steer the horses.

In the evenings when the convoy was camping for the night, the men would gather in groups and join in light hearted discussions and usually sang joyous hymns and songs. The women would be cooking the evening meal and tending to the children’s needs. In general this migration from one area to another had its hardships, but there were also joyful times. Throughout the whole trip there was not a single occasion of misfortune or trauma to any family in the whole convoy.

In the latter part of April, our convoy reached its destination. My parents chose to settle in the village named “Spasovka” in the District of Arganov about 40 “Versti” east of the City of Kars in what was referred to as “Karsskaya Oblast” or the region of Kars in the Gubernia (or province) of Tiflis. The village of Spasovka was situated in a unique location. From the west side there was a huge long mountain. On the north, east and south sides, the river “Karsina” made a huge bend. Along the south west side and along the mountain there flowed a smaller unnamed river, which always had warm water in it. On frosty days of the winter months there was always a vapor of steam above it. At the southeast end of our village location these two rivers joined together and they flowed out of our valley in a southeasterly direction between two tall mountains of rock, which formed a gorge at this point.

Both these rivers had an abundance of fish. However these fish were of a small common variety and could not be compared to the special fish that we came to know in far eastern parts of Russia, in Siberia, province of Yakutsk.

In this, our new village of Spasovka, my parents did not have to build their new home to live in. This was because there were two parties of Doukhobors that had already moved here from our province. With one of these parties, my grandfather Semyon Leontievich Popov came here before us. These parties that had come here before us, by mutual agreement, had already allocated exactly how the village would be built. They had measured out equal lots in a long line with homes to be built facing each other. One side of the line would have the houses with the rear facing eastward, and the other side would have their rear facing westward. In the centre was a wide street running from north to south. The total length of this street was about one and one quarter “versti” (about ¾ of a mile). After all the lots were marked out and numbered – each family drew lots for the one that would be theirs.

Part of these lots covered a territory that once had the remains of a small Turkish village. This territory still had the skeletons of five Turkish dwelling homes that were not totally deteriorated. These dwellings all had the same shape and style. The structure was all under one roof and quite low to the ground level. The roof was made from turf. Each had two doors on the long side of the structure. One door led into the structures most spacious division, which had four separate divisions and was used to house the farm animals and the poultry. The other door, at the other end, led into the division where the family was to live. One of these structures still remained on the lot that grandfather drew as his allocated lot. When my parents arrived at this newly pioneered village, my grandfather greeted us at the front of this building, and this is where we settled in to live.

The first essential chore that had to be done here was to go to the place and dig the special clay, from which bricks could be made. After drying and processing the bricks, these would then be laid in proper formation to make the brick oven for baking and cooking. I remember my father and grandfather at work making the bricks, while mother was busy washing up all the clothes from the trip and doing other cleaning. From these very first days I remember my older brother and sister and myself climbing the low roofed dwelling of ours and walking all over the long roof.

Because grandfather had come here earlier, he had done some essential work that every homeowner had to do here at this time. He had tilled some of our allotted soil and sowed some barley. He did complain that the Turkish people who lived here had apparently used the soil continually for many years and he feared that the crop would be very poor. We did not have any choice at this time, so in the latter days of the month of April, we, as all others – planted our gardens, each on the allotted lots, which were also very much worked over before us.

At this time I was just three years and two months old and so all of the responsibilities of this first pioneering year did not affect me. All the responsibilities rested on the shoulders of our parents. As for us, children, free of worldly responsibilities, as soon as summer warmth came around, we headed in groups to the shallow warm river that was really right in our back yard.

There for days at a time we sat in the warm waters of the river taking hourly outings to stretch out on the warm sand of the beach. Because there were no schools in this new area where we settled, the children that came to the river ranged from two to nine years. The parents felt safe to allow the children to come here, because the river was shallow and slow flowing. The shore was not deep set, but just about even with the land’s surface and the river bottom was firm and solid. This was why all the children of our village spent all the sunny days at this river shore. In the evenings the parents always insisted that all children spend a certain amount of time learning from memory the prayers of the Doukhobors, which were called psalms. When I was four years old I learned my second psalm, which read as follows:

Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing

Let us all tearfully reflect on all the daily workings of our lives. Verily speaks to us our Lord with entreaty: “You my male servants and maid servants, devout Christians, do not forget to be faithful to God, and He will not forget you in the end time to come. In our present day, the times are very trying. We are being judged and persecuted. There has been born an evil anti-Christ. He has sent forth his evil oppressors out into the whole world. There is no place to hide for my faithful followers, neither in the mountains, nor in the caves, nor in the distant barren places. My faithful followers have to live in exile and suffer persecution for keeping to the word of God and for manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ. But you my faithful followers rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.

Our God be praised.

Because my age group of children was not yet allocated any responsibilities, we continued to spend all our time at our favorite spot by the river. We would go there day after day. The only time we were not there was when we would see a dark cloud coming over the horizon and rumbling of thunder would be heard. At such times we would race to where the nearest covered wagons were parked and hide under their cover. For the first season, families continued to live in their covered wagons while the houses were being built. The last parties were all still living in their covered wagons. My parents were very fortunate to have the frames of the five Turkish huts that were on their allotted plot. We were sheltered in them during the first trying years. All the other families next to us were all hurrying to get their houses built. The construction of houses in this area was very simple. The walls were built from the slabs of unhewn gray rock that was freely available at the nearby foothills of the mountains. In between went layers of mixed clay mortar, which was also readily available at various spots of the valley. There was no visible forest anywhere nearby so wood was only used for window frames and doorjambs. For the roof some round poles were used sparsely, on which were laid split flat slabs of stone. On this base, plain soil was heaped, and this method was used for every roof of every building in the village. All the buildings had similar rock walls. Our village of Spasovka had 86 family residences. Each and every residence was similarly built and there was not a single wooden roofed building in the whole village.

With this form of construction, not counting the labor the cost of the buildings was very minimal. For a residence to house a family of ten with livestock from 25 to 30 head, the cost of constructing a residence would be from five to ten rubles. This expense goes specifically for the cost of glass and any ironware that was required for the buildings. It also covered anything that was needed for the large Russian oven assembled out of hand-made bricks. This oven served for all the kitchen cooking, bread baking, as well as supplying heat in the winter months. The construction of these buildings was the prime occupation of each and every family in these first years of settlement. All of the needed materials for this type of construction was readily available nearby. The forms of rock and stone slabs were all around you to the fullest of your hearts desire. There were mountains of clay for your mortar and brick baking. Water was abundant from the two rivers in the valley. The biggest detriment was the lack of forest nearby. The closest place for cutting any timber was 50 Versti away. Although there was one good thing about the timber, and that was, that for all our new settlers the state allowed a given amount for free. However to transport this timber was very difficult. In the first place there was still a shortage of horses in the first years and there was no supply of any kind of grain to feed the horses in this long and arduous journey. Even though throughout the Kavkaz Mountains there were always patches of good grass, this was not good enough to give strength for the horses to pull these heavy loads of timber for such long distances. Besides all this, horsepower was needed at home for hauling the rocks and for tilling the soil. The roads that were used to get to the timber belt were not kept up by anyone. Although the trails were somewhat packed down, the continuous summer rains would make them muddy and difficult for any kind of transportation. It was because of all of this that lumber was of the highest value in all of our villages.

There never was any talk of a sawmill to be constructed because the logs brought here were few and far between. For the absolutely essential boards the logs were cut by hand with long crosscut saws. Those families that did not have two grown men got together in pairs with other families. Since this was not an occupation that was practiced often, some of the boards that were cut were very uneven. These were the tasks that were performed by all the grown ups of the village throughout the spring, summer and fall. In the fall the gathering in of the crops took precedence over all. The first crops were very poor as these were sewn on lands that the Turkish people had been farming for many years and new land had not yet been prepared. Our children’s summer occupation that we loved best of all was our time spent by the river. Nevertheless there were times when we would go to the spots where the families were mixing the clay for mortar for the buildings. Here we would roll our own little balls of clay for our own kind of play. Sometimes we would dry them, but sometimes we would throw them at each other while they were still raw and wet. The object was to dodge them, as they hurt quite considerably. Sometimes one of the clay balls would hit a grown up person, at which time we would all be chased away. A chase from one place did not usually stop us. We would just go to another place further away where the same clay mixing was going on. Our group eventually earned the name of “mischief makers.”

When it was time for harvest all of our barefooted gang was broken up. Each went to their own family group in readiness to be taken to the fields together with the elders. Only those children stayed at home where there was an elder staying behind to allocate to them the home chores that had to be done.

Harvesting the grain at that time was very simple. The men cut down the standing grain with hand scythes, and the women raked it into small neat piles called “Kopitsi”. Then the men using special thin poles about 10 feet long, and sticking them under the pile from two sides, they would lift and carry this pile to a central place where a neat small stack would be made. This stack would be left that way till all the cutting down of the grain would be finished.

The children’s responsibility was to see that not a blade with a head of kernels in it would be left lying in the field. We would gather these individually and tie them into little sheaves with the spare straw stems. Every child would place his little sheaves separately into neat piles. These sheaves would then be taken home in the evening, where we would give them into caretaking of the parents and receive their praise according to how diligently they had worked and how many sheaves were made up. The parents kept these little sheaves separately and allowed them to be threshed separately. With the grain that resulted, the children were allowed to trade it with the local traveling merchants for goodies like apples, plums or grapes, either fresh or dried.

After the harvesting of the grain in the fields is completed, the families individually, if large families, and sometimes together with others, if small – prepare a special spot for threshing. A sizable smooth surfaced place is chosen. First it is wetted down with water and tall grass or straw is scattered loosely on it. A horse is then hitched to a special wooden roller with pegs in it, and with a rider horseback on the horse, drives back and forth on this patch until the straw is tramped in and the whole base is quite firm and solid. After this has dried, the excess straw is swept off and the reaped grain is then spread on this firm base which is called a “Katok” and the same wooden roller is hauled across, over and over until the kernels are all freed from the heads. When the men feel that all the kernels are free from the straw, they gather the straw with forks and take it away, piling it into stacks for feed. The grain is shoveled to the centre of the “Katok” and more unthreshed wheat or whatever grain is being threshed is spread around. Then the roller and the horse again commence their threshing process. After the men feel that there is about 50 or 60 “poodi” of grain (one “pood” is 40 pounds) in the centre of the “Katok”, the threshing process is halted. Now they take shovels and throw the grain into the air against the wind – thus separating the chaff from the kernels, as it is light and the wind blows it away. If there are any pieces of solid matter like dried mud chunks or small rocks – these are later removed by hand made screens.

All this harvesting work was carried out by the elders. In the meantime we children see how the elders are throwing the wheat and chaff into the wind, develop our own form of make believe. We gather in the street where there is loose dirt and make piles of it in the centre. Then cupping our hands we throw it into the air, just to see which way it blows. Because there are up to ten of us in a group, we create a regular dust storm in which you can hardly see our bodies. In the morning when we get together, all have different colored clothes. In the evening all our clothes are a dark gray. All around our eyes, nose and mouth there is a layer of black dust. We no longer look like children but like knights in black armor. In the event that we have a rainfall and the streets have puddles, we begin by racing through them, and then wrestling and before you know it we begin to go our separate and march home like fishermen coming home, wet and soggy.

It wasn’t always that we children got away with our naughty frolicking. Often either an elder man or an older woman would catch us doing something naughty and they would get after us with a willow switch, and without paying attention as to who belonged to which family, would give each one of us a good wallop on the back and chase us to our individual homes. Most of the time we were on the watch for any approaching elder, and when catching sight of one, we would immediately scatter and hide. There never was any thought of standing up to any older person of your own or any other village. If ever any child would answer harshly to any older person, he would be severely punished by his own parents at home. This meant that no child could do any mischief in any part of the village without immediately answering to any elder around. Even if he got away from the elder on the spot, he knew what he would get at home, when his mischief and disrespect of elders would be reported to his parents. This kind of upbringing allowed the Doukhobors to live in peace and harmony in their large extended families, and in their tightly knit villages. Every parent trusted their neighbouring parents to do the right thing when dealing with children’s pranks. Parents always trusted the elders’ assessment of an irresponsible occurrence, rather than the version given by a guilty teen-ager. There were no schools in our village and at most the literacy rate of the whole village was no more than 5 percent. Yet the whole village kept strictly to the above disciplinary guidelines without any exceptions.

With the oncoming colder weather, after all the fall work was done, our children’s group gallivanting came to an end. Because of general lack of warm winter clothing, most of us children now became confined to their homes. Staying at home, all we could do was think about all of the things we had done this past summer, and plan for the coming spring and summers escapades and the new things we might come up with.

During the fall and winter time of short days and long nights, because the children had no place to play and no responsibilities to fulfill and were having time on their hands, it became the duty of every parent and grandparent to teach them the prayers and psalms that contained the life-concept of the Doukhobors. These were passed on from generation to generation and were learned from memory. Families that had four or five children above four years of age, had them, every day, lined up in a row and made to recite from memory the psalms they already knew, and then separately, each one would be taught additional psalms. Up to a given age these psalms would be taught only for recitation. Later the melody of these psalms would be taught as well. In this particular winter I learned from memory my third psalm, whose contents was as follows:

“Lord, Give Us Thy Blessing”

“From the beginning of time and till now, the Lord God calleth to His faithful children: “Come to me my dear children, come to me my most dear ones. I have prepared for you the Kingdom of Heaven. Do not fear to forsake your father, your mother nor all of your race and lineage in the physical sense, but give reverence to me your heavenly Father in spirit. And the faithful children turn to Him in prayer – Oh Lord, our dear Lord it is so difficult for us to enter into your heavenly kingdom. All the pathways have gates of steel, and at the gates there stand fierce and unjust guards. And the Lord speaketh to them and sayeth: “Do not be fearful my children, do not be fearful my dear ones. I am the powerful wrestler that shall go forward before you. I shall break down all their gates of steel and I shall disperse their fierce guards. And then I shall lead you into my kingdom of heaven, where all shall reign with me as witnessed to by the God of Jacob.”

“Our God be praised”

During the winters male children under the age of 12 years had no responsibilities, so their day-to-day routine was always the same and the winters felt long. In regard to the girls it was a bit different. Beginning from the age of seven, the mothers began teaching them how to knit from the woolen yarn and even simple patching. Those families that had smaller babies, the girls were trained to take care of them. The girls were also taught to clean the floors as well as help their mothers with the washing of dishes. After the girls reach 12 years of age the mothers began to train them how to spin simple, thicker yarn for mitts and working stockings. All the spinning in our area of Kars province was done from sheep’s wool. Some sheep had been brought from our Elizavetpol province because there, most villagers had large herds of sheep. Some long horned cattle were also brought here from Elizavetpol, and these were used for milk from the very beginning of our new settlement.

When the frosts came in late fall, all work on construction was stopped. This was because in order to lay the stone walls it required mortar from the brown clay mixture. This mixture had to be handled with bare hands, and of course later this would get frozen and without a proper drying process this mortar would fall apart in the warm summer weather. Thus ,for the men folk there was less to do. All they had to do was look after cattle, horses and sheep, and in the homes they would patch the leather harness gear, repair worn boots or sew new ones. At times they would tan woolen sheepskins and sew them for wearing as short fur coats. Wood working shops did not exist here because wood was so hard to get. It was not even possible to haul logs from the forest in the wintertime. The roads were not passable. A blacksmith shop was very rare, as only a few essentials for household use or construction were ever made in the village blacksmith. There was nowhere in this area where men could go and do work for others, so in the year there were five months where the men, also, were tied to doing household and barnyard chores, the barn being part of the residence.

All the men’s main work of working the land, sowing, harvesting, and construction work could only be done in the spring and summer, so during the long winter evenings, the men – like the children spent a lot of time learning the Doukhobor psalms. This was done not only in their own homes. They also gathered in groups in neighbour’s homes. They not only read the psalms, but also in groups, sang them. On Sundays there were large gatherings for prayer meetings. At these prayer meetings everyone participated by each reading a psalm. The Doukhobors never had any special person for leading prayer services. Each and everyone participated with the reading and with the singing. That is why the children were taught from a very young age. It was always expected that each person would read a different psalm. And so if a group of one hundred gathered, the elders would be obliged to know just about that many psalms. The Doukhobors read their psalms, their prayers to God, not with the intent of absolving themselves from sin, but they read them for their own enlightenment as to how they should lead their lives. Each and every psalm had some explanation about the living spirit of the teachings of Jesus Christ. This is why the Doukhobors referred to their collection of psalms as the “Living Book”.

When a person has within his memory many Doukhobor psalms, no matter where he is, or what his circumstances are, he always has with him the instructional words contained in the psalms. No one can take them away from him, and having them always within the innermost sanctions of his being for his guidance, no one can sidetrack him, or change his deep seated and deeply rooted faith. This then, was one of the main reasons that the Doukhobors were not so concerned about grammar schools or other forms of academic learning. Their first concern was to instruct their children with the “Living Book”, their religious and moral, ethical, instructional psalms. In addition to all this the Doukhobors believed that their spiritual psalms were their own unique and bona fide life-concepts that no outsider had tampered with. Keeping firmly to the concepts contained in their psalms, the Doukhobors could safely withstand any foreign or alien influences. Their feelings were that any outside grammar teaching could still contain influences that were alien to Doukhobor thought and would infringe on or tend to obscure pure and untainted Doukhobor teachings.

During this first winter, with its short days and long nights was spent with even greater emphasis placed on spiritual aspects and the learning of psalms by both children and elders. I remember this first winter starting to turn towards spring because in February 25th of the year 1881 I became 4 years old. I really was not too aware of how good a crop we had this past year, or what other hardships my parents went through, because at my age this was not within my realm of comprehension. I do remember that the house (Saklya) that we lived in was warm and comfortable. The walls were about four feet thick. The rock walls were double layered. The rocks were laid in clay mortar in two columns, and in between the space was filled with common soil. The roof had round rafters – pine logs twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, on which were placed flat slabs of rock, a few inches in thickness. On these slabs straw was placed and then about twelve to fourteen inches of soil. There were only two windows and one door. The doorway entrance was a corridor with walls about 10 feet thick, and having a door at each end of the corridor. With only the two windows and a doored corridor entrance, the inside of the house was cozy and warm. I do not remember ever feeling cold or uncomfortable throughout the whole winter. It was only later in my life that I began experiencing a longing for the warm sunny days of summer.

Spring did come, and at the end of March the snow began to melt. It was wonderful. For just as soon as a bare spot of earth showed up, there immediately green tufts of grass started to show. By about April 10th the snow was all gone and a vaporous fog started to rise from the soil. Soon the soil warmed up and everywhere green grass appeared. Right after this, the earliest white flowers of the “maslyonka” plant, a variety of buttercups began to dot the green prairie land. These buttercups in their roots had a large kernel, the size of a peanut, which was edible. There we were in groups, armed with a special wooden rod sharpened at the end like a little shovel scampering all over the prairie meadow digging these peanuts to eat right there and to bring some home. This daily occupation of ours lasted till about the 5th of May. After this the white flowers would wither and fly away. Then there was no way you could spot the buttercup plant in the lush green grass, and besides that the peanut seed itself would get to be coarse and hard and not edible anymore. And so, for a time our children’s groups would be left without too much to do except wait for the warm sunny days to come, when we again could go to our favorite river beach to swim and bask in the warm sun. The last year’s pastime was to be repeated again this year, until such time as our parents would begin the harvest season and again get us to pick up all the loosely fallen grain.

This was the routine for all of us children, and this is what occupied my time when I was five and six years old. When I became seven years of age, that winter my parents taught me several more lengthy psalms. I remember that spring when the snow melted more rapidly and the streets were full of puddles and little creeks. Here was something new – to build little dikes and canals and float little hand made boats and make imaginary turning mills on the flowing rivulets. After this came the season of digging the buttercup roots and when that finished a new phase of my childhood development came about. My older brother Nikolay made a fish hook out of an old needle. He attached a length of string to the homemade hook and gave me my first instructions on how to catch the little fish that abounded in the same river that we loved to swim in. He showed me where to dig for the long, red earthworms, how to store them in an empty can with some earth in it, and how to attach them in short pieces for baiting the hook. He showed me how to lower the hook into the water and then patiently wait till a fish starts jerking on the line. This shallow river that we swam in seemed to have millions of these little fish. They were the size of Canadian perch and resembled them in appearance. And so, along with all other boys that were seven and eight years old this became another pastime with which we were occupied.

The little fish were very plentiful in the river, and if a boy struck a good spot he could catch from 50 to 75 of them in one day’s outing. The caught fish would be kept in a screened cage in the water. When these were brought home, the mothers would merely clean the innards and then fry them whole. When the fish was fried for some time they are smothered in a mixture of dough that is made quite thin, and then the whole mass is baked in the oven. This kind of fish in pastry, served as a very special delicacy for all of us children. It also substantially added to our dietary supplies, as in our first years in this new settlement food was not too plentiful. In our particular family this was even more so.

Alexey’s parents, Anna and Ivan Popov, c. 1915. Ivan was a very large man whereas Anna was diminutive. In this photo, Ivan is sitting while Anna is standing.

When our family was coming from our village in the province of Elizavetpol we had brought with us 4 cows. In the fall of 1882 three of these cows were stolen. On one night that fall a group of thieves came and from the far side of the barn they took apart a part of the stone wall and led the three cows away. Even with the help of the whole village, we were never able to track down the culprits or to find out where three of our best cows disappeared. From that time on, our dairy products were far more limited than in other families. Our daily food was bread made from whole-wheat flour with soup, which was made basically of potatoes and coarsely ground wheat. Borshch had potatoes and cabbage plus a large tablespoon of thick cream. Into both soup and borshch, for our family of six people, one small tablespoon of butter was added.

Therefore, the small perch that I caught with the homemade fishing tackle was a very welcome addition to our meager food supply. It was a change, it was very tasty and it cost nothing. Up to seven years of age, no outside family responsibilities were designated to me. I was still allowed to go and dig the buttercup peanuts. But when their season came to an end I was given a more serious responsibility. Most families had flocks of geese. This particular spring my mother was able to successfully hatch 48 goslings, in addition to the five older geese that we owned – making 53 in all. As soon as they grew up a bit and got trained to keep to their own flock, because of shortage of home feed, the flock had to be herded out to pasture in the meadow and also to the same river where we went swimming. The river was shallow and quiet flowing and posed no danger for the geese. In places along its banks there was a lot of lush green grass which both the older geese and the young goslings loved to feed on. Besides this, when they would plunge into the river there were all kinds of bugs that lived in the quiet eddies, and the geese young and old feasted on them. With this range free feeding, the young geese developed in leaps and bounds. My job was to keep them together, both on the range and in the water from 7 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock in the evening. After 9 o’clock I would herd the geese home where they had special housing under a solid roof with solid locking doors. It was not possible to leave the geese free overnight because there had been occasions when the large gray wolves which roamed the mountainside would sometimes come down into the village at night and kill some geese and drag them away for eating later.

In the daytimes there had not been any occasion that the wolves would come to the riverside. There were a few occasions when stray dogs would come there but they could be frightened away. On rare occasions there were serious hailstorms and some of the little goslings would be seriously hurt or even killed. Apart from these rare times of worry, we young children that looked after the geese felt free and happy. We often had time to swim in the river ourselves and lie on the shore. Sometimes we even did some fishing. The flocks of geese also enjoyed these free-range outings. At times when they would have a good feeding quickly, they would also stretch out on the sand and lie sleeping. Other times they would swim in the deeper water and then lazily stay in the shallow eddies snapping at the bugs that swam there. There were odd times when one flock of geese would get mixed up with another flock and coming home we would have different counts. To avoid disputes every family had their own markings on the feet of the geese. Some cut slits in the goose toe webs. Others cut one nail off, either, the left or right foot. All were different. And so checking the markings each family claimed their separated goslings. I do not remember that there were ever any serious disputes.

This work of pasturing geese continues from the first of June until the fifth of September when the harvest season commences. At this time the geese are not pastured at the river anymore, but they are brought out into the harvest fields where they methodically go through the harvested field and pick up every head of grain that fell aside from the main stacks. Some families who had the proper utensils brought out water for the geese into the fields and so the geese remain in the field from dawn to dark. Feeding on grain, the geese accumulated a considerable amount of fat. Thus, at home they are grain fed for no more than 2 weeks and then they are sold. The summer’s pasturing of the geese was not a troublesome one for the children. It was rather enjoyable, because the hours of work were not too exact. Morning or evening the timing could be one hour earlier or one hour later. There was however one hardship. Being bare legged all the time proved to have its disadvantages. Wetting your feet about every hour, and then being in the hot sand and sun eventually made all the skin rough, which later would have cracks appear and even open sores. The sores would bleed and be very painful. There was no medicine for this. The only thing that helped was to cover all your legs with black Caucasian oil. The oil seemed to protect the skin and going in and out of the water did not affect the skin as much.

Pasturing the geese at harvest time was more arduous. This was because the grain fields were sometimes one, two or three “Versti” from the home residence. During some hot days in the fall it would not be possible to herd the geese for such distances. This then required the young lad to get up before sunrise, and while the dew was still on the grass to get the geese into the fields and have them already fed before herding them to the river for water. In the evening it was the same problem. While the sun was still high it was too hot for the geese to trek from the river to the fields. They would get hot, open their mouths and lie down without going any farther. You could only start them from the river when the sun was already quite low. By the time they would get themselves fed it would already be getting dark. This created considerable hardships for a boy only seven years of age. Also the weather in the fall was not always calm. Sometimes it rained heavily. Other times a wind storm would come up and you would have to be fighting dust and wind against which even the geese did not want to go. There were times when the older people in the village felt that they had to come and help the young boys to bring the geese home on one or another turbulent evening. They would holler into the night and children would answer in the high-spirited children’s voices. The one saving grace for us children was that we never went in separate groups. Most of the time we had four or five groups of boys following each other, especially after dark. Each was looking after his own herd of geese. Being in a group gave us some comfort. At times, however, it used to get so dark that each of us seemed to be totally alone. All of us were quite well aware of the fact that the huge gray wolves were always not too far away from the grain fields. Thoughts of the wolves always brought a cold shudder down one’s spine.

In my eight and ninth year I did not get any additional responsibilities. There still were no schools in the village. So in the summers I herded geese and in the winters I added to my knowledge of psalms.

When I became 10 years of age I was given another responsibility. Now I had to begin herding sheep. Looking after sheep had its own season. This was from the middle of March till the tenth of June. At this time the sheep were having their lambs and the lambs had to be trained near to and around home, to stay with the herd.

After the 10th of June all the sheep in the village are brought together into one or two large herds. Specially trained Tartar herdsmen are hired, who take the sheep into the hills and graze them on especially rented crown land. They keep them here till about the fifteenth of October, and sometimes even till November 10th. They then bring the herds back to the village and every owner starts taking care of his own little group. They are pastured in and around the village till the time of the first big snowfall. Those owners who have over a hundred sheep pasture them individually. Those that have 20 to 45 usually group together and either hire a person as herdsman or take turns in herding.

All sheep have their own kind of markings. Their markings are on their ears with either one or two cuts or piercing. Herding sheep was one of my favorite responsibilities. There were many groups of boys. During dry weather and no wind, the sheep grazed quietly and the boys would organize some games. In this way, the days would go by quickly. The games could be different each time. One of the games played the oftenest was called “Na v shapki” or beat the cap. This was done by each one throwing his herding stick as far as he could. Whichever stick landed the closest, the owner would have to take off his cap and throw it in the same direction. All the boys were then permitted to run and beat this cap with their sticks a certain amount of times and then again throw their sticks. This could go on all day, and it did happen that some of the less lucky boys would have their caps beaten into shreds and come home bareheaded. To hide his shame this boy would keep his herd out till it was completely dark and then bring them home.

Sketch of merino sheep kept by the Doukhobors by Russian painter, Vasily Vereshchagin during his visit to Elizavetpol in 1863.

There was only one particular drawback in herding sheep, and that was the rainy weather. There were times when it would rain several days in a row. When it was this wet the sheep would not graze quietly but kept running around uncomfortably. For these rainy days we boys had a special garment, which was called a “Bashlik.” It was a kind of large vest that had no sleeves but did have a special parka that pulled over your head from the back. These vests were made from sheep’s wool, tightly knit and well pounded. These vests did not let the rainwater through to your body, but if it rained all day these would become so soaked and heavy that your shoulders felt like you were carrying unwieldy weights of steel that seemed to get heavier every step you took. Carrying this amount of weight from morning until evening was quite a trauma for an eight or nine year old. It was that much harder to carry this weight because the soil beneath your feet was all muddy and sticky. Some evenings it was real torture to drag one foot after another on the last stretch home and when you finally got to bed your legs would continue to feel the pain.

There was another hardship herding sheep in the spring and that was their giving birth to lambs right in the distant field where you had led them. If this were one or two lambs, you would be obliged to carry them home. If it there were more than two new born lambs, you would go to the nearest hilltop and holler at the top of your voice until someone in or near the village would hear and they would come to help.

The most frequent trauma in herding sheep in the summer was this matter of getting soaking wet, which was sometimes followed by a cold wind. There were times when one remained shuddering throughout the whole day. One other fear that always seemed to hover over you when you came closer to the mountains with your herd was the fact that you knew that the mountains abounded with large gray wolves. During my time there was never an occurrence of a pack of wolves attacking a herd of sheep. In the two years that I herded sheep there was only one occurrence of my actually seeing a large gray wolf lurking nearby. There were other older boys that let out loud shouts and the wolf disappeared into the mountains. As for myself I stood petrified and motionless for about half an hour. I was not able to move my feet. It seemed that my whole bloodstream was frozen.

There was one other occurrence that happened to me with one of my older and rather feeble sheep. This happened at the beginning of the month of December when the first snow covered most of our low-level pasture ground. About one quarter of a “versta” from our home there was a gorge through which flowed a larger river named “Karsina Reka”. This gorge stretched for about eight “versti” and three of these “versti” was in the territory of land that was allocated to our village. This gorge had banks of different elevations. Some places the height was about three times the height of prairie grain elevators, other places this elevation was lower. Most places the distance from one side to the other was about 160 feet. The river was not too wide, and it ran through the centre. At one side of the river there was the general road that ran through along the gorge, and at the other side the distance between the river and its mountainous bank varied. In places it came right to the river’s edge and in other places there were ledges of various heights, which contained luscious green grass. From the warmth of the river water there was no snow on these ledges. At places these ledges led to level pieces of land, and at other places they led directly into steep and very rocky mountainous territory. On some of these ledges even horses or cattle could graze. On others only the sheep, being more agile, could safely graze. And so in the first part of the winter, I took my sheep to these ledges. I directed my sheep to a lower ledge, which had very luscious grass on it, but the descent to it was quite steep. Going down, the sheep managed very well, but having smoothed the path going down, when I was ready to chase them back up they found it very slippery and difficult. I had to help practically every sheep to scamper up and onto more level territory. It came to the last one, a heavy older sheep that wasn’t very agile anymore. She just could not make it to the upper ledge, and with all the strength that I could muster I just couldn’t get her out of this lower ledge. It was getting dark and I had to make a quick decision. If I left her loose, she could conceivably scamper out of here later and wander into the mountains where the wolves would most certainly get her. Each of us boys had our slings for throwing stones and so I decided to use that string. I tied all four feet of the sheep as firmly as I could and left her there lying at the foot of the ledge. In the morning we would come with my father and rescue her.

I came home with the rest of the herd later than usual. When my parents asked why I was so late, I explained what happened with that one old sheep. Sheep at that time were valued from two and a half to four dollars each. To me that seemed not such a great deal. However, my parents were so upset with this possible loss that they hardly slept all night. They prayed and grieved and mother even went out into the night to carry out some kind of an ancient witchcraft ritual. She took an axe and plunged it into the ground in the middle of the road, and if everyone went around it without knocking it down, this would denote that the sheep would be safe.

In the very early morning, before dawn, my father and I went to the place where I had left the sheep. The spot was empty but there were signs of struggling. Looking further around and below, we found the dead sheep in a clump of brush. She had kept beating and turning until she fell and rolled among rocks. The whole carcass was so beat up; we could not even salvage the sheep’s skin. The loss of this sheep was a subject of grief to my parents for a long time to come. When spring came my parents did not fail to mention to me – you see that sheep would now have brought us two lambs. It was so hard for me to understand why it was that my parents were so overly concerned with this loss of one old sheep. Was it just grief for a material loss, or was it fear of loss of self-sufficiency, and possible want in the future? It was probably the latter, because we scarcely ever had anything in abundance. However in my childhood immaturity I thought that how could it be that my parents seemed to value the sheep more than they cared about me and my anguish. They continually mentioned that the sheep would have brought two lambs, and that she always fed them so well, and that her wool was of the finest quality. It was long and soft and it produced the finest of yarn. All these rebukes about my fault for this loss kept on for a whole year. For a nine-year-old child these parental rebukes about the loss of a mere older sheep gave me severe mental depression. I kept being sore at heart. At the same time it was a very indelible lesson to me to always be more careful in the future.

When I was in a more self-pitying mood I would think to myself – of course my action in getting the sheep to this luscious green ledge was not done for any kind of self-gratification. I had done this out of pity and love for the sheep. I well knew that they would be half hungry treading over grounds that were already eaten bare, but here I was directing them to a ledge of luscious green grass where not a single foot had trod, – a place you just didn’t want to leave from. And then I would reason again – true enough the thoughts came to me that if I did not take advantage of this ledge today – others would discover it tomorrow! And then of course our elders were always praising the boys that were more alert than others, and I did have the thoughts that when the elders found out that I had discovered and used this ledge for my herd before anyone else – they would say, aha, that Popov youngster finds ledges that even older herders failed to discover! And so really – this was the thought that made me venture to that steep but luscious ledge. Instead of receiving this kind of praise, it turned out that in the end I received an unforgettable lesson to be more careful rather than being more daring. Had I brought home the sheep that evening even half hungry, their suffering would have been minimal. No one would have been able to assess exactly how much was in their stomachs. My parents would have been at peace, and there would have been no rebukes to me in the future. With those thoughts of getting praise and commendations, I probably would have become unnecessarily proud and to think too much of myself. This event of the loss of a sheep brought out in me deeper thoughts of the wisdom of being careful in all matters. Not the least of this was that it is wise to be careful in material matters insofar as one’s welfare sometimes depended on saving every hair that was needed to keep the family self-sustainable.

Traumatic events be they as they were, time did not stand still. On the 25th of February 1887 I became ten years old. In this winter, after the loss of the sheep, I was more studious than before and learned a lot of new psalms. As usual there were no other particular responsibilities for young boys in these winter months. There were only the few times of warmer sunny weather when the parents would allow me to take the sheep for a drink at the river, the same river where we always swam. With the spring break we still went digging for the buttercup peanuts, but even before their season was over there was an additional responsibility given to boys our age with the beginning of the spring planting of grain.

The sowing of grain was done by hand. We did not know any other way, except using a special sack with two straps over the shoulder. The sack was open in the front and from here the sower would take the seed into his hand and scatter it fan wise. About 65 to 80 pounds of seed is placed into the sack. The opening of the sack appears under the left arm and with the right arm the sower takes fistful of seed. He scatters the seed from left to right measured by his steps. When he puts his left foot forward he fills his fist with seed. When he steps forward with his right foot he scatters the seed. This is done by the elders in the family. This job was done by my father. He scattered the seed onto the ploughed land. After this it was essential to pull harrows over the land so that the scattered seed would be covered by soil in order that the birds would not pick it up and in order for the seed to properly germinate and sprout. This part of harrowing was done quite uniquely and probably different from other places in the world. The harrows themselves were constructed right at home. The spikes that were driven into the frame of the harrow were made of dried, firm wood. Each separate frame was made for one horse to be hitched to it and drag it. Each horse would have a young boy driver. If the family did not have a boy, girls also could be seated horseback on the horse. One track of the harrow was not enough to properly cover the seed, and so it was most usual to have four horses hitched to four separate frames that would follow one after the other. Only the front horse had to have a driver. The other horses were just tied to the back end of the harrow. And so in my eleventh year I was entrusted with being the driver of the front horse. The other three followed my trail one after the other. This job was not one that required any amount of physical labour, but it did have its own peculiar difficulties. The driver of the lead horse had the responsibility of traversing the field in a straight line. Keeping this line straight was important, because on the return trip the boy had to make sure that he wasn’t going over the same trail twice, as well as he had to be sure that he was leaving no spaces uncovered.

It was always the same problem. The horses usually walked slowly and carefully. At this time of the spring the sun was usually quite warm, and so the gentle swaying of the horse, and the warm sun never failed to make the young driver start dozing. In this half asleep mood it was usually quite hard to keep your line straight. This brought about the fact that you either wandered over territory that was already covered, or also you left some uncovered spaces. What would happen was that when an elder came to check on the work, he would have a double job of getting the line straight and also having no spaces left uncovered. This slowed down the whole process of completing the harrowing of a given field that was already sowed.

In all our villages the land was divided into long narrow plots seeded on a three-year rotation basis. All the families usually worked their allotted plots at the same time. At times there were up to 50 families in the fields at the same time. When the elders would complete the sowing of a given field they would gather together in group discussions awaiting the completion of harrowing. When they felt that the young boys should by now have completed the harrowing, they would go out to the fields to check matters out. Quite often there would be poorly harrowed plots, and the elder who found such a state, would have to then take over the lead horse and correct the poor job. Sometimes, just about the whole field would have to be done over. Where the job had been ably looked after by the young driver – his elders would already start moving to another plot, and the one who had dozed on his horse and made a mess would then get serious lectures from his elders. Some very irresponsible youngsters were sometimes even punished. Thus it would happen, when horses are unhitched for noon feeding, those boys who had everything in order would be jolly and would get together and have fun amongst themselves. The unfortunate ones whose fields were poorly done would get lectures from their elders, and all of the other boys would be ribbing them about how sloppy their work turned out. Not only would the boys receive lectures from their immediate elders, other elders would also pipe in. This sometimes happened to me. Other elders would have their say – admonishing me: “How come Alyoshka, you worked so sloppily that your father had to spend so much time correcting all your errors? At this rate, if you keep up such irresponsibility – no one will ever want you for a husband, and you will never get married”

At our age this seemed to be such a dire prediction. To add to this, if one received the elders’ lectures several times throughout the spring season, you would never hear the end of this from all of your peers and friends for the whole summer. Of course the age we were, and the warm spring sun and the swaying horse were all part of the natural make-up of things. It was really not such a major sin to doze – but it was really hard to take all the consequences of this dozing. And so this simple responsibility of driving the lead horse in harrowing the fields proved to be its own kind of a painful chore.

Seeding operations are completed by about April 20th. Land is not worked again until June 10th. This gives the working animals a rest of about one month and twenty days. During this rest time I had to lead the horses out for grazing in the pasture. In the free pasture land, the horses had to be hobbled on their front feet. If a horse was exceedingly frisky he would have to be hobbled on a third back leg as well. When the horses would be all hobbled they would be allowed to graze on their own. This was the job that every boy of the village was occupied with. The pasture was common to all the villagers and so all of us boys would get together for games throughout the whole day – as the horses could not wander away too far while they were hobbled. Some of the boys who weren’t too enthusiastic to play –would catch up on their sleep that they lost in the spring. The games we played were simple. One was called “V Tsoorki” and another was called “V Doochki”. Rarely did we play ball, and sometimes the younger boys played riding horses near the river and then we would go swimming. Some of us would take this opportunity to catch fish. Pasturing horses during the rainy season was not as troublesome as with pasturing sheep. Horses did not really get upset with the rain. They either continued grazing – or would just stand quietly in one place. As for us children, we would also stay upright quietly or rest on some jutting stone outcrop, which were plentiful in our area. The only problem with horse pasturing during rainy weather was the form of hobble that was used. If the hobble was made of leather, the rain did not affect it, but if the hobble was made of rope – it would tighten when wet, and it was very difficult to get it undone when the horses would have to be herded home. Sometimes a boy would have to take his horses home all the long way from the pasture while they remained hobbled. This was a slow process and such a boy would come home a lot later.

Picture of Alexey as a young man with unidentified woman in exile in Siberia, c. 1903.

Some of the times the horses would not be herded home every night. At such times all of the horses would be brought together in a large herd where designated elders would watch over them all of the night. The elders of 15 to 30 men, who would divide into groups of four taking several shifts through each night. There were also times when the younger children would take designated horses to the village homes for work that was needed to be done in the gardens or other work within the village structure. When all of the village work would be finished, then all the horses would be divided into two or three large herds watched over by two men to each herd in the daytime and by one additional man coming in from the villages for night time watching. This general overall system continued up to June 10th.

At this time the horses would all be brought back to each individual household for preparing the land that was left as summer fallow land, that is, the land that is left for resting for one year. The plowing of these fields had its own particular routine. To each plow there were hitched from six to eight pairs of horses. The front pair had a boy rider in the ages of from ten to thirteen. Every other pair also had a rider. It was the work of these riders to guide his own pair of horses, and also see that the pair ahead of you was pulling its share. Each boy thus had to look after four horses. This meant that in the morning he would have to put on the harness onto the horses, bring them and hitch them into their proper places and then keep them moving in their proper direction following the furrow that was made. At the proper noontime, the horses would have to be unhitched, unharnessed and allowed to graze in a special field of grass left nearby. They would also have to be taken down to the river for their drink of water. All this would have to be repeated in the evening. The land that was being plowed had been already grazed and well trampled by the village cattle. The plots where the horses had to be allowed to graze were nearby. None of the stock were allowed to graze here since the year before and therefore the grass was lush and plentiful for the working teams of horses.

As I became a ten-year-old boy, it was my job to look after 4 horses. Keep them harnessed when needed, unharnessed and fed at given times, and led to water as designated. Getting the horses to water was a chore in itself, as the fields for plowing were sometimes two to three “Versti” from the river. This entire fallow plowing time proved to be exceedingly hard and trying for me as a ten year old. This was especially hard during the night routine. At 8 o’clock in the evening you had to bring the horses to the place where they were to graze, hobble them and then lie down to get some much-needed sleep. The total of your clothing for the night would be one additional light, longer length semi-raincoat. At 12 o’clock midnight you had to get up and unhobble the horses and take them for their drink at the river. You had to bring them back, hobble them again, and then again lie down to sleep. At 5o’clock in the morning you had to get up, bring in the horses, unhobble them and lead them to the workplace. During the times when it remained dry, this job, although quite hard, was still bearable. However, when the rain kept coming all night it became a real nightmare. At times you would wake up and find yourself lying in a puddle of water – as in the night it was not always easy to spot a higher piece of ground for taking your nap. This torturous spring responsibility continued each year for a period of from 28 to 34 days.

The length of time depended on whether there was more or less fallow land, and also on whether there was more or less of a rainy spell. In some years the weather was cool, and not too much rain. In other years you had spells of intense heat and also many days of wet weather. Of course when it became obvious that conditions were too extreme and hard for the young boys – there was always the fact that there was one elder, the plowman for every group of three or four boys. It was his responsibility to see that the boys were reasonably looked after. This elder was always free to catch up on his sleep during the noon break, which lasted for three hours. But during the nighttime he also took four horses and went with the young boys when they took the horses for their grazing period. He always had the boys sleeping near him and would wake them when they had to take the horses for their drink at the river, and also when they had to take them in the morning to the field which was being plowed. In the nighttime he would help the boys get on their horses to ride to the river, and on the way there would often holler to the boys by name – in case one or another of them would begin to doze while riding and perhaps allow the horse to veer away from the others and head for home instead of the river.

During the time of fallow plowing all the boys remained under the rule and instructions of the one elder designated for their group. He was the one that told them how to look after all the harness gear, how to handle the horses, when to take the breaks and so on. This elder was given the authority to discipline any boy in his group. If need be, he had the right to even use the same whip, that was used on the horses, for punishing a disobedient or irresponsible boy. There was one time that I, when I was 12 years old received a snap of the whip for being too lippy. Our elder was a distant relative by the name of Jacob Voykin. He gave me a sharp snap, that made my pants wet. The wet was not from blood! This Jacob Voykin was the elder in our group, which was made up from several families. Because you needed 12 to 16 horses for each plow, and some families did not have that many horses, it was the custom to get several families together who then shared one plow. The plows were of heavy wood construction. The only steel on the plow was the share and the cutting disc that went ahead of it. There was only one share to the plow and it threw a furrow of about 14 inches. The soil was quite heavy and it required from 12 to 16 horses to pull it fast enough to throw a proper furrow. It was with this one plow that all the land had to be tilled to supply several families with a living. Sometimes the total of these families would be twenty or more souls. All the sustenance of these 20 souls would have to be derived from the produce of their allotted plot of land. Where there were this many souls to their allotted plot, most of the time they barely had enough produce to keep themselves and their stock for the ensuing year. Others, whose families had not grown since the past allotment was made, but who had the horsepower, were fortunate enough to have some produce for sale. Some of these more fortunate families were able to rent land from the nearby peasant Tartars and always had some produce for sale. Renting land was very favorable here as after three years of giving shares to the owner – the lessee could claim ownership of the land.

I spent four years of my life doing the routines that I explained, from the age of 10 to 14 years of age, to help the family till the land for their sustenance. Despite the fact that these years remain in my memory as very trying and hard times during this growing period up of my life, I do not remember getting sick at any time in spite of the many times of being wet, cold and tired. My physical health remained at a good level and I have no bad memories of this particular period of my life.


   Cover of Alexey Ivanovich Popov’s “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile”.

Alexey Ivanovich Popov lived with his parents in Spasovka, Kars until the age of 21, when he received his call-up for conscript service in the Russian army. He refused to perform military training, as the taking of human life ran contrary to his Doukhobor faith and beliefs. For this, in 1898, he, together with other young Doukhobor conscripts, was exiled to Yakutsk Siberia for a term of 18 years. In 1905 a Manifesto of Amnesty was issued by Russian Emperor Nikolai II, thus granting the Doukhobor exiles in Siberia their freedom. Soon thereafter, Alexey and his new bride Katerina immigrated to Canada to join their Doukhobor brethren who had arrived some six years earlier. Alexey lived for a time in the Doukhobor Community, but soon became an Independent Doukhobor, taking out a homestead at Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan, where he lived and farmed until his death on August 14, 1955.

To order copies of Alexey’s fascinating life story, “Autobiography of a Siberian Exile” along with various other informative Doukhobor publications written by his son, Eli A. Popoff, contact: The Birches Publishing, Box 730, Grand Forks, British Columbia, V0H 1H0, Tel: (250) 442-5397, email:

Refusal of Military Service

by Gregory F. Vanin

The following is a letter from Doukhobor Gregory F. Vanin to Russian ethnographer Vladimir D. Bonch-Breuvich outlining Vanin’s experience as a young military conscript during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia in 1895. Translated by George Stushnoff and reproduced from the pages of The Dove magazine, Volume 32 (Saskatoon: October 1996), this article is a dramatic and powerful account of the torture and incarceration of Doukhobor conscripts who refused military service as conscientious objectors.

Dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich,

I will attempt to write about my denial of military service in Russia. I feel the younger generation needs to know that part of our history. This has been written about in the past, but not by me, and the writings were not complete historically and they were not factual. I have now become an old man 74 years of age and all this happened a long time ago – hard to remember it all, where and what happened to me. Nevertheless, I will try to write whatever I can recall, which may be brief but true.

The Burning of Arms, 1895. Painting by Terry McLean.

I will begin when the Doukhobors burnt their weapons in 1895 when I participated in this bloody work at the age of 21. I was already married and it so happened that I also participated in the bloody execution by Cossack whips when Esaul (Cossack Commander) Praga gave his orders in the village of Bogdanovka, to the right and to the left, day and night, sparing no one.

Then they immediately deported us to the village of Goriski where I spent only one and a half months till three military men arrived taking me away without my relatives knowing whereto. They brought me to the Goriski military disciplinary battalion and at this time brought three of my friends here, Shcherbinin, Kinyakin, Makhortov; so we became four and we were told there that our lot was drawn by an elder at the Akhalkalak district and we were required to report for service and so we were to be examined and measured.

We asked them why measure us because we will not serve. Then they forcefully undressed us and did what they had to with us and told us that they will send us to the Ekaterinodarski Vanapski reserve battalion where we will be forced to serve.

They did not allow us to bid farewell to our families and sent us away by convoy. When they brought us there they immediately placed us in different companies. Kinyakin and I into the second company, Shcherbinin into the third company and Makhortov into the first company. For me and Kinyakin, the Sergeant Major at once ordered us to take off our clothes and put on soldiers uniforms. We reply that we would not wear uniforms, we would not even serve. Then they forcefully took off our clothes, put on the uniforms and cut our hair. It was already evening, at nine o’clock the Sergeant Major commanded a prayer service, we sang the Lord’s Prayer, then we were shown our beds where we must sleep. 

We slept the night and in the morning the whole company arose at the same time and went outside for their duties. The two of us remained seated on our beds on one lower bunk and since our own clothing was still with us we put it on and remained sitting. We noticed the Sergeant Major coming straight toward us and laughingly says to us: “What, are you boys ready to go home?” We remain quietly seated, he looks at us and goes away. Then returning abruptly he tells us boys to follow him, the company Commander wants us in his office. We came, he was sitting; we stopped and stood. The commander rose up, looked us over and tells the Sergeant to go and bring the uniforms. Immediately he brought them and laid them in front of us. Then the Commander orders: “Vanin, put on the uniform!” I replied I will not wear the uniform and I will not serve. He started scolding me with bad words and cries at me with all his might, “I will knock your head off” while he pulls a knife out of its sheath and for a long time he shouted at me, stamping his feet on the floor while I stood motionless. Then he turns to Kinyakin and orders him: “Kinyakin, put on the uniform.” He also replied that he will not wear and will not serve. Then he got even angrier and scolded us for a long time but did not hit us, and we didn’t put on the uniforms. Eventually he asked us why we didn’t want to serve our Sovereign. We answered because he teaches people to kill but Christ forbid the killing of people. We believe in Christ and the Sixth Commandment says not to kill.

Saying nothing to us he sat at the table, wrote something and ordered the Sergeant Major to take us away and lock us up in a dark cell and no food but bread and water. He led us away and locked us up. Then after three days they brought Shcherbinin and Makhortov and locked them up. Shcherbinin sat in a row with me and we were able to converse quietly. The prison had a small opening and I heard him groaning, and then he began to explain how they tortured him, forcing him to do gymnastics and to run but he didn’t want to do these and would fall to the ground. They would trample him with their feet, kick him, pressed their knees into him and dropped him over a wooden bar. The uncommissioned officers were horribly nasty to him and from that time he became sick, something inside was injured. But Makhortov was not beaten and we sat in the jail cells for almost a month when they brought here another ten of our young friends from the Kars and Elizavetpol region in 1896 and they were no longer allocated to companies but put us all together in a military jail and through a military court ordered us to proceed under a convoy to a disciplinary battalion.

When they brought us there they locked us up in a stronghold that was guarded both inside and outside both day and night. Sometime before us, Lebedev’s party which had been serving but then refused, were already here in jail and each had already received by 30 lashes with thorny rods, and were forced to learn the ways of war.

They then allocated our group into companies and I, once again, remained here with another friend Chevildeev in the third company. Here, they handled us quite differently, forcefully dressing us in torn and all patched uniforms, took away our own clothing and showed us where we will be sleeping. In the morning two companies woke up and went outside to perform their duties and we two also dressed up and stood in the cell. Shortly an elderly company Commander came straight towards us; with a wide and long beard, appearing very scary, he was called Akinchits. Approaching us, without saying anything, instantly he cried out: “Chevildeev, stand straight, raise your nose”. Poking me with his boot, he yells: “Vanin, hold your head higher, raise your shoulders” while hitting me on the chin. Then he questions us, if we will serve our Sovereign. We replied no, we will not, so he didn’t ask us anything else but turned to the Sergeant Major and directed him to bring the executioners here, while telling us to come into the corridor. 

We went and stood there, noticing two executioners carrying several bunches of thorny branches, bound together in bundles of five – which always are soaked in barrels of water so that they would not break up. Also four soldiers were coming who were going to hold us and two soldiers with guns. The executioners took their coats off, rolled up their sleeves, took into their hands by a bundle of branches – awaiting the command. Then the Commander ordered the soldiers: “first lay down Chevildeev” but to me he said: “but Vanin, you must stand here and watch”. Then the soldiers took Chevildeev and laid him down on the cement floor face down, his hands tied behind his back. Pulled his pants down, revealed his buttocks, sat down on him, two on his head and two on his legs. One soldier with a gun stood at the head and the other at the feet, holding their guns in readiness. The executioners stood one on each side. The Commander then told the Sergeant Major: ” count the lashes, there must be 30 lashes”. He, himself turned away, and walked off a distance, not being able to look upon such a bloody scene. The Sergeant Major in command cried out to begin. And the branches began to whistle in the air. The first one swung to the left, then to the right, then with all his might he struck at the naked flesh, then the other, from the other side, in similar manner with all his might, beating rather occasionally. Blood squirted in all directions, the back, turning blue, began to swell. After that they locked him up in a cold prison cell, this happened in wintertime.

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

I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. I stood motionless, paralyzed with fear and looked upon this bloody pitiful scene, while my heart was dying from the horror. Then the Commander approached saying: “Well Vanin, you got scared. You will now serve”. I replied with a trembling voice, “No I will not”. Then he ordered: “Lay this one down too”. They lay me down the same way and gave me also thirty lashes, hot as fire. Then they lifted me up and started putting my pants on, they would not come on, barely came on, sticking to my bloody flesh. And in the same way they locked me also in the cold prison.

It was like that for all of us that were in that battalion, practically all of us were beaten with the thorny branches in the same way. Except that some got more, some less. And in that battalion there was a church and the priest also fulfilled his disciplinary role by inducing us forcefully so that we would attend their church to pray to God, that our ancestors had already rejected several hundred years ago.

Twice a day, morning and evening, all imprisoned soldiers had to attend church. There were four companies and each company had by 10 Doukhobor boys in it. The commanders marched the soldiers to church, all the soldiers went but we stood still. The priest explained to us that if we called ourselves Christians then we must attend his church. Then the secondary officers and the soldiers would grab us and drag us, while we would cling unto trees that grew there and they couldn’t tear us away, so they would beat our hands with belts, sabers, knives. And so goes the struggle throughout the whole battalion, until they drag us into church, then we stand there doing nothing while they all got down on their knees we just stood. Then the priest would walk through putting the incense under our noses, but we would wave the smoke away with our caps, while he would stare at us in anger.

My God, if you had only seen, dear brother Vladimir Dmitrovich, what they did to us there, even forced us to mix clay (manure). Crawled up to our bellies, made bricks and different other kinds of jobs. We were vegetarians, did not eat meat, but they would not allow such food that we could use. Told us to devour from the same pot that the soldiers eat. So we would come for dinner or supper, sit at the table, put a piece of wormy rye bread into our pockets, go back to the prison and eat it with water, and that’s how we survived. We were so worn out and sick with chicken blindness from a lack of food, barely staying alive. When the first Lebedov party of Doukhobors arrived at the disciplinary battalion, General Maslov didn’t want to have them tortured with thorns but wanted to exile them at once to Siberia. However the local administration – Sub-General Morgunov, Doctor Preobrazhenski and priest Stepanovski and others did not want to exile immediately to Siberia, kept us all in jail and tortured us for a year and a half. They wanted us to give into everything and force us to serve and so we were left barely alive but refused to give in. One of our friends, Mikhail Shcherbinin died there in the disciplinary battalion from the beatings. They allowed us to bury him, so we buried him in Doukhobor tradition. Then they exiled us to (Yakutsk) Siberia for 18 years.

Now the continuation of our history and our experiences in Siberia will be written by others. I am now concluding the writing of my version. Our remaining friends, who struggled for the truth in the disciplinary battalion, are very few, almost all of them have departed into life everlasting.

Your brother,

Gregory F. Vanin
Veregin, Saskatchewan, Canada
April 15, 1947

A Message to Relatives

by Alexei N. Chernoff

Towards the end of his life, Doukhobor Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff (1877-1967) set to writing his experiences as a young military reservist during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia 1895. Reproduced by permission from the pages of “The Brothers Chernoff from Azerbaijan to Canada” (Winnipeg: December 1992) this article is a wonderful example of our rich Doukhobor oral tradition, now preserved in writing for future generations. Translated by Fred J. Chernoff.

I, Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff, had the desire to write to my relatives about our past, that part that is still in my memory. My parents were Nikolai Timofeyevich and Anna Semenovna Chernov. My mother’s family were the Popovs. In our family there were six sons: Aliosha (Alexei), Mikola (Nikolai), Vanya (Ivan), Fedya (Feodor), Misha (Mikhail) and Andrusha (Andrei). The parents were neither poor or rich. Their occupation was with farmland and they owned cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, geese and ducks – all in small numbers. There also lived with us two brothers of my father whose names were Danilushka (Danila) and Mikisha (Mikifor). My father Nikolai was the eldest brother. In total there were 23 people living together and all ate at one table. At first we lived well and were happy. This was in Russia, the Caucasus, the village of Slavyanka in the Elizavetpol province (present-day Republic of Azerbaijan).

Alexei Nikolaevich Chernoff (1877-1967)

As children we grew up and soon started to help our parents with the work. When I reached the age of 17, my parents decided to marry me off. They had arranged for the daughter of a rich family by the name of Verigin, whose name was Paranya (Praskovia) Nikolayevna. Both of our families were happy about this arrangement. Our lives became happy and joyful. This happened shortly after the death of the former leader of the Doukhobors, Lushechka (Lukeria) Kalmykova. Her place was taken by Peter Vasilyevich Verigin. Not all the Doukhobors accepted him as the new leader. In opposition a group emerged and began to pass information to the government. Peter Verigin was arrested, tried and exiled to Siberia.

At this time, the young men from 21 of age were called by the government for service in the army, and because of an error by my parents, I was one of the people called. I was given a (reserve) document indicating that I had to appear to serve when it was my turn. This came at the time the Doukhobors started to refuse service in the army. As I was not yet 21 years of age, by law I should not be called into the service. During the last census, believing that they would save me from the army, my parents had added 3 years to my age. Because of this entry in the census, I was now called into the military service. My father appealed to the military command to nullify the call. The officer in command asked if there were any records of the birth of your son. My father answered no. The officer then replied that, the order to serve cannot be nullified, but he added not be afraid that he would not be called for the time being. This is how the matter ended. They didn’t take me into the army, but my name was left on the list for future call.

In 1895, a call came from Siberia from Peter V. Verigin, that the Doukhobors show by action their opposition to service in the army. He ordered all of his followers to burn their arms and guns. The men who were drafted for service went to the officials and turned in their call papers. They informed the officials that they will no longer serve in the army.

On June 29, 1895 was the celebration of Peters Day. On the night before, the Doukhobors secretly collected all of their guns and burned them. This stirred up the government officials, and they started an investigation as to why this burning occurred. Next morning another event furthur antagonized the government officials against the Doukhobors. The young draftees started to hand in their call papers and advised that they will no longer take part in serving in the army. I too, went to turn in my papers, along with 60 other draftees. We were all arrested and placed in jail cells. Our parents were also arrested for influencing the young men. Without giving us an opportunity for a farewell, we were marched to Elizavetpolski prison. That ended our happy life. My dear relatives, it was difficult to part with our family – my mother, my 5 brothers, and my dear wife and son Nikolai. I was young, and God gave me strength to bear this sorrow. My father and I stayed in jail for 5 months. Then along with others we were sent to Kozakh prison. Our parents, the older people were sent to Siberia. Part of their trip was by water and here my father got sick. The ship doctor was unable to help him. Upon landing he was sent to hospital where he passed away. The date was August 17, 1895. He had nobody with him when he died and the news of his passing did not reach us for 6 months.

In Kozakh prison were 65 draftees who had refused to serve and had turned in their papers. In prison, life was not all that bad. We were allowed to exercise, sing and pray to God. They gave us a kitchen, and we had 2 cooks amongst us to board ourselves. Life went well. One thing that bothered us was fever, as the climate was favorable to this illness. Everyone was sick from this except myself. We stayed in that prison for about a year and one-half. 

In August 1897, the government decided to send us to the Yerevan region to settle among the Tartars. We notified our relatives that we were being exiled. Our relatives came to a meeting in prison, and the government permitted this. We were glad to see them and they were glad to see us. After the first meeting, we were allowed to meet with them the next day. Soon after, we were all counted, put into a convoy and started on our journey. We called to our people for the last time a good-bye and to forgive us. We marched to Yerevan over a 7 day period. In the month of August, the weather was warm and dry and we thanked God that we reached our destination safely. Nobody was sick on the way. Again we were imprisoned, and due to the lack of room inside, we were kept outside of the prison. They allowed us our own kitchen and gave all that we required. They kept us here for 12 days. Here some of our comrades were distributed to the Tartar villages and the rest of us, about 13 people, were sent further to Nakhichevan. 

Again, we were marched through the valleys of the Caucasian mountains for 5 days. On the way, we were given time to rest. The valleys were very hot and the people in this area raised fruit. I was attracted by grapes growing so I picked a bunch and ate them. Shortly after I became sick and became cold and shivering. It appeared that I had the same malaria fever that attacked the other comrades. Every day at the same time I got the shivers. We reached Nakhichevan and were distributed 2 to a village. My partner was Nikolai Fedorovich Salykin. He was much older than myself and had already served in the army. But he was in prison because he turned in his military service papers. Because he was older than myself, he took advantage of me and made me serve him. The village was known a Karabahli. It was a large village and the people were kind and courteous. They provided a well lit room and slowly we got used to our surroundings. We knew their language and soon found a job cutting hay. They paid us a fair wage and did not mistreat us. Their women baked us bread which was very tasty. Here we lived for a year.

One day a Russian doctor visited our village, and I turned to him with my illness. He examined me and told me to appear at the hospital in his village. He ordered that I be released with a guard. We walked 50 verst (kilometers). There he gave me a mixture of quinine and shortly thereafter the fever left me completely. I got well, but the doctor kept me there for 2 weeks. In that time I helped in the house and looked after his little girl. The doctor asked me to stay with him, but I refused and went back to my friends. 

Shortly thereafter, our relatives decided to visit us. My Uncle Danilushka decided to ride horseback to our place and invited a Tartar to accompany him. I was very glad to see my Uncle Danilushka. He passed regards from my family, told me how they lived and how they had safely traveled to see me. Thank God. After supper my friend Salykin decided to invite a town official. The official came and with him were 2 policemen. He asked my Uncle whether he had a permit to travel. At that time, every person had to have permission to travel from one place to another in Russia. Danilushka did not have such a permit. The official did not say anything and went back to his room. Shortly thereafter, the official arrested our guest Danilushka and took him away. Next morning, he and his friend were marched to Nakhichevan prison. The horses were left with us. This is how my Uncle visited me at this time. I wondered what to do with the horses and discussed this with a regional official. He sent me to the prison where my Uncle was held and he requested that they not be sold. He wanted them sent back to his village. This request was sent back to the official who became irrate, and sent me to see someone else with authority. An order was given that the horses be given to the local villagers. Nobody wanted them, so I kept the horses. Feed was obtained for the horses till my Uncle Mikisha came and took them away. Later my Uncle Danilushka and his friend had walked back to their village from which they came. All this we lived through. The people here were good, gave us feed for the horses, and helped us in many ways.

In 1899 we were freed. We hired a Molokan, and he drove us to the station Astafoo. By this time we joined a group who were migrating to Canada and were on their way to Batum. Our relatives were already at Batum, and met us after 3 years of separation. I cannot describe this meeting. My mother especially, thanked God that her son Aliosha came back safe and sound. My relatives kissed me and could not believe that I was their Aliosha.

On February 16, 1899 we started boarding the ship. The passage across the ocean was difficult. The ocean was rough but we reached Canada, at Halifax, on the 9th day of March, 1899. We unloaded on a large (quarantine) island. There they gave us a bath and vaccinated us. We stayed there several days, boarded a ship and reached St. John. Here we were loaded onto a train and sent west to Manitoba – Winnipeg, Selkirk and Brandon – where they had places for us. It was still winter and there was a lot of snow. After a while, we were sent to Yorkton, Saskatchewan and from there we went by sleigh to the village of Verovka where they had built long barns. In these barns we spent the remainder of the winter. Spring came and the warm weather with it. Then they started to sort families, who would want to live in the same villages. Everyone was organized into villages and our village was Sovetnoye. It was north-west of the village of Veregin. Here we started our Canadian life.

Doukhobor Village in Saskatchewan, 1902

At this time we had no farming facilities and just set up tents in the middle of the field. The stronger men were sent out to look for jobs and the older men and women began building. They dug and started building sod houses. They were plastered inside and dried outside so to be livable. This was in 1899. Towards fall the workers started coming home and had a place to winter. We had a lot of wood for fuel and wintered well. In the spring we started to get ready to look for work again. Some stayed home to improve the facilities. By then, the village had one horse and several cows, so we had milk for the children. This was 1900. We started planting gardens and getting ready for the next winter. We started to accumulate the necessary equipment, plowing the land and seeding oats. The crops were very good and the times were getting better. We all lived in a commune and had a happy life. I was elected senior in our village and had control of the money. 

In 1902, near Christmas, Peter “Lordly” Verigin came to Canada. All Doukhobors were glad of his coming. He visited the villages and met everyone. He advised the people to live a communal life and nearly everyone took his advice. He started to buy cattle and horses and allocated them among the villages. After some time in the communities, a misunderstanding arose with the Canadian government regarding the registration of land ownership and taking the oath of allegiance. Then, Peter Verigin decided to move some Doukhobors to British Columbia. Land was purchased for orchards, and nearly all of the people of the community were transplanted to British Columbia. Our family, the Chernoffs, including the 6 brothers and my 2 sons, stayed on the Khutor ranch near the town of Veregin. The ranch had been well stocked with cattle and horses and the animals were worth a lot of money. Peter Verigin delegated the Chernoffs to look after this property. My brother Nikolai was a tabunchik (“horse trainer”) and I was delegated to look after the stallions. The rest of the brothers looked after the land and planted the grain. The grain amounted to over 30,000 bushels. In the winter we looked after the livestock. We lived under the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin for twelve years, up until the time of his death. He always favored us and was kind.

During October 1927, the other Verigin arrived. The Doukhobors were glad of his coming and soon he started to change procedures and practices. We started to live according to his plans and what he wanted. The time passed and then, he too died. After that, the whole community broke apart. Everyone started to live independently and that’s the way it is now. However, there are a group who are organized under the name of the Union of Christian Communities of Christ.

Dear relatives, the time is fleeing and the memory of relatives and friends is disappearing. My mother died in 1934, and my wife Paranya died in 1950. I myself am 87 years old and nearing the end of my life. I have decided to leave my remembrance of our previous life, and how and why we came to Canada. My sincere desire is that you live in a Doukhobor society and carry out all of the teachings for the well being of ourselves and future offspring. Guard all the time our Doukhobor faith.

Your Father, Grandfather, Great Grandfather, Your Brother and Your Uncle,

Alexei Nikolayevich Chernoff
Veregin, Saskatchewan
September 12, 1964

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


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…


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.


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.”


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.

Vanya Bayoff – The Execution

by Alexander M. Bodyansky

The following article is a true, first person autobiographical account by Doukhobor Vanya Bayoff (1864-1901) outlining his brutal torture and persecution during the “Burning of Arms” in Russia in 1895. It was recorded by Alexander Mikhailovich Bodyansky, a Russian nobleman and Tolstoyan who visited the Doukhobors in Canada in early 1900. Reproduced from ISKRA No.1883 (December 15, 1999) and ISKRA No. 1884 (January 12, 2000), (Grand Forks: U.S.C.C.), it is a powerful and riveting account of extraordinary spiritual depth, endurance and heroism.

All right, let me tell you about my life, though you’re not going to find this interesting. Of my boyhood, what is there to say? I grew, just as our boys nowadays grow. We live differently by our understanding than the Russians do. The Russians are strict with their children, sometimes beating them. As we understand it, this is an impossibility; a deadly sin.

Once or twice I saw how an adult beat a small child and I was so grieved over it, so grieved that I nearly joined in this fight myself. A child, no matter what sort, is more pure than an adult, and how are you going to beat him anyway, when he’s no stronger than a little chick? He’s completely defenceless. No, thank God, we have no such practice. I dare say that it all comes from a lack of understanding. Oh, the poor unfortunate Russians.

And now, I remember something – What I saw as I was travelling across Russia on my way to visit Peter Vasilyevich (Verigin) in Archangelsk province. I was travelling on a steamer along the Volga where the forest is entirely fir and spruce. The steamer broke down and they moored it to a dock and began repairing it. To us, the deck passengers, they announced that we would be standing until evening. There was a village right there, so I went for a stroll and a look around to see how the people live, and I thought I’d buy some provisions, because things are expensive on the boat.

I ask the man at the dock whether there is a store here where I can buy some bread. He answers that there is no bread in the stores but that one can buy it at any home. I go up to one of the nicer looking houses, say hello, and ask if they have bread for sale. There is a man sitting in a chair on the porch. He looks like some sort of merchant. He says I can buy some, and inquires whether I am a passenger from the steamer, at which time he calls his son out. A boy of about 12 comes bounding out and when he notices me he stops and stares. Now I don’t know what it was about me that he found so strange. Whatever it was he saw, he just fixed his eyes on me, mouth wide open, and stared. And what do you think? The parent takes and shoves his fist right into the boy’s mouth, and he must have scraped his finger on one of those little teeth, because he pulled his hand back and slams his foot square into the boy’s stomach, who curls right over while his father swears. I didn’t want the bread any more after witnessing this shamelessness, and I turned to leave. Where are you going he yells, its not you I clipped. They’ll bring the bread right now. You have clipped me, I say. Just think about what you have done. And what, says he, have I done (and he clutches his sides). Maybe you want me to teach my son to gawk? You wicked spirit, say I, to drive the boy in the mouth and darken his soul. So what are you, he asks, a priest soliciting for the church service. Well, here’s five kopecks. Probably can’t hold a service on five kopecks. I had already walked away, and didn’t carry the conversation any further.

There was another time, near the town of Mezen’ when I had to spend the night at a hunter’s house. His wife brought in the flounder, a flat fish fried on a pan, and set it on a table. Here is how they do it: the fish will have kvass or something poured over it, and children eat first. They dip their barley bread into the pan with the grease and eat it, and when they’ve eaten up the sauce, the adults eat the actual fish. One little girl, perhaps six years old, stood up and reached across the table. Her hand must have slipped, for she tipped over the entire frying pan. And, oh, how her mother flew into a rage! She grabbed the girl by the hair – can you imagine? – she picked her up by the hair and threw her onto the floor, leaving hair between all her fingers. Its terrible to imagine such ferocious people. Grandfather, what do you think, where does this cruelty come from? Why do they have no God? I think it is because they have used up all their God on services, priests, and all sorts of holiness, grandfather! We do not have any of this, thank God.

I’m not saying this to brag. After all, among us you’ll find all sorts of people. I’m just saying that there is less stupidity with us. If there is a villain among us, he was either born that way or became so of his own will, but a good person does not turn into a villain. That woman, you see, the hunter’s wife who I said had pulled the girl’s hair, was really a good person. She took the girl on her lap as soon as she started to cry, she caressed, comforted, fed, and lulled her to sleep on her breast, in her arms. As long as they sat, she held her and did not eat herself.

We do not permit any beating of children, grandfather, because we are people of different thinking. We believe that all children are born of God’s spirit, and incarnated through man. And you know, grandfather, you will not hear these words from us: father, mother, son and daughter. We consider these words to be harmful, because through these very words the larger gains authority over the smaller. We completely forbid the use of these words. For us the elder and the younger are addressed in the same fashion: Petya, Vasya, Tanya, or else: parent, old man, nanny, missus. It has been this way with us since the olden days. We had this custom when we still lived in depravity and in alliance with the Russian government.

My parent – now that I have begun to speak, I must speak truthfully – liked to drink. Everyone in those days drank. I myself tried the poison, though it has always been repulsive to me. Wine I could drink, but vodka turned my insides, and if I ever drank it, it was only when travelling on the carriers, and my companions made me drink it for fortitude. But now I know that there is no truth in this whatsoever. As if the body’s strength were increased by vodka – this is self-deception and nothing more, and there is great danger in this because one can become dependent on this item. It would seem that my parent had this dependency. Now the business of drinking also took a different form with us than with the Russians. When our people drank, and there were great drunkards among us, they never became violent and there was none of the debauchery. If they got drunk, even to the brink, they would still quieten down without a fuss. Nor did my parent ever raise a fuss, and he drank often; a week would not pass without him drinking to the brink. He’d drink his fill, sleep it off, take a shot for his hangover, and get to work. And in matters of business he was an intelligent man. We had everything we needed. There were two of us in my family – I and my younger brother. My brother went into the army, but I had the privilege of staying home and helping my parent.

I was twenty-two years old then. And he says to me: get married, Vanya – take Tanya Novokshonova. And I, still young, didn’t understand much of anything, so I figured: everyone is getting married, so why don’t I? There was no great desire in me for marriage, I’ll admit. You can believe this or not, as you wish, but I was odd in this way from quite early on, and I used to wonder yet as a boy why there were men and why there were women. One could have lived without this, and it would have been better. And I still think that way today – that’s how ingrained these thoughts became to me from any early age. I probably shouldn’t have gotten married, but I did it like this: since my parent had told me to get married, I decided that that is what I must do. I had great respect for my parent as a very smart person; everyone had this respect for him; he was a village elder. And since he had told me I ought to get married, I figured that I ought to get married, that he knows best what ought to be done, so I’ll get married. My parent sent the matchmakers and Tanya and I became one family.

It was right at this time that our discord began among our people. You must have heard about this. Well, I’ll tell you a little: when our previous mistress Lukeria Kalmykova died, our elders kissed the hand of Peter Vasilyevich (Verigin), meaning that he was to be our master and to run our Orphan’s Home. Everything went as it should: Peter Vasilyevich became our master. But then something happened that no one had expected. Our deceased mistress had a brother whom they called Gubanov, and this brother secretly submitted an application to the court in Tiflis, requesting that he be made heir to the estate as consisting of our Orphan’s Home, with the capital and so on that went along with it, as well as the farmstead belonging to the home, the livestock and the sheep. The court did everything according to that request and paid no attention to the fact that our community hired a lawyer to dispute it. This lawyer told us afterwards that he could not do a thing in the courts since we were not legally recognized as a society and therefor could not legally possess property collectively. Thus the Orphan’s Home belonged not to us but to Gubanov, the heir of his sister’s estate, along with the capital and so forth. But then they called a halt to the proceedings, set up an investigation, and interrogated the neighbouring inhabitants, Armenians, Georgians and Tatars. And everyone testified to the same thing: that the Orphan’s Home with its capital and so forth had always been our common property. Only Gubanov must have taken them a bribe after this, because things took a turn for the worse: they arrested Peter Vasilievich along with five of our elders and sent them off to Arkhangelsk province. Dondukov-Korsakov was the senior commander at that time. It was after this that our discord began.

All together we were, it was said, about fifteen thousand people. Well, some of us were on Gubanov’s side, though not many – perhaps about three thousand, no more. And such a rift formed between us that whenever the “signed” and “unsigned” (as the Gubanov party and the large party were then called) met any place, there would be swearing and fighting without fail. This discord kept up for a few years. But when Peter Vasilyevich wrote to us from exile, and through messengers passed the word to us that this is not the way to live, that we ought to live as Christians, a great change took place among our people, and through the letters and messengers of Peter Vasilyevich a spirit of freedom, truth and love – God’s spirit – began to filter through our people. We, the large party, started gathering more frequently, and we began to examine life, to discuss, and to learn from one another. And if you can believe it, such an inspiration arose among us that even teenagers would stand up at meetings and deliver sermons. We gave up quarrelling with the Gubanov party, and we also gave up smoking and the drinking of intoxicating beverages, and stopped using abusive and unclean words (an unclean word is one that names the Devil). Then we shared our possessions evenly among everybody, and then we burned our guns. But that was somewhat later.

There were some old men among us who did not stand behind Gubanov, but neither did they welcome these changes in their lives. They wanted everything to be as of old, though they did not approve of Gubanov. My parent was one of these. Whereas I, grandfather, when our people started talking about a Christian life, I soaked up those speeches as the soft earth drinks the rain. These speeches brought such a sweetness to my soul, that I would walk many miles to wherever there was a gathering in order to hear them. Now this irritated my parent, and a discord arose in our family. My parent started getting drunk more often, he started picking on my mother and myself, he became malicious and even used abusive words, horribly nasty soldier words. My Tanya was in a state of hesitation at first because my parent had always treated her very affectionately. I don’t think that he actually had sinful intentions; he simply let himself go to the point of indecency in his drunkenness, but it was through this that we finally parted for good.

There we were, sitting at the table, and my parent as usual had been drinking. When he drank he always treated Tanya affectionately and joked with her, which she liked at first, but later got to dislike it. Here he had been drinking more than usual. He didn’t bother eating, but kept pestering Tanya, which we all found disgusting, but what are you going to do? He put his arms around her and started laughing. Now my mother says to him, what are you doing, old man, come to your senses! Are you after young flesh? When she uttered this completely unseemly phrase, Tanya stood up with a look of disgust, and walked right out of the house. I went out after her and caught up to her in the yard. Where are you going Tanya, I ask. I will not stay here, she says. I’m going home. You can come with me if you like or, if you don’t want to, its up to you, but I’m going home. I asked her to wait and went back into the house. Mother, I say, I’m going to the Novokshonovs. Go wherever you like, says my parent, but my mother keeps silent. I bowed and left. I never went back after that.

I spent a week with Tanya’s family. I kept thinking that we would go back, that my parent or mother would call for us. My mother did come by once, but only to share her grief. It was as though my parent had lost his mind; he even beat her. He drank, yelled, swore, promised to wipe me from the face of the earth, to inform on me to the authorities and tell them that I am in alliance with Verigin so that they would send me into exile, that I have no respect for the Tsar or the authorities. My mother sat a while and cried, then she went home. I was not myself. I just didn’t know what to do. I was at my wit’s end. I wanted to help everyone, even answer with my life, if necessary, and blow the spirit of malice out of everyone. But I could not understand how to do this.

My brother came home on a pass from the service. After this it seemed that our life took a turn for the better. I and Tanya stayed on at her parent’s place, to begin with because my parent did not call us back, and Tanya would not have gone back anyway, but also because it would already have been inconvenient for us to return: my parent maintained his old position: he ate meat, smoked a pipe, drank vodka, while Tanya’s whole family had adopted the new way. And finally, as a result of the changes in our lives our understanding was growing not daily, but hourly, while those who continued in the old way also maintained the old way of understanding things. My parent therefor became for me, and I for him, as virtual strangers to each other.

During this time, many changes took place in our people. They arrived at a point where they decided to burn all people-killing weapons in order to stop being people-killers, sons of the devil. This decision gladdened me more than anything. I had always felt that this is the way it should be, that people should not be killers, because you see, human dignity is lost through this. I had not been able to clearly understand this beforehand, but when they spoke about it I immediately understood and my soul rejoiced as never before, as if someone born blind had been given sight, such a joy I felt in my spirit. During this time, while I was living at Novokshonov’s, I came to understand many other things as well, things about which I had not previously thought, because I was now living freer and was able to attend meetings whenever I wanted. These meetings, I’ll tell you, did everything; never would our people have had the kind of understanding that you will now find among our people had it not been for those meetings. No one taught us, and as you know, there were few literate people among us, but I will relate one story to you.

Not long ago an English doctor came here to Yorkton from a town in Ontario. He was sent, as Feodor Karlovich explained, by an English Christian society, not the Quakers – no, a different group. They sent him in order to set up a hospital in one of our villages because they had learned that many among us, of those who had been in exile, were sick with the Transcaucasian fever. He also wanted to take portraits of our elders and to talk about faith. Five people had discussions with him, Nikolasha Fofanov, Aldosha Popov, Efimushka Vlasov, Aliosha Makhortov, and myself. We were in Yorkton at that time, and that is why we had the discussions, whoever was there spoke, while Feodor Karlovich translated. Having spoken with us, the doctor asked him, saying to him: Very well, I’m pleased with all of it, but these are educated people – pointing at us – and I would like to speak with some uneducated people, as I have heard that in Russia the people are uneducated. Feodor Karlovich laughed and turned to us: which one of you has a university education, admit it! Well all right, who is literate? And who among us was literate? I am illiterate, Nikolasha also, and Aldosha – well he knows a little, and he can read, but his writing is extremely poor; he can barely trace out his letters. Efimushka and Aliosha are also illiterate. And this is what Feodor Karlovich said to the doctor, which greatly surprised him. Now I can’t explain to you what it was about us that made him think we were educated, because all we talked about was human life, the earth, wealth, power, authority, rights – we didn’t talk about anything else. But its clear that we spoke with understanding if he thought we were educated.

Anyway, I told this story just so that it would be clear at least that we do now possess understanding, and its easy to compare myself and the sort of understanding I had when I lived with my parent, with what I acquired afterward. And we all acquired this understanding; we got it through mutual unification and communication, and had it not been for this we would have remained in our previous situation, in a great stupor. And I – thank God! – if I am still alive at this moment, though my death is near (as you yourself can see, I’m barely alive) it is because I am at peace, as I say, after everything that I have been through, and I have peace only because I acquired in my understanding the tranquility of life, a true peace of mind, an understanding that I gained at our meetings, while our discord was in progress and I was living with Tanya’s parents, and then in exile. 

Peter Vasilievich sent his expensive rifle, which cost three hundred rubles; they sent a letter with it, requesting that it be burned. After this it was decided that we gather all the arms that anyone among us had and burn them. We decided to hold the burning on St. Peter’s day, and began gathering the arms to one place. On St. Peter’s day, about three mile out of Bogdanovka, in 1895, several thousand of our people gathered together, started a giant bonfire, and dumped a number of wagon loads of arms onto it – rifles, pistols, daggers, swords, everything.

But before we gathered our weapons, the Gubanov people found out about it; they see that we are gathering our weapons together, although they don’t know for what, and they decided that we were gathering our weapons in order to go to war on Goreloye, to take the Orphan’s Home from them, and destroy them.

And so they made these things known in Tiflis, to Governor Shervashidze, who believed them and immediately sent Cossacks and infantry, and he himself went on the following day. He arrived at Bogdanovka right on St. Peter’s day. He sees that there is nearly no one in the village – only the old and young. Where is everyone, he asks. No one knows. He sends the Cossacks out to search for them, and they straggle and straggle in the hills and ravines but find no one; it was a foggy day in the mountains, making it difficult to see. Then they went out a second time and found them. What transpired next – you don’t believe yourself when you think about it. I was afraid of one thing, that I would not contain myself and would start fighting, and harm my soul. You can beat me as much as you want – this I can take (that is how it seemed to me then; I had not yet experienced the Cossack whips, and did not know for myself what sort of people these were). What I was afraid of was that I would intercede for someone else and get involved in a fight, because for me to see someone being beaten – its an impossible thing. You see, you can allow beating when you are in a craze, and you think that beating only causes pain for the person, but when you understand that with each blow you drive the spirit of malice into the person and torment his spirit, how can you possibly allow for beating?

Listen, grandfather, do you know what I think about the soul and about human life? I’m going to interrupt my story here and explain it to you, because this to me is of more worth than anything.

All life comes from the spirit – this is how I understand it, grandfather. All strength comes from the spirit, for if the flesh acts, it is not really the flesh acting, but rather the spirit captive within the flesh. Its difficult for me to convey my opinion, grandfather, but I have a strong desire to do so. Now, when I talk about spiritual things, my spirit rejoices and neither earth nor bodily life do I feel; I become spirit, grandfather, that is how good I feel when I think and speak of spiritual things. In my thinking, grandfather, all action is from the spirit, and there is a spirit in everything, though there are different kinds of spirits, low and high, and then there are incarnated spirits and incorporeal spirits. Only understand here, grandfather, that there are no entirely incorporeal spirits – only transitory – these are the incorporeal. That spirit which does not have its own bodily form, but appears in spiritual expression – first in one body, then another that accepts it – is a transitory incorporeal spirit, and that which has its own body is an incarnate spirit. 

The spirit of love, for instance, is an incorporeal, higher spirit, because it can live in you and in whomever you wish who accepts it, but it is not yours and it is not mine, but higher, and if someone accepts it, then he himself is elevated to that height. And every sort of sin, be it lustful or cunning, is also an incorporeal spirit, only for man it is base, degrading, whereas for an animal it is all right, for those for which it is meant, but if a man takes it on, he becomes unworthy. Furthermore, if it firmly settles within a person, then the higher or baser spirit enters the makeup of that person’s spirit, and becomes incarnate. Incorporeal spirits, grandfather, do not live or act, but they exist, the high ones and the low ones; they are inactive, but everything that happens is from them, and you understand, grandfather, that through every creature there comes into being one spirit or another, from which that creature then develops. 

This, grandfather, is my understanding, because this is the way I see it happening. And those among us who understand, understand it like this. Our position is that we develop our spirits in such a manner that we integrate in ourselves the spirit of freedom, truth and love, and so that though this the human spirit becomes beautiful and blissful, and has a free existence in and of itself. Do you understand what I am saying, grandfather? We must confer to ourselves the spirit of truth, love and freedom. This is the most high and blissful spirit, whereas the unclean, base spirits we must, like poison, avoid. It is through these things that the human spirit becomes beautiful, and all that is beautiful is in bliss because it is beautiful, and it lives in freedom, is dependent on nothing, because it is beautiful. Do you understand, grandfather, that the human spirit can blossom and can wither? It can blossom in all the lovely colours of the rainbow, dear grandfather, only we must unceasingly maintain cleanliness so that no baseness of any kind creeps into our spirit. This I think, grandfather, is the biggest lesson, and the most difficult task for man, the preservation of cleanliness, yet it is essential for the attainment of a blissful existence. The unclean cannot be blissful; all evil and baseness passes on to grief and death. Therefor more than anything it is necessary to avoid uncleanness and baseness, in order that we not do anything unworthy for the human spirit. If I do not do anything worthy, this is still not a tragedy. The tragedy is in the unworthy deed, because it leaves an unclean mark on life forever, which nothing can smooth over.

And so I too, grandfather, have always tried to avoid falling into uncleanness, and to avoid committing unworthy acts, speaking untruths, cheating, offending or raging. And if this had happened with me it would have tormented me. And here, when we were being driven from our prayer at the Burning of the Arms, what went on here overwhelmed us with confusion and made every limb tremble. And you understand, grandfather, that if I am in such a position that the higher or the lower spirit is pressing itself upon me, wishing to be incarnated in me, and I resist this, then it will fade from life, but to whatever extent I do embody it, either the lower or the higher spirit, depending which one I serve, can grow through me and develop into life.

At one point a Cossack thrust his horse upon me. Their senior officer commanded: attack! and they drove their horses right into living people. One cossack drove his horse towards me and I, seeing this, placed one foot forward and put my weight on the other foot, holding out my elbow and my hip. He rode upon me, whipping his horse – the horse has no desire to push itself upon me – he pulls and tears its lip with the bit, whips it in the rear and across the brow – the horse only rears up on its hind legs, but will not advance upon a human. And that is the way it was with everyone. Not a single person was trampled and there was nothing they could do. And what was it they wanted? They wanted to break apart our circle and having broken it, herd us like cattle to the governor. 

And what did we do? We, when we saw that the Cossacks were riding upon us, we shouted for the women and old men to move into the centre, while we stood on the outside in several circles holding hands. They had been ordered to drive us in, but we said that we would go ourselves, that there was no need to chase us. But they were out to have fun or make mockery, which is easier to do with women and old men, and so they wanted to break apart our circle and then scatter us in all directions. Then for the first time I tasted the Cossack whip and I learned that a great spirit of animosity can be driven into a man with it, but thank God! I was saved from that. When his horse refused to advance on me he turned it sideways to me and began to lay strips into me. Many times he struck me, and with each strike I flinched not from pain, but from lawlessness; lawlessness was being beaten into me, but I held fast and would not let it in and, thank God! I endured it successfully. And because of that I now live in peace. Except that up to that point I had thought that the most odious thing of all is to see others beaten before you, but after this I realized that it is even more odious when you yourself are beaten. 

We arrived in Bogdanovka, having sort of walked and sort of been driven, and stood before the governor. Here again what transpired was beyond any comparison. It even got to the point where the governor himself, infuriated, started going after our passports and beating us with a stick. You see, they had begun handing him their own service cards and he would not take them so they dropped them at his feet, and this is when he became infuriated. After this they instigated an execution for us. And here my story will soon come to an end.

I’m working out in the yard, cleaning something up and I look: the gate swings open and four plain Cossacks step in along with a fifth officer of some kind, and my parent was with them as well. He was an elder at that time and when they sent the Cossacks and soldiers to us for the execution, he took them around to the homes of those who were reckoned to be insurgents. And so to us, to Novokshonovs, he brought no less than five. I paid no attention to this, but continued my work. The Cossacks went into the house and my parent went back to the gate. Some time had passed; I heard some sort of hubbub coming from the house, and then a woman’s cries, which I make out to be Tanya’s. I cross the yard to the door, where I meet two Cossacks leading Tanya by the arms. Her hair was down, she was not herself, then she saw me and cried, intervene, intervene! oh, help! 

I approached, but here it happened that other Cossacks ran in front, and I remember that one of them had a bloodied nose and brow – to which Tanya had treated him. The officer was standing in the back, motioning with his hand and shouting, come here quickly! This he shouted at the other Cossacks who were standing at the gate. Now the first Cossacks grabbed me by the arms and from behind by the throat. Others ran up and also grabbed my arms and torso. I had not yet spoken a word nor raised a hand before they had me completely restrained. Thank God! This was my good fortune because I blanked out from this. Either from the tight grip on my throat or from everything, altogether, I completely blanked out for perhaps an hour. I was told afterward that I had fought them off in such a frenzy that nine Cossacks were barely able to restrain me; three had me by each arm, two around the neck, holding me by the collar from behind, and one held me around the waist. That is how they led me, and Tanya they led ahead of me.

But I do not remember any of this, how they led me or where. I started to come around just before Tanya stopped screaming. When she stopped, I came to my senses. As a result of her stopping. I see Tanya, stripped and lying face down, her entire backside striped by whips. One Cossack is standing at her feet, another at her head, a third beside her with a whip. The one at her head bent down and grabbed her under the arms to lift her. I see all of this and feel nothing. And even now, if the entire scene presents itself to me, I just close my eyes and I see all of it. I see the Cossack commander standing on the porch with his feet apart, smoking, and I see my parent behind him against the wall, also standing on the porch. I remember that I wanted to look at Tanya again, but here I once again became unconscious. I only remember that I resisted and struggled again, and they fell on me and brought me down.

I began to come around from the blows of the whip. They were pressing my legs so hard that my joints ached, someone was sitting on my back, and on both arms as well, while the blows came one after another, becoming stronger as the time passed because I was coming to my senses – gaining consciousness. Then again they became less painful, and then I stopped feeling the beating entirely. I was as if completely on fire and could not feel whether they were beating me or not. Then they jabbed me in the side and I realized that they had stopped beating me. And what should I do? Probably I should stand up. I wanted to get up but I don’t know how to do it, what to move first, my hands or my feet. I remembered my hat and began to run my hand over the ground. A Cossack must have guessed; he pushed my hat over with his foot and kicked my hand. 

Now I pulled my knees up under me, and my elbows, and stood on all fours. I can hear Tanya’s voice: godless, evil people! That was the first thing that I heard. Up until then, from the time they had grabbed me in the yard, I didn’t hear a thing, only buzzing, z-z-z-z like the ocean. Tanya’s voice seemed to wake me from a sleep and I immediately began to feel better and began to stand up. I see both my mother and my mother-in-law helping me. The Cossacks are laughing about something. I don’t know what, and I think to myself: let them laugh. Actually, they were chuckling at my mother pulling my pants on for me. I wanted to pull them up myself, but I couldn’t bend down; my back had stiffened up like a post. Mother and Tanya pulled my pants up and led me by the arms; I could not walk by myself; I was burning like a fire, and I could not bring my thoughts together. What had happened? Why did they beat me? They beat Tanya as well; what will be next? I can’t understand a thing.

Then I lay motionless for about three days – I could not even turn over; thus they transported me, lying down, into exile. After this my entire body broke out in boils; I thought I was going to rot. The boils tormented me for about three months. As one went down two would puff up next to it. And I just lay there thinking – how much thinking I did during that time! But what they had tortured me for, I could not figure out. Perhaps on my parent’s request. It seemed probable; he was angry with me over many things, for leaving to go live with my father-in-law, for no longer respecting him as I had before, and for much more, but why had they beaten Tanya? What was she guilty of? He couldn’t have held animosity toward her, but then he couldn’t have asked that they beat me to death either, and they did beat me to death, you see, my life was holding by a thread when they stopped beating me, and three years have passed since then and I still haven’t recovered.

I didn’t even have any desire to come to Canada. Why go when I’ll die tomorrow, if not today? But since the whole family was going I couldn’t stay behind. I figured that I’d die on the way, but here I am. But I won’t be living much longer, this I know; as time passes I just grow worse. And what do I need to live for, anyway? As I understand it, all that could be taken away from me has already been taken, and through my ordeal so much malice has faded from my life that nothing more than this can be demanded of me. As I see it, all of the malice which pressed itself upon me, I brought to nothing. I did not embody it in myself. And now I am at peace for my entire life, and will die in peace. There is only one thing that bothers me, when I ask the question: what would I have done had I not blanked out when they grabbed me? And what would I have done had I been able to overpower the nine men who held me? And here it seems to me that only because the situation did no allow this, and not because I did not allow it, did the malice not enter into me. A man cannot be perfect; it seems to me that in a different circumstance I would not have kept myself from malice…

My parent did not come to Canada, nor did he allow my mother to come, while my brother was exiled to Siberia.

Editorial Note

The term “execution” as used here, it the direct translation of a somewhat archaic Russian term denoting punishment, as in a punitive expedition to carry out a Tsarist “executive” order (in this case, to punish the Doukhobors for their insurrection against Tsarist regulations regarding military service, oaths of allegiance, etc.). Although the Russian term was also used to denote corporal punishment such as flogging, it does not have the English language connotation of capital punishment (i.e. by hanging). 

The narrator, Doukhobor Vanya Bayoff, died in Canada in 1901 at the age of thirty-seven, having suffered right to his death with some sort of complicated, serious ailment, undoubtedly inflicted upon him by the barbaric “execution” employed by the Russian government on the Doukhobors.

Peter “Lordly” Verigin – Doukhobor Leader Arrives

Manitoba Morning Free Press

On December 15, 1902, Peter "Lordly" Verigin arrived in Canada to assume leadership of the Doukhobors after spending nearly 16 years in exile in Siberia. The following article, reproduced from the Manitoba Morning Free Press (Tuesday, December 23, 1902), details his arrival in Winnipeg, Manitoba en route to the Doukhobor colonies near Yorkton, Saskatchewan.

Peter Verigin, Whose Personality Sways His People, En route to Join Them From Siberian Exile – Is Noncommittal – Russian Brutality

Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin

For three hours before the train from the east pulled in yesterday afternoon, a number of people patiently promenaded the platform awaiting its arrival. One of them, a woman, has been there since early morning. She was awaiting her brother, whom she had not seen for fifteen years. She knew nothing of the congestion of traffic along the C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) and so kept steadfast watch lest the train might get in before its advertised time, determined, no matter when it arrived, that her brother should find someone there to meet him.

When at a little before 3 o’clock the train drew in, there alighted from one of the front coaches a tall, quiet looking man, carrying a black leather valise studded with nickel bosses arranged in curious design. A dark blue gaberdine reached half way to the knees, over his trousers were fastened close fitting, dark grey leggings, piped at the edges with black cloth. His headgear was a black fedora. Around his neck he wore a long cord fastened to which was a heavy silver watch and a richly chased gold pencil. Alongside the watch pocket was a fountain pen, secured by loops of the cloth. 

The traveller was Peter Verigin, newly come to Canada after fifteen years of Siberian exile. The woman awaiting him was his sister.

In the crush of Christmas travel it was some time before those looking for the new arrival could find the object of their search. Accompanied by Interpreter Harvey, who had gone east to meet Verigin, and by Ivan Ivin, Paul Planidin and Semeon Rieben, three Doukhobors who had been deputized by the communities to extend the Doukhobor leader a welcome on his arrival. Verigin walked eastward along the platform.

A Happy Reunion

His sister saw him, standing half a head taller than the average, and ran towards him, followed by the other waiting Doukhobors, with joyful cries. Verigin dropped his valise, took off his had, opened his arms and cried “Anna!” He kissed his sister and the others and quietly walked on toward the immigration buildings, being introduced on the way to Mr. H.P. Archer, Crerar, of Yorkton – both of whom of Swan River Immigration Agent have been for days in the city awaiting his coming – to Mrs. Almanopsky, who acted s interpreter, and the Free Press representative.

On the party’s arriving at the immigration buildings, Verigin was shown the room set apart for his use. Here he spent a little more time chatting with his sister and friends, enquiring after his mother, who is 86 years of age and who lives at Poterpevshie village with his sister, whose full name is Anna Vasilievna Verigina. Then, after the baggage had been packed away and the foregoing domestic enquiries made, the party moved downstairs to Acting (Immigration) Commission Moffatt’s office.

Mr. Moffatt greeted Verigin warmly, welcoming him to the west in the name of the Dominion authorities. In answer to his enquiries as to his voyage, Verigin said it was a long journey, good but rough. He had sailed from Liverpool after crossing Europe from Moscow to Warsaw, and thence to England.

“You’ll be glad to be in a country,” said Mr. Moffatt, “where there is religious and individual freedom”. “I haven’t looked around yet,” answered Verigin through an interpreter, “so I cannot yet tell whether this is a free country or not”. “You know, however,” said Mr. Moffatt, “that in Canada we do not put people in prison because of their political or religious views”. “Oh yes,” answered Verigin, “I know that”. “People have been looking for your coming for a long time,” said Agent Crerar. “There are 300 Doukhobors at Yorkton station, watching every train for you. And there is one person very anxious to see you – your mother”.

Wants to See His Mother

Verigin had up till that time been quietly courteous and dignified: but his manner underwent a change, becoming alertly interested. “Did you see my mother; yes?” he asked. “When did you see her? Was she well?” Mr. Crerar satisfied him on these points, and then Verigin asked him when the train could take him there. “I am in a hurry to see my mother,” he said. “There is no train till tomorrow, yes?” “I would go today if I could; yes!” Then he realized that perhaps he might be taking up too much of the commissioner’s time. “Shall I see you again, yes,” he asked, “You are perhaps now too occupied?”

Anastasia Verigin, mother of Doukhobor leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin

Being answered on this point, Mr. Moffatt asked him concerning his visit to Ottawa. “I couldn’t talk much business,” he said, “for I had not seen the Doukhobors. Of myself I knew nothing of their troubles; only of what I heard. They told me the people would not take up their homestead lands”. “Did you hear about the pilgrimage?” asked Mr. Crerar, “and of the action taken by the government to prevent the pilgrims from being frozen to death?” “I had not heard any particulars,” answered Verigin. “it was in print in Russian papers. They said that 200 people were frozen to death.

Mr. Crerar told him that this was entirely false. Pointing to the Free Press representative, who was the only newspaper man present at the interview, Mr. Crerar told Verigin that he had accompanied the pilgrims throughout their wanderings, and personally knew of all the facts in connection therewith. “Is that so, yes?” said Verigin. “I shall have much to ask him”.

Verigin’s Personality

Throughout the interview Verigin said little, only speaking in reply to questions, and allowing the others to do the talking. His manner was marked with a natural courtesy and simple dignity that would single him out for notice anywhere. His voice is low, and of singular sweetness. Physically, Verigin is a splendid type of his race. Tall and strongly built, and of erect and graceful carriage, he would attract attention among hundreds of good looking men. His features are regular and his skin of an olive pallor. His hair and beard, which is luxuriant, are black as jet. His eyes are dark and thoughtful, and his whole expression that of a man who has suffered much, and has triumphed over everything through the force of kingly courage and constancy.

It was evident that he would make no statement as to his future actions or the counsel he would give the Doukhobors, who for months have been anxiously awaiting his coming, till he had personally familiarized himself with every phase of the situation. Mr. Moffatt, indeed, and wisely, did not attempt to draw from Verigin any statement. “You will know all about the troubles the government has had with the Doukhobors,” he said, “when you get among them. We all hope your coming may have a very good effect. We will do anything possible to help you. You must be tired after your long journey. And you must be hungry. So now I’ll say goodbye to you, and wish you a safe journey to your mother tomorrow.”

Verigin listened gravely, and when this was translated, rose and shook hands with the commissioner. “I thank you very much,” said he, “I hope my coming may be good. I hope so indeed,” and so went upstairs to his room.

May Not Stay in Canada

In a few minutes a message was sent down to the Free Press man, asking him to join Verigin in the latter’s room. The reporter found Planidin, Rieben and Verigin’s sister busy in preparing a meal for the traveller. Verigin sat in an armchair, and, after welcoming the newspaper man, resumed his conversation with Mrs. Almanopsky, asking many questions as to the location of the different Doukhobor lands and communities. Before he had concluded, Agent Crerar came up to ascertain if Verigin would stay long in Yorkton. Representative Doukhobors from every village in the Yorkton and Swan River colonies were there, and the government desired to have a list compiled of all the Doukhobors eligible for homesteads, the number of those willing to take up land, the number of those who had already made entry and the reasons for not making entry on the part of those who refused. Verigin said he did not want to delay to hold any such conference at the present time; he wanted to get to the village where his mother was. “I may not stay in Canada,” he said, “I may go back to Russia.”

“Could all these people see me tomorrow night?” he asked. But it was explained that the train did not arrive till late. “Then let it be in two or three weeks,” he said.

The conversation drifted to Russian topics. Mr. Crerar said that he had heard the Tsar proposed releasing all Siberian exiles at the New Year. Verigin laughed heartily. “You must have read that in a newspaper,” said he, “what is said in newspapers is not always true. It is only the students that are going to be released.”

His Exiledom

The Free Press man asked Verigin to say something concerning his life in exile. “That would be a long story,” he said. “If I could talk English I should much like to tell you. But you cannot always trust interpreters. But I was sent to exile from the Caucasus for five years; when that was passed I was sentenced for another five years, and when that, too, had gone, I was given yet another five years. When I was allowed to go free I wanted to go to the Caucasus to see my wife and son, but the government would not allow me, nor would they allow them to come to see me. They might have come to Canada with the Doukhobors four years ago, but they would not because it would take them further from me, and I do not know whether the government will give them passports to come to Canada, and perhaps I shall never see them.”

As Verigin talked of his wife his voice broke several times. He sprang up from his chair and paced up and down the room while speaking of them, and it was some minutes before he regained his composure. 

“What did you do while in exile?” next asked the reporter. Verigin responded, “I toiled, ate and slept, of course. I used an axe and carpentered and built stores. We had all to earn our own living, for the Russian government allow nothing for the sustenance of its exiles. Many times I asked for a trial, but it was always refused. I was never condemned by a judge, or by due process of law, but by an “administrative order” of the government, which enables them to detain any person objective to it”. 

“Are the reports of cruelty and ill usage of the exiles, of which we sometimes hear, true?”

Russian Brutality

“In what way you mean, ill use?” answered Verigin, “the exiles are sent to a village. They have to walk all the way. If they are tired and fall behind, they are beaten. If they try to run away they are shot. If they go outside the village boundaries they are punished; maybe sent down the mines. In Irkutsk there were some student exiles. They said they wanted the limits of their walks extended, that it was ridiculous to confine them in such a small space. Soon after they were told to march into a building. Expecting to hear a reply to their request they went. The building was surrounded by soldiers. They fired a volley, wounding many of the students and killing two. 

At Moscow, Verigin saw Count Tolstoy, who was rejoiced at his release. “I wonder if the government hasn’t made a mistake,” he said, “you’d better get to Canada soon for they may change their minds and give you another five years.”

By this time Verigin’s sister and the others had completed their preparations for the meal. The kettle was set on the white table cloth – woven by the Doukhobor women – (it was spotlessly clean and did not soil it in the least) to use as a samovar. Bread with Cross & Blackwell’s jam were the staples. Loaf sugar was poured out on a plate and eaten as a relish. Verigin cut a lemon in thin slices and poured tea, inviting the Free Press representative to join him at his meal. During the progress of the repast, Verigin chatted with perfect ease on general topics. He said he wanted to take a walk around the city (of Winnipeg) that evening as his Doukhobor friends had often written to him of its marvels. He looked with some surprise at the electric light, when it was turned on, but merely remarked, “I am seeing new things all the time.”

Leo Tolstoy’s Teachings and the Sons of Freedom in Canada

by Svetlana A. Inikova

Much has been written about the Sons of Freedom in Canada. Remarkably little scholarly attention has been devoted, however, to the ideological origins and historical genesis of this zealot group. According to Russian ethnographer and archivist Svetlana A. Inikova, the roots of the Freedomite movement can be found in the intellectual ideas and philosophical writings of Russian novelist Leo N. Tolstoy. His teachings, spread by Tolstoyans living among the Doukhobors in Canada and abroad, and adopted by Doukhobor leader Peter V. Verigin in Siberian exile, found fertile ground among an uneducated, mystically inclined group of sectarian zealots and exerted a definite influence on the formation of the radical wing of the Doukhobor movement. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, Dr. Inikova offers an in-depth and critical examination of how the Freedomite movement in Canada was to become the unanticipated fruit of Tolstoy’s frequently misinterpreted ideas. Originally published in the Russian journal “Religiovedenie” [Moscow, Blagoveshchensk, No. 3, 2002]. Translated from the original Russian by Jack McIntosh.

In Russia, few people have heard of Canada’s “Sons of Freedom” or “Freedomites.” In recent years, two Russian newspaper articles are most likely all that the general reader might have read on that theme. There is a complete absence of scholarly publications on the Freedomites, although in Canada numerous academic works have been written about them, and newspapers have been full of articles and news items about their antisocial activity, sometimes filling whole columns. For almost a hundred years, the Freedomites have kept Canadian society in a state of tension, organizing acts of arson against schools and private homes and enterprises, bombing of railway and power lines, and scandalizing respectable citizenry by disrobing in public places and staging “nude parades” along the roads of Canada.

The Freedomite movement, an extremist socio-religious trend, originated among that portion of the Doukhobor sect that had come to be known as “Fasters,” those Doukhobors who in 1895, after proclaiming their pacifism, burned their weapons in the Transcaucasus and were driven by acts of government repression to resettle in Canada. The paradox was that the ideology of the Sons of Freedom, like that of the other Doukhobor-Fasters, was based on high ideals of non-violence. Moreover, the social and ethical aspect of the doctrine espoused by the Doukhobor-Fasters (non-participation in violence and exploitation, vegetarianism, renunciation of luxury, and communal way of life), adopted by them in 1893-94, had coalesced under the powerful influence of the ideas of Leo Tolstoy as propagated among the Doukhobors by “Tolstoyans” D. A. Khilkov, A. M. Bodyansky, S. T. Prokopenko, and N. Dudchenko, all of whom had lived since 1892 in the Transcaucasus. Not only did they conduct discussions and distribute publications of the “Posrednik” publishing house set up by Tolstoy and V. G. Chertkov, but Khilkov and Bodyansky, using the traditional genre of Doukhobor psalms, also composed catechisms for a “new” set of teachings that had not yet been accepted even by the Fasters. Their propagandistic activity was crowned with success only because many of Tolstoy’s ideas had been accepted by the leader of the Doukhobor-Fasters, Peter Vasil’evich Verigin, who since 1887 had been in Russia’s far north in administrative exile, all the while maintaining continual contact with his supporters through messengers. Through the efforts of the Tolstoyans, the struggle for power typical of religious sects had been turned into a socio-religious movement destined to cause many problems for authorities at all levels.

In 1855, while still a young man, Tolstoy had expressed the need to create a new religion “purged of faith and mystery, a practical religion, one not promising future bliss, but bringing about heaven on Earth.” He understood that it would be a difficult task requiring more than one generation, but “some day fanaticism or reason” would accomplish this, Tolstoy wrote in his diary. His friends and followers went further: they attempted to utilize Tolstoy’s teachings as a lever by which, as I. M. Tregubov wrote in 1889 to D. A. Khilkov, it would be possible to “turn life around,” that is, to destroy both state and church. To this end, it was necessary to spread this teaching among the rationalist sects, especially the Doukhobors, Molokans, and Stundists. In another letter to the Tolstoyan P. I. Biriukov, Tregubov emphasized that the most suitable sectarians for this purpose are the ones who “are distinguished by extraordinary self-denial, to the point of self-crucifixion,” that is, simply put, fanatics. A. M. Bodyansky also extolled the self-denial of people of deep faith. Doukhobors, or so it seemed to the Tolstoyans, entirely met these requirements.

From 1895 on, all the activity of the Tolstoyans was concentrated on the Doukhobor-Fasters: The Tolstoyans endeavoured to let the world know about their struggle against militarism, about persecutions by the government and the suffering of these true Christians, provided them with financial assistance, and later organized their resettlement in Canada and helped them become established in their new location. Not only was Tolstoy familiar with the details of all the events taking place in “Dukhoboria,” but he was at the centre of the campaign to furnish aid to the persecuted. He repeatedly expressed in letters and conversations that the “Doukhobor cause” was most important and that it was totally absorbing him. However, neither Tolstoy nor his friends were aware that they were dealing not with a rationalistic but a mystical sect in which their leader is the very incarnate Son of God, Christ. They had no idea of the immense danger inherent in fanaticism and what kind of repercussions could result from intellectual ideas sown within an uneducated, mystically inclined people. The Freedomite movement in Canada was to become the unanticipated fruit of Tolstoy’s frequently misinterpreted ideas.

When they were resettling the Doukhobor-Fasters in Canada, the Tolstoyans saw their task as that of building in a free country a “Kingdom of Truth and Love.” However, even at the time of the move, those who were closely associated with the Doukhobors and those Tolstoyans who accompanied them en route noticed that very many of their wards were by no means keen on living communally, and that among the Fasters there were some who continued to eat meat, drink and smoke. However, that did not arouse Tolstoy’s suspicions. He believed that living people have shadows, and as he wrote to one of his English followers, Arthur St. John, who assisted the emigration of the Fasters and noted vices in their midst that were a disgrace to Christians, it would be “very useful [for the Doukhobors] to have such friends as you and our other friends. You are serving them conscientiously, reminding them of their principles, and with your help they are more keenly aware of their errors.”

In 1899 D. A. Khilkov, who had exerted so much effort towards expanding the Doukhobor movement in the Caucasus and who, quite naturally, understood better than others its true essence, became disenchanted with the Doukhobors. Once he had finally come to believe that “in no respect will anything propitious come of their settlement,” he departed from Canada, where he had helped them find land and get settled. His relations with the Doukhobors essentially had come to an end, although he continued to be interested in their life. However, in that same year, 1899, A. M. Bodyansky, a friend of Khilkov’s who had already become well known to many Doukhobors in the Caucasus, arrived in Canada from exile in Pribaltiisky kray [Baltic region]. He considered himself to be a follower of Tolstoy, was long in correspondence with him, participated in several Tolstoyan colonies and expended his whole large fortune in that cause. He had served out several periods of administrative exile for spreading Tolstoyan propaganda. Bodyansky was a man fanatically committed to an idea and for the sake of bringing it to fruition spared neither himself, nor his colleagues, nor his friends. He went to Canada with the intention of assuming the role of ideological mentor to the Doukhobors, who, in his opinion, were in need as never before “of spiritual food, models of good living, of live preaching in action.” In September, 1899, Bodyansky, who was destined to play an important part in the fate of the Doukhobors, was accepted into the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood created back in 1896 at the instigation of Peter Verigin.

In the very first years in Canada, the Christian Community showed signs of splitting. Canada opened up prospects for rapid accumulation of wealth for enterprising and industrious people such as the Doukhobors indeed were. According to Canadian law, every man from the age of eighteen had to right to an allotment – a homestead 160 acres in size, which he was supposed to make over to himself. Soon after arrival, the authorities required new settlers to assume ownership of the allotted lands. They were not prohibited from combining their homesteads, living in villages and working the land jointly, but formally, each parcel of land had to have its own owner. Thus at any time the owner of a homestead could leave the community. In this opportunity lurked great danger for the sect. Vacillation and doubts began to grow within the Doukhobor milieu. The situation that had developed was all the more dangerous in that once the sect was spared compulsory military service in Canada, the powerful unifying factor of having to contend with a government over the issue of military service had disappeared.

Bodyansky saw that for the “universal brethren,” as he often called the Doukhobors in his letters, the temptation of material prosperity was proving more difficult to withstand than the Tsar’s prisons and Cossack whips, that “the spirit of moral disintegration is very rapidly conquering” them, that the “beast of the flesh” that previously had been suppressed by religious persecution and “the blind sense of a herd moving in the footsteps of its leaders” had awakened. The hopes of Tolstoy and the Tolstoyans that the Doukhobors would create a Kingdom of Truth and Love were in danger of complete collapse. Both the Tolstoyans and those Doukhobors who had taken an active part in the movement immediately saw a threat that recent rebels would quickly become law-abiding Canadians. Both the former and the latter had a stake in impeding this process.

While still in Canada, Khilkov repeatedly wrote to Tolstoy that the Doukhobors were preparing to divide up the money collected for them and live separately. Setting his hopes on Tolstoy’s authority, he appealed to him to advise the Doukhobors to live as a commune. Reports of inclinations towards private ownership also arrived from other educated friends and helpers living among the Doukhobors. Impressed by these letters and stories, Tolstoy wrote a letter to the Doukhobors on February 15, 1900, in which he reproached them for accumulating possessions and forgetting their principles. “You see it only seems to us that it is possible to remain a Christian and still have property and keep it from other people,” he wrote, “but that is impossible. People must acknowledge this – or else in a short time, nothing will be left of Christianity except words, and unfortunately, insincere and hypocritical words… At first it may seem that between renunciation of violence, refusal of military service, and recognition of private property there is no connection… But this is not true. You see, property means that that which I consider my own, I will not give to anybody who wishes to take this thing of mine, but moreover, I will defend it against him. But to defend against another that which I regard as my own cannot be done except by violence, that is, if need be, by struggle, fighting, even killing. The teachings of Christianity cannot be taken piecemeal: it is all or nothing. It is all inseparably connected as a single whole. If a person acknowledges himself to be a son of God, then there flows from this recognition love for one’s neighbour, and in exactly the same way, love of neighbour entails rejection of violence, the uttering of oaths, military service, and property… Man does not need to provide for himself, as Christ himself said. He is provided for once and for all by God: just like the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.”

S. Prokopenko, who lived with the Doukhobors, wrote sadly: “I read Lev Nikolaevich’s letter to the Doukhobors and I see that he knows little of their state of mind. In the first place, he does not know that this is sectarianism in the extreme. In the second place, he does not know that within the Doukhobor midst violence is even greater that that meted out by the Russian authorities. I say “greater,” because there is no authority that can exercise such moral violence as Doukhobors do… Lev Nikolaevich does not know that the Doukhobors possess in the highest degree a land-owning spirit and have never been otherwise.”

Tolstoy’s letter was published in England in the series Listki Svobodnogo slova by V. G. Chertkov, very close friend of Lev Tolstoy and an active participant in the campaign to defend the Doukhobors (for which he had been exiled to England) and in the organization of their emigration. The Listki were sent to the Doukhobor settlements in large quantities, and the letter was reprinted several times in separate small-format editions. It became widely known among the Doukhobors, who were well aware of the immense assistance given them by Tolstoy while they were still in the Caucasus and during their resettlement in Canada, and they regarded him as their friend. Even today, this letter is well known among Canadian Doukhobors, and the Freedomites in particular.

Dissemination of this letter was also aided by the fact that current among Doukhobors was the opinion that between “Petiushka” (P. V. Verigin) and Tolstoy there existed some sort of special invisible bond, and that Tolstoy was preaching what he had learned from Verigin. You see, Petiushka also had advised them to live in Canada as a commune. True, he had not passed on anything concerning ownership of land. In the Transcaucasus the Doukhobors had lived on state land, and the question of the moral aspects of private ownership of land had never arisen. When the Doukhobors were getting ready to depart from Russia to seek out a place to live, they were entirely permissive in regard to land purchase. One of the respected “starichki” [elders], Nikola Zibarov, wrote to Arthur St. John: “As to whether we wish to rent or buy [land – S.I.], for us it would be good to have either in mind, that is, either rental or such lands as we might buy. What would be most convenient for us would be to settle in America on government lands, if that is possible.”

Most likely the Doukhobors could have found some sort of compromise on the land question or stalled until the arrival to Canada of Peter Verigin, whose term of exile was coming to an end in the summer of 1902. Much more acute was their reaction to the demand of the government for obligatory registration of marriages and reporting to the authorities the number of births and deaths. The Doukhobors considered this to be interference in the sect’s business. They had traveled to a free country where they could live according to their own laws. Here, however, instead of Russian law, which could be evaded by bribery, Canadian law stood as an impassable wall they could not get around. The Doukhobors became perplexed, frightened, and deeply indignant.

A. M. Bodyansky decided to take advantage of the situation that had developed by attaching a Christian slant, in the spirit of Tolstoy, to their imminent struggle for independence, this time from the Canadian state. Later, in a letter to Tolstoy, he wrote: “Accordingly, even if one were to acknowledge the government of Canada as perhaps the best of governments, one had to expect efforts therefrom to turn us into Canadians devoted to the interests of the new fatherland, and not to expect any help or sympathy at all in enabling us to be better sons of humanity. I found it necessary to protect the Doukhobors against the undesirable results of such government efforts. What was necessary in this regard? In the first place, it seemed to me essential to convince the Doukhobors that to achieve the goal of a better life, people ought not associate themselves with any national state “herd” at all. In the second place, it was essential to take up such a position with them that we would in reality not belong to any state herd… The moment had come when one had either to reject any striving toward a better life, or through direct ways of bringing this life into being openly express one’s striving towards it. And I seized the moment and came out onto the new stage all the more boldly because your letter to the Doukhobors in which you advise them not to be landowners, and its publication and wide distribution by Chertkov, compelled me to believe that I would find support in this cause.”

Impressed by Tolstoy’s letter, Bodyansky, in the name of the Doukhobors, wrote a declaration to the Canadian authorities signed by twenty-two elders, and in June 1900 the Doukhobors delivered it to the government agent in Yorkton. In this declaration they announced that they could not obey government laws that violate the law of God:

1) They cannot secure land for themselves, as it belongs to God, whereas “to secure land as the property of individuals or communities constitutes a profound violation of God’s law that will more than anything else impede the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth…”;

2) They cannot register weddings in a police book; they cannot go along with marriage unions being moved “from God’s jurisdiction to that of the police…”;

3) They see no need to enter births and deaths in police books, as the Heavenly Father knows this all anyway.

In an attempt to define Bodyansky’s role in the publication of the declaration, P. I. Biriukov wrote that this friend of Doukhobors, “in sympathy with those high Christian ideals, was, so to speak, the literate voice of the Doukhobors’ protest against the Canadian government.” They themselves accepted this protest more on faith than by agreement with its content. When Biriukov asked one of the signatories how it came about that the Doukhobors signed the letter, that person replied: “… you know that we are not clever enough to understand every word. And there were words we thought inappropriate for us, but B[odyansky] is a persistent fellow and always interprets things in his own way.”

Once they had so incautiously, using someone else’s words, proclaimed to all of Canada their rejection of land ownership, they felt compelled to continue to defend the position thrust upon them. The Freedomites became the staunchest defenders of this idea. To this very day a Freedomite settlement exists at Gilpin (near Grand Forks in the province of British Columbia), whose inhabitants not only reject land ownership, but even refuse to pay any taxes on it, on the basis that “the land is God’s.”

So as to deprive the Doukhobors of any opportunity to retreat, Bodyansky hastened to send this declaration not only to the Canadian government, but also to like-minded Tolstoyans in different countries, with a request to translate it into French and German and publish it in the newspapers so that the world would know of this new heroic deed of the Doukhobors. However, he himself had a very low opinion of the Christian virtues of the “universal brotherhood.” On July 8, 1900, Bodyansky wrote to V. D. Bonch-Bruevich, the future historian of religious sectarianism, who accompanied to Canada the fourth party of Doukhobors and helped them get settled: “Notwithstanding [their] world-renowned Christian exploit, it seems to me that there is very little true Christianity among them, at least, much less than among Orthodox peasants, not to mention the rationalist sects. And a terribly repulsive characteristic of the Doukhobors is a certain slyness attainable only by sectarians holding to a secret doctrine; also, their inordinate pride.”

Bodyansky set himself the goal of not letting the Doukhobors stop their forward movement or become complacent. Accordingly he strove to stir up Doukhobor society by all possible means. Evidently it was he who brought to Canada two letters written by P. V. Verigin, one of which, dated January 4, 1896, was addressed to Nikolai Trofimovich Iziumchenko, then serving out his exile in Siberia for rejecting military service, and the other, dated November 25, 1896, to the Tolstoyan Evgenii Ivanovich Popov. Although there is no direct proof that it was Bodyansky himself who acquainted the Doukhobors with these letters, it is quite obvious that he along with the most radical of the Doukhobors used them while composing a catechism for a new belief system in which the fundamentals of Freedomite doctrine were laid out. I would like to dwell on the content of these letters in some detail.

In his letter to Iziumchenko, Verigin philosophized on the theme of true Christian living. Clearly, some of the thoughts expressed in this letter were inspired by the philosophical writings and letters of Tolstoy that had been furnished in quantity in published and manuscript form by the Tolstoyans. But Verigin, accepting these thoughts as a foundation, attempted to develop them further, taking them to their logical conclusion, arguing them to the point of total absurdity. It is difficult to tell how sincere he was, but he was sure of the originality of his thinking. In this letter Verigin tries to allay in advance any suspicion of his having borrowed ideas from Tolstoy, remarking offhandedly: “In what does his [Tolstoy’s – S.I.] philosophy consist? I have not read his works. Only by hearsay do I know that he rejects the legitimacy of modern ‘civilization,’ that is, progress.” He wrote that the ability to read and write, which Doukhobors had always regarded with disfavour, ‘destroys the attraction of the personal encounter,’ and schools corrupt the morals of children. Moreover, “all of the things by means of which literacy is achieved are obtained by hard labour, and so we have to avoid any part in the enslavement of others, in whatever manner.” Verigin announced that he does not consider labour as basic to human life, but that if we moderate our needs, it is possible to get by in tranquility without working. Citing the words of Christ: “Man does not live by bread alone,” Verigin wrote that humanity is thereby liberated ‘from the slavery of physical, unnatural labour.” A person should assume the position of a guest on the Earth and return to nature. By being abstemious in his diet, a person could, in Verigin’s opinion, have a lifespan with what he possesses of one hundred years, and in that time the Earth would return to its original state, and “humanity, along with spiritual growth, lost by Adam and Eve, would also attain a natural heaven on earth” and be fed “legitimately” – with fruit. “People would gradually become used to bodily nudity,” Verigin reasoned further, “having taken off all clothing and eaten all their bread, humanity would arrive at its original state.” True Christians “should abandon physical labour and go to spread the Gospel, that is, Christ… If some want to work, let them, but we should work exclusively on behalf of Christ. The bread of moderation thus should be bestowed from our Heavenly Father on every person, whether he works or not: “the birds of the air sow not, neither do they reap, but they are satiated.”

In his letter to E. I. Popov, Verigin discussed marriage in the spirit of Tolstoy’s postscript to his Kreutzer Sonata. He proclaimed sexual relations to be sinful and advocated chaste upbringing of children. Incidentally, in this letter Verigin did not conceal the fact that these thoughts had already been expressed by Tolstoy: “The question of sexual relations or marriage has been treated in sufficient detail and reliably in a leaflet contained in letters sent to me. This thought is probably L. N.’s… I repeat that legitimate, clean upbringing of children would be most beneficial, as L. N. also points out. Then the difference in people’s lives would be greater than it is now.” On the subject of mercy, Verigin expressed the thought that mercy presupposes not only rejection of the killing of animals, but even of the use of horses. Expressing his opposition to civilization, he reproached E. Popov for being afraid of complete simplicity. Verigin, on the contrary, regarded returning to the sources as his goal, even if humanity were to revert to the world of the apes. “My soul has been in pain, dear Evgenii Ivanovich, looking at the fruits of civilization,” he wrote. Complete satisfaction in life, in Verigin’s words, he experienced when he observed people wandering aimlessly, especially in the forest. A person would not die in the forest, if he were eating grass and roots, and in a warm climate he could even do without clothing. “Even if I did have to die of the cold and hunger, I agree that it would be better to die with honour than to be a barbarian who lives a hundred years, but at the expense of one’s environment.”

Verigin’s letters were evidently discussed among the Doukhobors closest to Bodyansky and were received by them as a new Gospel from Christ – i.e. Petiushka. These people with total sincerity desired to live true Christian lives, following every letter of their leader’s new teaching. Continuing the work perfecting the Doukhobor belief system begun back in the Caucasus, Bodyansky recruited this group of Doukhobors to work with him on the composition of a new catechism that would reflect their spiritual advancement. The catechism was written in 1900 by Bodyansky, with the participation and approval of the elders. In it Verigin’s letters were used; to be more precise, the catechism was drawn up in such a manner that the ideas expressed therein were in harmony with what Verigin had written and with which Bodyansky, in the main, agreed. Bodyansky formulated their corresponding phraseology and added ideas of his own on true Christian living. In 1901, after Bodyansky had already left Canada, he published the catechism in Geneva in the form of a small-format booklet entitled Kniga zhizni khristianskoi ili otvetnaia rech’ veruiushchego o delakh zhiteiskikh [Book of Christian life or answers of the believer to questions on matters of everyday life]. The author discovered a copy in the Museum of the History of Religion in St. Petersburg.

This book sets forth essentially the whole of Freedomite doctrine, and those who took part in its creation became the leaders of the Freedomite movement. The Kniga zhizni … opens with the same question as the title of the well-known Doukhobor psalm “What manner of man art thou?” In the original, the answer that followed was “I am a man of God.” Here at once appeared a new understanding of life and one’s place therein: “[I am] a simple man.” Further on it states that truth lies in the words of Jesus Christ: “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” and in order to be perfect, one should live as Jesus did, that is according to God’s law. One can apprehend the law of God by means of “the voice of God in human understanding.”

In the Doukhobor belief system, inner revelation played a large part in apprehending God’s will, but in actuality it was their leader who uttered the will of God, and not every believer. According to the new teaching, each person should feel within himself the voice of God. The essence of God’s law is to strive for spiritual perfection, and for this it is essential to be free, wise, and meek. At this point it was explained how to understand these qualities. Let us take note of the prerequisites for a person to be considered free: “Not to have over himself any tsar or earthly superior, but to have God within himself as tsar, neither to lord it over people nor to subordinate oneself slavishly to others, neither to swear nor take an oath, neither to borrow nor be beholden, neither to hire nor hire oneself out, not to own property, not to enter into marriage, not to indulge the flesh, neither to have fatherland nor clan nor tribe, but to acknowledge all people as kinfolk, not to conform with human laws, but to be in all things a servant of one’s own clear conscience – that is what it means to be free.” To conform to human laws means to reject the laws of God. Clearly, these formulations are very strict and uncompromising.

It is well known that there had previously been no fasting among the Doukhobors. However, Bodyansky included in the book a section entitled “On fasting,” asserting that “power of spirit over flesh” is achieved thereby. In the section “On instruction” he affirmed that the simple ability to read and write is necessary for a person to be able to communicate with people. It is necessary to learn trades that are “needed for a simple life.” But one can do without scholarly learning, inasmuch as scientific, artificial knowledge brings little that is useful and much that is harmful. “Life goes on, and will itself find everything it needs. And only that is necessary for life which life itself attains simply through experience, while everything artificially acquired damages the simplicity and directness of its path toward perfection.” A man must work, but unselfishly and only to satisfy the needs of a simple and righteous life. Work that satisfies whims based on greed is disreputable. A man should be fed “with those things intended by God for the nourishment of his flesh: fruits, roots, greens and seeds – food from plants, not from animals.” And the use of leather and oils from animals was equated to the use of meat. However, the use of the labour of animals was permissible on condition that they be rewarded with feed and tending, but with this reservation, “for a person whose conscience allows this.” It was proposed that surplus domestic animals be set free: “If you do not keep them under compulsion, you will not [need to] feed them.” And meals should be prepared simply: “the less preparation, the greater the simplicity.” Clothing should also be just as simple, for the sole purpose of protecting the body from bad weather. It should be self-made, without adornment, and “the clothing of men and women should differ little.” Only those with families should have a permanent place of residence, while “there is no reason for a single person to curtail his freedom by attaching himself to one place.” Righteous Christians seeking a simple life were supposed to live “in warm and temperate” countries, “blessed with the fruits of the earth.”

The section on property and money is very interesting. “Property” is defined as “proof of the victory of the flesh over the human spirit.” Acknowledgement of land ownership is declared to be “a sin of folly.” Property and money, the Kniga zhizni… states, are the handiwork of the devil. “It is impossible to achieve perfection in life without first having rejected the use of money.” A man in whom the spirit is stronger than the flesh should remain celibate, and he who is married should live as brother and sister or may separate [from his wife]. Marriage is within God’s jurisdiction. Marriage is designated by God for procreation. “Therefore copulation between husband and wife only avoids the sin of adultery for the husband when it is required by his wife, and for the wife only when her maternal flesh requires conception.” No kinship in terms of birth in the flesh need be recognized, but only kinship in spirit, truth and way of life. Observers of the law of God should live communally in spirit, way of life, and flesh. The spiritual commune is the Universal Brotherhood, the commune of the flesh is the family. The chief business of the communal lifestyle is the Brothers’ Home – a place for the homeless, the ill, wanderers, a place of assembly and community workshops. The commune will attain perfection “when in it there will be no place of residence other than the Brothers’ Home – God’s temple, when there will be no everyday activities apart from those done in common, when there will be no property except communal property, and when Christ’s spirit will govern the commune.” The state, as well as industrial and commercial enterprises, was declared to be under the sway of the devil.

Such are the fundamental ideas contained in the Kniga zhizni…. Also included are long discourses, clearly incomprehensible to the simple peasant, on flesh and spirit, the origins of water and air, and so on. At the beginning of the century the Kniga zhizni was well known among the Freedomites. During my visit with them in the year 2000, I was interested in ascertaining whether today’s Freedomites are aware of its existence and how they perceive the doctrine expounded therein. After reading it through, all of those whom I asked unanimously recognized it as being in harmony with Freedomite beliefs and with the ideal pursued by the old-time Freedomites (and from which their descendents have long since deviated). Not only did the Freedomites in Gilpin acknowledge the printed doctrine as their own; it unexpectedly turned out that they are in possession of the book itself. About ten years ago it had come into their hands in manuscript form, lacking the first few pages, from an old Freedomite woman, whereupon it had been typed up and several copies given out. Quite recently it had been read and discussed at meetings. To be sure, Freedomites have not abandoned the memorization of psalms and stishki and their attachment to ritual that Bodyansky had spoken out against in his new catechism.

While living in England, Vladimir Chertkov and his wife Anna exerted a definite influence on the formation of the radical wing of the Doukhobor movement. During the first years, they continually supplied Canadian Doukhobors with large quantities of books, primarily those of their own “Svobodnoe Slovo” [Free Word] publishing house, with issues of the journal of the same title and with Listki Svobodnogo slova [Free Word Leaflets]. Among these books were many ethical and religious works by Tolstoy: Kratkoe izlozhenie Evangeliia [The Gospel in brief], O polovom voprose: mysli L. N. Tolstogo, sobrannye Chertkovym [On the sex question: thoughts of L. N. Tolstoy, collected by Chertkov], Mysli o Boge L. N. Tolstogo, sobrannye iz ego pisem i dnevnikov za period 1885-1900 g. [Thoughts on God by L. N. Tolstoy, collected from his letters and diaries over the period 1885-1900], and others.

The Chertkovs carried on a voluminous correspondence with the Doukhobors, endeavouring to exhort them, maintain their enthusiasm, and inform them of the admiration that their exploits were calling forth among sympathizers all over the world. Interestingly, among their addressees were many of the individuals who formed the nucleus of the Freedomite movement. The aforementioned Nikolai Zibarov lived for a time with the Chertkovs in England; later in Canada, he continued to be in close contact with them. He wrote to the Chertkovs: “We have also received all your books and L. N. Tolstoy’s letters that you sent to our address. We shall try to send the books around to those you have indicated. Another Doukhobor, Evdokim Popov, who shared the Freedomite world view, wrote to them: “The newspapers and booklets I am receiving from you are reviving me.” The Chertkovs exchanged letters with and sent books to A. Makhortov, a prominent figure in the new movement. “Such a booklet can be important for saving the life of any … send it, we will strive with you towards the love of God’s way of living,” was Makhortov’s appeal to them. The stream of literature and letters from the Chertkovs did not remain unnoticed by the local authorities. “Dear Annushka, I don’t know, but it seems the government is angry with you. The agent himself has more than once or twice stated that you are supposedly giving us instructions,” wrote Makhortov in another letter.

The official’s interest in Anna Chertkova was not unfounded. She had composed, specially for the Doukhobors, her Prakticheskii uchebnik angliiskogo iazyka, prednaznachennyi dlia russkikh poselentsev v Amerike [Practical textbook of the English language intended for Russian settlers in America], which the “Svobodnoe Slovo” publishing house published in the second half of 1900, presenting what were in her view the most important themes of conversation. This textbook was intended to help Doukhobors propagandize their views among Canadians. It included such phrases as: “All governments are founded on violence,” “they are maintained by armies, courts, prisons, and the police,” and “we can obey only what is not contrary to our conscience.” On the matter of registering marriage, divorce, and death, the Doukhobors were supposed to answer: “We will gladly answer accurately when people ask us, but we cannot promise anything”; “a promise binds a person’s conscience and action”; “even in small things we wish to be free”; “brotherly love is higher than fleshly love”; and “we do not seek pleasure in marriage.” Further on it speaks of schooling, social injustice, and land ownership: “we are not against schools, but we are not sympathetic to compulsory education”; “there are many harmful and stupid books in the world”; “if everyone believed it his duty to work, there would not be as many hungry poor folk in the world”; “we believe that private ownership of land should not exist”; “the person who is working on a piece of land now is the one who owns it”; “on the land question it is useful to read the works of two authors: the American Henry George and our Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. For several years the Chertkovs provided this textbook to Doukhobors, which undoubtedly furthered the spread of Tolstoyan ideas among the Doukhobors and the rise of the Freedomite movement.

Thus we see that by 1900 Freedomites already had a completely formulated and accepted doctrine. Moreover, some of them had begun to put the new ideas into practice. Their activity began with adoption of the simple life: they let their beards grow so as to be natural, whereas it had been traditional among Doukhobors to shave; they replaced the age-old brightly embroidered Doukhobor apparel with the plainest of clothing. Such a change was noticed immediately by everyone, and the rest of the Doukhobors were very disapproving.

The publication by Chertkov and Bonch-Bruevich of P. V. Verigin’s letters in England in 1901 contributed to an increase in the number of followers of the new teaching. Among these letters was the letter to T. Iziumchenko of January 4, 1896. Now it became the property not of a narrow circle, but of the whole community. Doukhobors considered it themselves duty bound to acquire this “new Gospel,” and parcels full of the Pis’ma… [Letters…] arrived in Canada. The Freedomite Nick Novokshonoff, whose father Kuz’ma was one of the first Sons of Freedom, has confirmed that the Freedomites “read these letters as they read other similar materials, carefully look into them and act upon them, albeit not without making mistakes.” The publication of Verigin’s letters served as a stimulus to the movement, a push towards moving from general discussion to action.

Meanwhile, tension between the Doukhobors and the government was growing. The Canadian government was perplexed, as were the English and American Quakers who had assisted the migration of the Doukhobors and had assured everybody of the law-abiding nature of the new settlers. The Doukhobors themselves were in a very ticklish situation. They did not know what to do: stay in Canada or look for new places to live, and they tossed and turned, unable to decide on anything.

At the request of the Canadian government, Aylmer Maude, an English follower of Tolstoy who had assisted the Doukhobor migration to Canada, wrote trying to convince them that acceptance of land does not contradict God’s law, as they would be able to work it in common. He also endeavoured to explain why they were being asked to register vital statistics. This letter caused the position of some Doukhobors to waver, and opinions were divided. However, A. M. Bodyansky and his close circle of Doukhobor associates obstinately continued to uphold the proclaimed three points. It is possible that Maude, who was well known and enjoyed prestige among the Doukhobors, could have succeeded in swaying the Doukhobors towards an agreement with the government, but Bodyansky, over his own signature and that of his very close companion-in-arms Fyodor Dutov, sent Maude a very harsh rebuke. It was distributed to all the villages through the collective efforts of delegated elders. A copy of the letter was sent to the Canadian government. On October 14, 1900, at Kamenka, in the northern colony (in what was soon to become northeastern Saskatchewan), where Bodyansky was living, as well as other Tolstoyans and some Stundists, Doukhobor delegates assembled in order once again to discuss the demands of the authorities. The response of the Doukhobors, judging by its style and strong social overtone, was entirely the work of Bodyansky. In the name of the commune he proclaimed that they recognize God alone to be the owner of land, and that land ownership is the cause of social injustice when those who are not working on the land own it.

In February 1901, delegates from the Doukhobors of the southern colonies addressed the government and all nations with an appeal in which they expressed the desire to leave Canada. They requested permission from the Canadian government to remain in Canada until they found a new refuge. The Doukhobors indicated a desire to settle on government-owned land and pay rent for it. At the same time they announced that they would not pay any taxes in support of the requirements of the state, that they were renouncing all civil rights and obligations and were content that their marriages and children from these marriages be considered illegitimate. Expressing their willingness to provide general figures for statistical purposes, they categorically refused to collect them systematically. The Doukhobors appealed to the governments of North America and Turkey with an explanation of their beliefs and a request to take them in.

Tolstoy knew what was happening among the Canadian Doukhobors, being informed by mail both by Tolstoyans and the sectarians themselves. Interestingly, Tolstoy spoke out against such an extreme approach to the land question and registration of vital statistics. On January 17, 1902, he wrote to Peter Verigin in Obdorsk that he was “very much against their refusal to accept land as private property,” because on more important issues “they are departing from the requirements of Christian living,” while here, for the sake of nominal recognition of ownership of land “they are throwing their lives into disarray.” That also applied to their refusal to register marriages and births. In another letter, written to Chertkov on April 19-22 of the same year, Tolstoy remarked that “here property itself is not being rejected, but only private property outside the commune, and I think this to be unimportant and on this account it is not worth quarrelling with the government and giving enemies a weapon to use against themselves and disturb their lives; moreover, much greater compromising decisions than this will have to be made: whether to go out to earn wages doing harmful work or use someone else’s money that has been acquired by evil means. The same goes for the refusal to give information. Of course, you are right, it is not for us to judge, but, as for me personally, I would not do this.”

In February 1902 the government announced that lands allotted to the Doukhobors but not yet signed for as of the first of May would be regarded as free, but later the term was extended by another six months. Evidently the Canadian authorities had been informed that on July 29th, P. V. Verigin’s term of exile would end, and they hoped that the issue would be resolved one way or another with his arrival. Some Doukhobors, not very many, it is true (in February 1902, eighteen families), had begun to make over plots of land to themselves and leave the commune to set up farms of their own. It became perfectly obvious that a portion of the Doukhobors were prepared to enter into an agreement with the government and subject themselves to Canadian laws. The Doukhobor community was impatiently awaiting the arrival of their leader to Canada.

By the spring of 1902 all the Doukhobors had already studied Verigin’s letters. Many interpreted them as a sacred commandment, and believed it necessary as his arrival approached to accomplish something very momentous for the spiritual growth of the whole Doukhobor community, to continue that movement towards Christian ideals which they had begun in the Caucasus and for which their leader had served fifteen years in exile. Besides that, the exit from the commune of even those eighteen families could turn into a chain reaction ending in the complete collapse of the sect. Only an explosion of religious enthusiasm, and new persecution and suffering, could unite them.

The conflict with the government, the activity of Bodyansky, the Chertkovs and other Tolstoyans, the publication of Verigin’s letters, the evident danger of assimilation, and the tense expectation of the arrival of “Christ” – all this prepared the way for the events that unfolded in 1902.

In the spring of 1902 the first preachers of Freedomite doctrine began to preach from village to village. “One woman is not dressing up in pretty clothes, she is walking around the settlements in simple gray apparel, she’s breaking mirrors and saying that we must destroy all temptations, because temptations have ruined people, temptations have forced the people to work hard,” Bodyansky was informed by his Doukhobor friend Evdokim Popov. “There should be freedom not only for horses and cows, but even the land has to be liberated. People should give total freedom to all creatures and to the land, so that the land will return to the original paradise in which Adam and Eve lived. Some are releasing their horses and cows and are beginning to do their work themselves. Hitching themselves to the plough are women and men, girls and boys. Others are starting to abuse, chase them around and beat them up. Some of them have quit using milk, butter, and eggs.” Even before that, the diet of the Doukhobors in Canada had been rather meagre. Now, however, the Freedomites had totally condemned themselves to a hungry existence. Early in May another Doukhobor, Vasili Potapov, reported in the same vein to Arthur St. John: “As you see, all of these people are striving towards perfection, but how they will achieve it, I do not know,” he concluded.

Both correspondents remarked on the fact that some Doukhobors had been going on very prolonged fasts, a phenomenon that had not previously been characteristic of the sect. Thoughts of liberating their cattle had been in their minds for a long time. As early as the spring of 1901, Evdokim Popov had written to V. D. Bonch-Bruevich: “My beloved brother, what do you think about the animals we torment day and night and do not see ourselves. God created truth not just for people, but for all living things. Dear brother, where will there be a master craftsman capable of designing such a plough as could carry two people and plough the earth?! Or a conveyance such that two people [could] carry several puds [an Imperial Russian unit of measure equal to 36.11 lbs). Or that there be justice on Earth.” Another Doukhobor, A. S. Popov, sharing his thoughts with Bonch-Bruevich, wrote: “Surely the Lord did not create animals for humans to oppress and constrain in order to maintain their worldly life? If I wish to be liberated from slavery, I then must not have slaves, for whatever you do not wish for yourself, do not do unto others.”

In the summer of 1902 a group of Doukhobors began to go from village to village, reproaching their brethren for forsaking the spiritual for the material and agitating for them to stop constraining their cattle and to let them loose into God’s freedom. It was at that time that the name of the new wave emerged: Syny svobody [Sons of Freedom] or Svobodniki [Freedomites]. Their advocates cited the New Testament (Romans 8, 19-21): “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” In a group letter to the Chertkovs, the Freedomites wrote that they had decided to let their cattle go free, because “all existing life is God and is present in all. And if we are to love God (the first commandment), then we must without fail love all beings, from the human being down to the smallest living creature, and we must bow down to the spirit of love and truth.” Such an all-embracing pantheism, the notion of God as nature or life, had not previously been characteristic of Doukhobors. Of course, they said that “there is not one place where God does not dwell,” and “where love is, there is God,” but nevertheless they conceived of God as Spirit existing separately from the visible world. They were borrowing these new ideas from Tolstoy’s teachings.

The Freedomites requested the Immigration Agent in Yorkton to find a place for their cattle “in a land where they would not suffer from the frost and could feed themselves without human aid that is unnecessary, in our opinion.” The Canadian government was at a loss as to what it was these peculiar people really wanted, who with such toil had acquired these cattle, and now were asking to release them.

Talks with the government went on for two months. The government declared that it did not possess such lands, and insisted that the Freedomites abandon their escapade. On August 17th herdsmen abandoned their cattle “to the will of God.” Some of them were caught by farmers, but the majority were rounded up by men sent by the government. These cattle were sold at auction, and the money subsequently used to feed those same Freedomites. In their aspiration to give all living things freedom and thereby become liberated themselves, these Doukhobors were completely sincere. Not only Canadians, but even their own kindred Doukhobors did not understand them and made fun of them. Withstanding their derision was more difficult than carrying heavy loads on their backs or hitching themselves to ploughs and wagons.

Because the use of animal skins was equated with the eating of meat, the Freedomites decided to do away with that as well. In the village they went from house to house collecting horse collars, harness, leather foot-ware, and fur coats and, after stacking them up, burned them.

Then the Freedomites demonstratively began to give away the money in their possession to the government agent in Yorkton, declaring that they wished to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and henceforth not be indebted to anyone.

On the whole, Tolstoy reacted approvingly to the appearance of this new wave in Doukhoborism. On August 20th, 1902 he wrote to I. M. Tregubov that as he was thinking about them, he experienced a feeling “similar to that which I would feel watching a person crawling up a mountain I should climb, who had already climbed high and was grasping for a ledge or branch by which he could immediately pull himself yet much higher, but from which he might easily slip and fall very far. I am afraid of this, but I cannot say anything to him, because I do not know how strong he is, and his very striving gladdens me. I do not agree that we should use violence against animals or children for their own good, although such a thought has somewhere crossed my mind”. In another letter to James Mavor dated November 30th, 1902, Tolstoy wrote: “I could find their conduct to be mistaken only if I were convinced that they were ignoring more important things than the use of animals. But as I do not know that, I cannot render judgment on them. While I would not have advised them to do what they have done, I nevertheless cannot help but admire their spiritually motivated self-denial.” Three years later, when a conversation at Yasnaya Polyana turned to the Doukhobors’ attitude towards animals, Tolstoy said “…that they are releasing animals is as it should be.”

With rare exceptions, the Tolstoyans also displayed a positive attitude towards the Freedomite initiatives. P. I. Biriukov had already long since abandoned leather shoes and wore “vegetarian slippers,” as Tolstoy described them. Evgenii Popov greeted this news avidly. He had written a book on working land without the use of cattle: Khlebnyi ogorod ili iaponsko-kitaiskoe ruchnoe zemledelie [The bread garden; or Japanese-Chinese manual land-tilling]. In a letter to P. V. Verigin after the latter had already arrived in Canada, he wrote that he was delighted with the news “that the brethren have decided to reject coercion and the use of domestic cattle, because this is the direct consequence of their refusal to kill and eat animals… We must use all our mental powers, do all possible experiments on working the land without cattle and without animal fertilizer, invent foot-ware and clothing without skins and wool and such like, and if all these experiments prove unsuccessful and useless, only then will we have the right to give up the struggle.”

The Freedomites hastened to resolve the issue over cattle, as they were preparing to leave Canada for warm countries where they would be nourished by “food from God” and live like Adam and Eve. Migration agitation enveloped not only the Sons of Freedom, but also other Doukhobors who did not entirely share the radicalism of their brethren. Many were convinced that as soon as Verigin arrived, migration would begin.

P. V. Verigin was delayed in Russia due to red tape in procuring an external passport; then en route to Canada he made a side trip to visit the Chertkovs in England. In the autumn of 1902, without waiting for their leader, the Sons of Freedom set off on foot “to greet the bridegroom” and spread the good news of the new doctrine. The pilgrimage began from the village of Truzhdeniye, where its initiators were living. Six families, including old people and children, started out, taking with them neither clothing nor food. They walked from village to village, and their ranks steadily increased by three or four families from each village. Different sources fix the number of participants in the trek from 1500 to 2000 people. The number of pilgrims might have been considerably greater had not P. V. Verigin’s mother spoken out against it. One of the Tolstoyans living in Kamenka at the request of V. G. Chertkov maintained a diary in which he described everything that happened in that period. In his conversations he tried to ascertain the reasons for the pilgrimage, as the Freedomites themselves understood them: “Where are you going?” “We are going into the world to restore Christ’s behest; we will go wherever it takes us, but we will not come back. It is not permissible for us to keep money, or iron – even needles.” – “Why do you not want needles?” I asked a girl of about sixteen. “Look here, our people want to free men from the mines, so they will not be tormented. We should feed ourselves only with fruits, vegetables, grain or fowl; we think we should be clothed in leaves, or go entirely naked, because to make clothing, iron and the digging of ore is necessary. We should not bury the dead, because in order to dig a grave, you need a shovel – iron. So if someone dies, we shall leave him on the road and walk on farther”… And one old man told us: “We came out to get away from smokers and vodka drinkers, everything is bad among us, we cannot do anything.” Some of them are taking with them neither needles, nor matches, nor knives, not even bags. Homes, bread, gardens, vegetables – they have abandoned everything, saying the communal treasury will list everything and sell it and the money will go to feeding them… In the north they have also removed clothing, fur coats, and so on. An old man sent a wagon, and they seized it for the treasury. In some villages they burned or tore apart vans. We must, they say, enter into a primitive state of being. Man used to have skin like animal horn, thick, and he was without clothing, except for something on his feet.” One of the wanderers thus explained his pilgrimage: “I myself do not know where I am going, but I feel the need to go. You see, this feeling – it is the voice, the spirit of Christ, which is sending me. He is the master, and I am his messenger, I do his will, the will of the Father. Man is a stranger on the Earth; a Christian should not live in one place. No matter that I could have got settled in one place and lived peacefully for myself. No, my conscience will not let me, because it is impossible to live in tranquility when people are perishing.”

For all the variety of their motivations, they all fitted within the framework of the new worldview and complemented one another. But behind them there stood deeper goals that were very important for the sect: through suffering to recover their dampened religious enthusiasm, to unite the Doukhobors, to build an insuperable barrier between them and Canadian society, thereby preventing assimilation of their community. The vast majority of the Freedomites of that time were unaware of the deep purposes underlying their pilgrimage. On the other hand, their leaders understood them perfectly well.

Singing psalms, the huge throng of poorly dressed, hungry people proceeded along Canadian roads, horrifying the inhabitants. It was already cold, and well-wishers tried to persuade the Freedomites to return to their villages, frightening them with the onset of winter, but they replied with a rhyming couplet: “Tomu zima, u kogo very nema” [It is winter for one who lacks faith]. During the trek the Freedomites dined on raw vegetables, apples, and bread given to them by tender-hearted Doukhobors and Canadians, but there were also instance in which farmers came out with rifles to confront the wanderers. In uninhabited places the Freedomites gathered and ate wild roses and cranberries. They would spend the nights wherever they could, with people in the villages, in abandoned granaries, or in haystacks. It is a wonder nobody died of cold and starvation.

The police made an effort to return the Doukhobors to their homes, but they failed. Then the women and children were detained at Yorkton, locked in barracks, and the men allowed to go on farther. The Doukhobors had become very weak and exhausted from their wanderings and from hunger. November cold spells began, and many were compelled to return home. Only four hundred people walked as far as the town of Minnedosa. They were carted back to Yorkton and along with their families already there sent by train to their places of residence.

The Freedomites wrote concerning themselves “We are out of our minds for the sake of Christ….” They desired to place themselves on a level with the poor and not to possess anything except the spirit of God and love. They explained their vagrancy by saying that they must not care about that which is liable to decay, and that “the birds neither sow nor reap, yet the Lord feeds them.” The Freedomite pilgrimage was in complete accord not only with the Kniga zhizni… [Book of Life] and P. V. Verigin’s letter to Iziumchenko, but also with Tolstoyism in its original version. Tolstoy himself believed itinerancy to be necessary for a Christian. “That which you write concerning the need for a Christian to be homeless and itinerant was for me at the very beginning of my conversion a most joyous thought that explained everything and without which genuine Christianity is incomplete and incomprehensible,” he wrote in 1903 to E. I. Popov. The life of a wanderer followed organically from Tolstoy’s teaching, and what is more, from the Gospel. And, to be sure, the type of the Tolstoyan tramp existed in small numbers in Russia.

In December 1902 Peter Verigin arrived in Canada. The first thing he did was to tour all of the villages trying to calm people down, and he met with the leaders of the Freedomites. After expressing a high opinion of the pilgrimage, Verigin advised all of its participants to return to cattle-raising and the use of money. He declared that Canada was the very country in which Doukhobors could flourish, and that the guarantee of their prosperity is communal life, and another important prerequisite for their success is livestock, especially draught animals. To the Freedomites’ objection that sons of God should not use force against animals, Verigin replied that horses will be their co-workers and members of the commune: they would be working together to feed themselves. The “horseless ones” who had come many miles on foot to meet the leader, were disheartened by such an announcement. But the vast majority of the Doukhobors followed their leader’s counsel. However, a small group “had doubts about returning to their corrupt possessions,” seeing in this a violation of God’s law.

P. V. Verigin settled the land question just as quickly. He persuaded the Doukhobors to fulfill the requirements of the authorities, and two thousand five hundred homestead applications, filled out and signed, were handed over to the officials. Later, when in 1907 the government began to demand of the Doukhobors acceptance of citizenship, threatening them otherwise with leaving them only fifteen acres per head, Verigin purchased lands for the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in the wild mountains of British Columbia, further away from civilization, and the majority of commune members moved to the new location. As they purchased the land, the Community Doukhobors were overlooking what they had quite recently declared about the land belonging to God and that it could not be bought or sold. Community members paid to their central office taxes on the land, whereupon the managers settled with the government. However, the idea of the land being God’s, which had earlier captured the minds and hearts of the “radical Freedomites,” could not disappear without a trace. The Freedomites were a great hindrance to Verigin, who had launched feverish activity in the purchase of inventory and livestock for the commune, and the construction of mills and elevators. He could not bring himself to take any repressive measures against them, as he himself had written about the things they believed in and were preaching.

After the pilgrimage of 1902, the authorities decreed that the Freedomites be settled in three villages in the south colony and in three villages in the north colony. In these settlements policemen would periodically call in to observe the behaviour of the inhabitants. The authorities undertook to supply the Freedomites with provisions; the latter demanded that they be brought “legitimate food”: fruits and vegetables, and they refused flour. On principle the Freedomites did not wish to work, as they had abandoned physical labour. The winter and spring of 1903 they spent in painful meditation as to how they should now live and how to understand the leader who suddenly had renounced what he himself had recently written in his letters, which still represented, in their opinion, true Christianity.

In the spring of 1903 a group of Freedomites began to walk about the villages in the nude, preaching renunciation of physical labour and a return to nature. The Freedomite E. Vlasov explained the reasons for disrobing as follows: “As the Lord God created Adam naked, and we were born naked, we uncovered our flesh to display our love, if only by coming naked to approach God with pure hearts. We walked naked around the villages, begged the people not to enter into their corrupt possessions and to be like us, revealing the new life.” Another Freedomite, A. Makhortov, in a letter to the Chertkovs, emphasized that “it is necessary to pay heed to the lawful life and how Christ and the apostles lived. They achieved such perfection that they could go naked…” and further on he continued that he was still disquieted by the thought “that I find in myself a sinful body, I am ashamed of everything – can it really be that God created this? No, that is not right. This is my responsibility.” The Freedomite F. Riazantsev supposed that Adam and Eve soiled their white apparel by their sin, while Freedomites had gotten rid of passions and sin and “then we took off our clothing – manufactured by human hands, and broke the seal of the sin for which the human race is answering. We killed that sin in the flesh, in our natural state called in on all the people, putting on white apparel such as human eye has not seen from the beginning of time.”

Under the influence of the new teaching, with its incessant striving back to nature, the entire way of life of the Freedomites changed. They turned against bread, because they wanted to prove by their example that one could live “being fed by God.” “These are the foods we are now using: raw foodstuffs: oatmeal, potatoes, beets, radishes, carrots,” Makhortov was describing the life of the Sons of Freedom in a letter to Tregubov. “But even that food is not lawful, it is contrary to our conscience. We are using it because we do not have any fruit. And our main food should be fruit grown by God himself to feed mankind. We are eating raw vegetables because by this we are preaching before the eyes of the people that they should believe in nature, and that a person can live without bread.” At that time they were even eating in a special way: taking turns biting from a turnip or potato so as to stress equality. And if something had to be cut, they would use a stone. Freedomites even tried to feed themselves on ordinary grass, like peaceful herbivorous animals. Naturally, such experiments were not greeted with understanding by those around them.

Freedomites ceased interring the dead, it being impermissible to bury a corpse in the living earth. “It is imprudent for the sake of an unnecessary small matter to disturb moist Mother Earth by digging. For another thing, we must enter into the nature of Adam and Eve, that is, they did not have claws; they could not dig into the earth with their fingers; therefore, that is also unnatural for their descendents.”

After the treks of 1902 and 1903, religious pilgrimages became a tradition and turned into a sort of ritual. Every year in the spring, Freedomites set off on foot preaching around the Doukhobor settlements, and in cities near and far. In these marches, fifteen to twenty persons would take part, but in 1907 at Fort William, Ontario, eighty people participated. It became a common occurrence for them to walk along the street of their settlement or around it in the nude, singing psalms. A Freedomite would always carry a canvas bag with a change of clothing so that it would be possible at any moment to set off on a pilgrimage.

The Freedomites renounced the family, for marriage too amounts to bondage and violence. Makhortov wrote in 1904 to the Chertkovs: “And to have a peaceful life and long-lasting peace in one’s soul, I think that evil arises from appropriating something as one’s own, even, truth to tell, a wife. You live with her in the flesh, and that’s all you think about. If she happens to chat with someone about some necessary matters, I am seized with jealousy, and think the worst. And that’s how she lives, and it’s the fault of you and that brother. Thus evil emerges. It occurred to me that the law of God teaches us to love even our enemies, and I decided to live with her as brother and sister: spiritually. Only then did I begin to love everybody.” “We regard everyone as brothers and sisters, there are no husbands and wives,” Makhortov developed this theme in another letter: “All women are virgins who should prepare the lamps and meet the bridegroom, Christ, chaste.”

The sex question, to which the Tolstoyans in their letters devoted much space and which proved beyond their powers, the Freedomites resolved quickly and in a fundamental way. They entirely did away with the concept of marriage. Makhortov cited as an example for emulation the Virgin Mary, who, in his words, when God demanded it of her, gave birth to Jesus, and did not get married. The men and women slept apart, and engaged in sexual relations only when a woman wanted to have a child. Even in such an instance “a sister should make a baby openly and freely, with whomever she chooses.” Makhortov and others believed that conception is a natural thing, and should be performed in the presence of others. Indeed, over a twelve-year period two such babies were born among Freedomites. On the other hand, children were now free, no longer tied hand and foot to their mothers. It is interesting to note that the women enthusiastically supported all these ideas about family and marriage. In the Kniga zhizni khristianskoi [Book of the Christian life] it is written that man and woman should differ as little as possible externally, and the Freedomites endeavored to wear floor-length wide cotton shirts that were identical for both sexes.

The Freedomites reduced their material needs to a minimum. They would work only when necessary to earn money to buy some absolutely essential material object. They would not work for future benefit, but lived one day at a time, as indeed the Gospel calls upon believers to do, and as Tolstoy had advised in his famous letter.

Peter the Lordly, as the Doukhobors had begun to call their leader in Canada, was unable to do anything with the Freedomites. One day near one of the villages, upon meeting Verigin riding in a char-à-banc, the Freedomites attempted to unharness the horse and unseat its rider. Their action greatly angered the leader, and he promised them each “twenty-five hot ones.” Verigin forbade the communal Doukhobors from allowing Freedomites into the villages to sleep over or to give them bread. After convincing themselves that the rest of the Doukhobors would not accept what they were advocating, twenty-eight Freedomites set off for Yorkton on foot. Three miles out, they disrobed and walked into the city in the nude. They were arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment. Verigin was allowed to take the brethren back on condition that they would promise to live submissively. He tried to persuade them to give him their word, but had to leave empty-handed.

For the Freedomites, those three months served in a Regina jail were an absolute hell. They refused to come out to work or obey the orders of the prison administration, so as not to be accomplices to the violence which the jail represented. They even refused to attend to their own needs, because they had not ended up there voluntarily. They requested Christian food: fruits, vegetables and nuts, and refused to eat anything else. For this the jailers cruelly mocked them: they beat them unconscious, poured ice water over them, stuffed a man’s head into a chamber pot until he began to choke, and so on.
Verigin gradually began to apply ever more radical measures against the Sons of Freedom: he called upon the Community Doukhobors to drive out the Freedomites by force; he himself sent for the police when they organized a prayer session around his house. No admonitions or punishments of any kind were of any avail. The impression was that the Freedomites had gotten out of the leader’s control.

We are confronted with a most important and complex question, that of the Doukhobors’ attitude to their leader and his role in the Freedomite movement. As mentioned, Doukhobors believed that Christ abides in the flesh of their leaders. Although this was kept in greatest secrecy, it was impossible to hide it from the Tolstoyans who lived with the Doukhobors in Canada. The Tolstoyans were surprised, and wrote to one another and to Tolstoy about this, but nevertheless they continued to think that the Doukhobors were perceiving their leader-Christ as a prophet, a chosen one of God, a man who had achieved the highest degree of perfection. Some guessed that the Doukhobor Christ was not just a prophet at all, but was in essence the Son of God. In the summer of 1901, Matryona Krasnikova and thirteen other Doukhobor women wrote a letter to the Canadian government which produced a bombshell effect on everyone:

“Enough of your boasting of your rights, authorities, and superiority! Who is higher than the King of Heaven and God? God created the sky and adorned it with all heavenly beauty: the sun and its rays, and the moon, and the stars in their glory… Our Lord is high above all tongues, as are his blessings and to all ages his mercy… This Lord is our guide Peter Vasil’evich Verigin. His beauty is in his exceeding wisdom; in flesh he is pure. We strive towards Him, honour him as God and King and with fervent desire submit ourselves to his authority.”

These Doukhobor women were expressing the traditional point of view regarding their leader. Verigin himself, not denying the presence of the Divine Spirit within himself, explained that Christ is not God, but an angel of light sent by God. In Canada – and this had evidently begun back in the Caucasus – as a result of all the events they had endured and Tolstoyan propaganda, certain changes had taken place in the religious world view of the Doukhobors. Some Doukhobors had begun to believe that God overflows everywhere in nature, that he is in every creature and in every person. An expression such as “God in one’s soul” they began to take literally: Every person is God, one to a lesser degree and another to a greater degree, while the leader most completely incarnates this Divine Spirit. Doukhobors connected this with their old ideas of the God-leader and elevated the Divine essence within themselves. Naturally, given such an approach, the importance of each person’s inner revelation grew. Based on this, all thoughts and decisions that came into the heads of any of the Freedomites was accepted by them all as the voice of God. But this voice, if we follow their ideas, was the voice of the very Divine Spirit that in the most complete form was incarnate in their leader. And if this Spirit prompts them to do something, then that means that their leader has sent them to perform a heroic deed or to suffer. By spoken word the leader might, on the contrary, dissuade, verbally abuse or beat them, but this is done intentionally, firstly, to test whether the faith of the Freedomites and other Doukhobors is strong, and secondly, the leader must conceal who he is; otherwise, they will crucify (i.e. kill) him as they did Jesus of Nazareth.

Because this aspect of Freedomite belief was kept in strictest secrecy, any testimony from participants in the movement is for us most valuable. In 1905, one I. Mulchenko, a Tolstoyan of Ukrainian peasant origin who had previously lived in the United States, affiliated himself with the Freedomites. This is what he wrote in 1906 to the Chertkovs: “The communalists venerate Peter Verigin as Christ and God; they have even said that to my face. As for the Freedomites, I had not been aware that they acknowledge him even more as God than the communalists do. They say that he created everything that exists. In my presence they held back, but then blurted it out. Then later they began to criticize him – Peter Verigin, that is – and began to call him “king of the communalists.” I was right there among them, and I could see that this was a pretense, as they had totally acknowledged that he is God, and that he even provides the rain. At that point I could not agree, and began to say to them that he is not God, but a son of God and our brother, as are all such people, and I began to point to “Uncle” L. N. Tolstoy and to them. You see, I said, Tolstoy and Chertkov are also such people – they are sons of God, and he is a son of God, and all people are sons of God, and all are brothers to one another. Alyosha Makaseyeff and Vasili Strelaeff began to be displeased with me, and said: “Oh what kind of person are you, wanting to compare yourself to God! No, brother, he is God, and we are his children”… And he told me that when Peter orders the communalists to go after us and beat us, that is only because he is testing to see whether they will beat us or not… he thus divides us all into two parts, when he orders them to drive us away from here, and when he has divided us Doukhobors into two, he then will come to join us himself.”

Such a view of the leader and the purpose of his activities provided Freedomites with a pretext to reinterpret his words in their own way, investing in any of his pronouncements whatever meaning suited them. These notions have been maintained among Freedomites right up to the present day. Never in the Caucasus had there been any such reinterpretation of the words of leaders, never such “upside-down thinking.”

The first destructive act carried out by Freedomites was the destruction of a strip of mature wheat. Incidentally, they had grown this crop themselves without even the use of animals. Present-day Freedomites describe this occurrence as follows. Peter Verigin had arrived in the south colony at the village of Truzhdeniye, where he was shown the strip of mature wheat. He was pleased and said: “Very, very good bread-grain. Now [you] can bring it down by the heads.” Everyone understood that it was time to begin harvesting, but the Freedomites interpreted his words in their own way. During the night, eight men hitched to a wooden roller flattened part of this wheat crop, while two women stood praying and singing: “Bravely, friends, do not lose courage in your unequal battle.” One of the participants, A. Makhortov wrote about this incident, that “again our hearts were moved by the Lord to engage in spiritual work,” and that their purpose was “to show that we should not place our hopes on human science, but on God.” In another letter he explained the reason for this act even more clearly: “And we rolled the heads into moist Mother earth in order to show an example for all the people that from now on we must not disturb her, but she, moist Mother earth, should provide for man, as assigned by our Lord, fruits and vegetables.” The communalists gave them a beating, and at that the matter came to an end. However, on the fifth day after the destruction of the wheat, “The Lord revealed” to them the idea of burning a binder, as machines destroy the boundaries set by the Heavenly Father and violate moist Mother Earth, and all human inventions will be consumed by fire.” People ran up to put the fire out. Peter Verigin reported the Freedomites to the police. The arsonists were arrested and sentenced to six months in jail. Two of them did not return alive. The Freedomite V. V. Popov explained their action as follows: “… we burned an English factory-made implement by which people and every living creature are enslaved and killed, like tools of war; we burned the harvest-reaping machine just as we burned the weapons of war in Russia. Moreover, we intended to burn all machines and all depravity-creating factory-made equipment, but the Satan-serving Canadian government arrested us.”

Many years later, the son of one of those involved in the burning of the binder, Nick Novokshonoff, tried to explain the action of his father and other Freedomites: “Looking far into the future, the Freedomites condemned science and its various achievements, including the machine. They foresaw that all these conveniences achieved by science would not bring good to mankind, but the opposite – evil, unhappiness, and even death. In their pursuit of glitter, people are losing faith in God and are even forgetting him… The Freedomites burned the binder for that very reason, because it was the first machine that the Doukhobors had acquired.” The destructive activities of Freedomites were directed against civilization and its fruits.

Bodyansky’s reaction to these actions, observed from afar, is interesting. Although in a letter to Makhortov he called the Freedomite antics mistaken, he did not condemn them: “And I can by no means cast upon you even a shadow of condemnation. On the contrary, I sympathize with you whole-heartedly and with all my thinking I commend you, notwithstanding all your mistakes. And I say this: go ahead, press on toward the new life. It is better to live there, even if you make mistakes, even if you stumble at every step, than to be paralyzed on the spot, accepting spiritual death and turning from a human being into a lower creature.” Bodyansky held the Freedomites in high regard, considering them to be superior to the communalists, believing communal life to be the very lowest form. Bodyansky called attempts by Freedomites to return to the primitive state “a highly genuine, vitally important aspiration,” understanding this to mean simplicity of physical life. He believed, as did the Freedomites, that culture and science enslave and corrupt a person and make him insincere, and all of the behaviour of his friends, including the burning of the binder and public copulation, Bodyansky considered as a protest against “cultured hypocrisy and deception” and he believed it to be “a matter of the greatest importance, in every way deserving of imitation.” Bodyansky even regarded with sympathy the Freedomite aspiration to walk around in the nude, as “there is no sense in covering oneself up out of shame.” What he did reprove them for was that while exposing hypocrisy, they were tolerating violence and artificiality in their actions,” acting not out of necessity, but with deliberation. The Freedomites in turn wrote Bodyansky touching letters, believing him to be a person close to them in spirit: “Dear old Aleksasha, although we are in the flesh far separated from one another, yet by the spirit and our inner sense of the true path we are united.”

Leo Tolstoy also regarded the Freedomites with understanding. He censured Verigin for his passion for material goods: “They built a comfortable home for him, and he has servants. Despotic rule. Konkin is his minister. All this will fall apart. The nudes will come to the rescue,” he told Dusan Makovicky in August 1905. The next year, when P. V. Verigin traveled to Russia with a group of Doukhobors and visited Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy “began to speak in defense of those who had ‘disrobed’.” He referred to them as “spiritually alive.”

How could the Tolstoyan ideal of nonviolence, which the Freedomites also preached, be reconciled with their destructive and, generally speaking, violent acts? Let us first analyze the position of Tolstoy himself on this question. In 1901 in Russia, the peasants known as New Stundists – essentially Tolstoyans – living in the village of Pavlovka, Sumskii uezd [district], Kharkov guberniia [province], where at the end of the nineteenth century D. A. Khilkov and A. M. Bodyansky had led a propaganda campaign, destroyed a Russian Orthodox church. Tolstoy set forth his attitude toward this act in a letter to I. M. Tregubov as follows: “As to whether the Pavlovtsy acted well or badly when they destroyed a church, of course I would say, badly, just as badly as people who have destroyed a factory not built by them and needed by others. However, there is an extenuating circumstance, namely, that the church has been distorting the great teaching that people need, just as it would be an extenuating circumstance for those who had destroyed a factory that manufactures instruments for killing and executions.” So Tolstoy, albeit with reservations, allowed for the possibility of destroying somebody else’s property in the name of a higher purpose. As far as his own property was concerned, that was apparently not up for discussion. Everyone is free to do with property as his conscience dictates.

Accusations against the Tolstoyans streaming from the pages of the Russian Orthodox missionary press, blaming them for the actions of the New Stundists of Pavlovka, stung Tregubov and the Chertkovs to the quick. In 1902 they questioned sectarians about the permissibility of violence. They received replies from Freedomites N. Zibarov, G. Plotnikov and G. Kanygin. To the question as to whether is it a good or a bad thing to revolt against oppressors and kill rulers, they answered in an entirely Christian spirit that it is necessary to pray for one’s enemies and turn the other cheek. To the question about whether it is a good or a bad thing to destroy Russian Orthodox churches and icons, they answered very evasively: “It is not good to smash a church, because for God a person is a church and temple of the living God and icon,” while they do not wish to attend a church made by human hands; that is, they are again talking not about a church building as such, but about killing a person who constitutes God’s temple. Those who dispersed the orthodox church of Christ acted badly. Again, by the words “orthodox church of Christ” the Doukhobors did not mean the Russian Orthodox Church at all, but the inhabitants of Pavlovki and themselves. On the question of destroying an Orthodox Church, they did not give a negative answer. Further they amplified by saying that if something is theirs, they may get rid of it if they don’t need it. “And as for them [the Pavlovtsy – S. I.], as their conscience allowed, so they acted.” If, however, the opinions of owners diverged, “and some wish to destroy while some wish to preserve, they then should destroy only that which is within the sphere of their free will and conscience.” No unambiguous condemnation of violence follows from this kind of reasoning, but loopholes remain in the form of “willpower and conscience.”

As he explains the Freedomite conception of violence, the modern-day Freedomite T. Savinkoff says that “it is based on the idea that if material goods are the cause of all divisions and discord, it would then be more prudent for people to sacrifice material goods and remain alive themselves as brothers and sisters, even if naked, but alive and safe,” that is, for people’s own good, for a higher purpose, it is permissible to sacrifice material blessings – that is, property. Clearly, the position of the Freedomites on this issue turns out to resemble that of Tolstoy.

From the beginning, of course, Tolstoy’s teachings disseminated among the Doukhobors had been distorted by Verigin and his close circle. But even when preached by the Tolstoyans themselves, they passed Tolstoy’s ideas through the prism of their own worldviews and experiences. Khilkov, after his journey to Canada, aligned himself with European revolutionaries, became disillusioned with pacifism, and, as is well known, fell as a volunteer soldier at the front during World War I. Bodyansky had an extremist mentality. Once when the appeal of the Chertkovs and Tregubov “K russkim sektantam” [To Russian sectarians] came into his hands, he unexpectedly expressed himself frankly on the theme of nonviolence. He wrote that the cornerstone of Christ’s teaching was not the doctrine of nonviolence, but “the way of Christ,” that is, the aspiration to a higher life, in his view, that a “revolutionary user of force, laying down his life for others (according to our beliefs), is closer to Christ than someone jabbering only in the language of a Christian non-resistor.” Bodyansky admired the Beguny [or “Jumpers” – a radical Russian sect] of Kherson, who starved themselves rather than submit to the census, and the Pavlovtsy, who desired to suffer: “How great before the court of my judgement is the significance of a life of faith, and how worthless is knowledge of the truth without its application to life.” It is precisely this quality – living by faith – that he strove to inculcate in the Freedomites.

Ten years after the burning of the binder, Freedomites burned a very beautiful community building in the village of Otradnoye in Saskatchewan that had been built according to the wish and design of Peter the Lordly. Then once more a lull set in, and it seemed that the burning of the binder and the house in Otradnoye were regrettable atypical occurrences in the life of the Canadian Freedomites, who had completely dedicated themselves to self-perfection in the vineyards of the Christian life. For the most part, their public activity was limited to disrobing as a sign of protest against oppressive measures of the authorities. But from the beginning of the 1920s, when the government instituted a strict policy requiring the Doukhobors to accept English schools, burnings began anew, and there were times when several buildings would burn down in a single night. The destructive activity of the Freedomites was gathering momentum, and all this in the name of God and for the salvation of humanity. These people passed through prisons and insane asylums, their children were taken away to foundling hospitals and reform schools. They returned from such places sick, and some never returned. They would burn their own homes and live for ten years near the walls of the prison where their husbands, sons, and brothers were serving their sentences. All this so as not to go back on their precepts concerning God’s ownership of the land and living a peaceful life. But in spite of all their self-denial, they were doomed to defeat; they had no future. Some abandoned Freedomite ways, while others sank ever lower into vices concealed by verbose Christian phraseology.

I am reminded of a letter from Countess Alexandra Andreyevna Tolstaya to Lev Nikolaevich, in which she wrote of his responsibility towards those to whom he preached his doctrine:

Indeed self-denial is a virtue that is not easy and in general is not innate in humans. Will not the time come when, depressed by their awareness of the impossibility of fulfilling the prescriptions of the Gospel in their literal sense, they will become muddled in their thinking and fall even lower than before, however inclined to goodness they had been? Your responsibility towards them brings fear to my heart…

Dr. Svetlana A. Inikova is a senior researcher at the Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.  Considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Doukhobors, Svetlana has conducted extensive archival research and has participated in several major ethnographic expeditions, including field research among the Doukhobors of Georgia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and a North American ethnographic expedition on the Doukhobors in 1990.  She has published numerous articles on the Doukhobors in Russian and English and is the author of History of the Doukhobors in V.D. Bonch-Bruevich’s Archives (1886-1950s): An Annotated Bibliography (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999) and Doukhobor Incantations Through the Centuries (Ottawa: Legas and Spirit Wrestlers, 1999).

For more online articles about the Doukhobors by Svetlana A. Inikova, see Spiritual Origins and the Beginnings of Doukhobor History as well as Doukhobor Holidays and Rituals in the Caucasus.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Otradnoe Village, October 13, 1912

Manitoba Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Otradnoe village, Saskatchewan, on October 13, 1912, published as “A Letter to Christ’s Community from Peter Verigin” in the Manitoba Free Press, December 5, 1912. It provides remarkable insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the fall harvest, the marketing of grain through Community elevators, the British Columbia resettlement, the exchange of goods between Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and the transfer of Community property into the leader’s name.

Glory to the Lord

Dear Brothers and Sisters: – I am advising you, that on the thirteenth day of October, in Village Otradnoe, a Meeting was held; one man and one woman from each village attending.

FIRST- The Meeting was opened by repeating “The Lord’s Prayer.” The main purpose of this Meeting was to bring thanks to the Lord, for all successful life of the Doukhobors’ Community and especially for the abundant crop this year. The seeding of grain was late and in view of plenty of rain, during the summer, there was a possibility of the grain becoming frosted. In the summer the Meeting consisted of Doukhobors, all those who could come to Village Otradnoe, bringing a general prayer to the Father of the Universe, in regard to the conservation of the crop, from the frost. Now the Lord manifestly created miracles by the prayers of Christ’s Community and up until the fifteenth day of September there was no frost, and all the crop was saved. Whereas, usually in Saskatchewan, the first frost arrives somewhere about the twenty-third, twenty-fifth or twenty-eighth of August. We bring hearty thanks to our Heavenly Father for His donation to us and manifold kindnesses. Glory and Glory to Lord and God.

SECOND – The Meeting decided that all grain must be sold through our Community Office. Also that all outside earned money should, as soon as possible, be delivered to the office, this to be devoted to the payments on land in British Columbia and other expenses in emigration to British Columbia.

THIRD – The Meeting decided that all the oxen from the villages be sold and horses used instead, these horses to be taken from the Community Ranch. It was further decided that, in the Fall all the young horses should be taken from the Ranch to the villages to be broken, and although they are only young, by the Spring they would be ready to use with the plow on stubble, and also with harrow.

FOURTH – The horses belonging to the British Columbia people, and which were left in Saskatchewan, were distributed through the different villages for working purposes in these villages, and must be figured in the share of this year’s crop. For the horses’ service, the British Columbia people should receive in this regard, one-third of a share of the crop.

FIFTH – The Meeting decided to inform all our people of the Thunderhill Branch Villages, that are called the North Colony, that no seeding of the crop on their land should be done by them this coming Spring, for next Summer they will all be removed to British Columbia. However, the land of the South Colony should be once more seeded and the crop taken off. In the Spring all the horses of the North Colony branch should be brought to the South Colony branch to help in the work.

SIXTH – A Report was submitted, that our British Columbia people had this year received an abundant crop of all things: vegetables, hay, grain and fruits. This had aroused the envy of strangers, and complaints would arise that the Doukhobors were not bringing any advantages to the surrounding settlers, and information has been given, that the Doukhobors are not fulfilling the Canadian Laws.

In order to make an enquiry the British Columbia Government sent their Commissioner, who found that it was very clear that the Doukhobors did not desire to have their children taught in schools, for the schools, as a. rule, teach children to be warlike; second they learn swindling, that is usufruct, by the labour of strangers in life; and third bringing up children to disrespect their parents. The Doukhobor Society in British Columbia sent a letter to the Minister of the Interior at Ottawa; copies of this letter will be sent through the villages, in the near future.

By Christ’s teachings the children must be enlightened by the Word of God. Christ said “I have placed God’s Law in your hearts, Go and preach the gospel by word, to all people.”

SEVENTH – The Meeting decided that the surplus wheat of this year’s crop in Saskatchewan must not be sold but retained for British Columbia requirements; this wheat would be purchased from the villages.

EIGHTH – A carload of apples was shipped from the Doukhobor Society in British Columbia, as a gift to all Brothers and Sisters in Saskatchewan. All Brothers and Sisters must come to Verigin, while the weather is warm, and received the correct share of these apples. When you come for the apples you must bring a statement of the persons living in your village. For each nursing child one-half share would be given.

NINTH – The Meeting decided that all Community property, land and etc., the right of which according to the Canadian laws, must be entered in writing, should be transferred to the name of Peter V. Verigin, as representative of Christ’s Community and Trustee for Doukhobor Society in Canada.

We must give thanks, Brothers and Sisters, and bow to the ground, to the Lord and God, for all His grace and kindness to us.

Your brother in Christ,



The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

Note that unlike several published reports of general meetings of the Doukhobor Community, the 1912 report does not include a financial statement.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1906 Report and the 1910 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Verigin, Sask, January 25, 1910

Manitoba Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held early each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates – one woman and one man – from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Verigin, Saskatchewan, on January 25, 1910, as published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, March 1, 1910. The minutes provide remarkable insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the universal meaning of Christ’s teaching, the immigration to British Columbia, the election of community managers, grain for people, livestock, seed and milling, capital debts and expenditures, and more. In addition, the general account leaves no doubt of the extent of the material achievements of the Community under Verigin’s leadership at this time.

There were present one-man delegate and one-woman from each village, also some honorary members. The number of people attending was about fifty men and fifty women.

The meeting was opened by each person reading a Psalm, and all joining in the singing of the hymn, “Glory to God”, and by common expressions of hearty gratitude to God for the success of present life.

After this there was long and serious conversation in regard to the universal meaning of Christ’s teaching. It was clearly explained from the conversations that Christ in His teachings gave us to understand that God is a universal God. So there were some examples taken from the life of people before Christ’s time. People at that time understood Divinity as a destructive force, taking for instance the worshipping of thunder, winds, fire and other elements. People of such belief often themselves committed actions of destructions. Wars and ether illegal actions were allowed.

Christ clearly explained to us that the most superior force, by which the universe is ruled, is the force of good and people wishing to worship this good force must first themselves be good. By doing so one would become nearer and adapt himself to the good force of the universe what is called “God”. The winds and thunder are temporary occurrences, but the world is guarded by this force of Good.

After that, various questions of economy were presented to the meeting for consideration.

  1. It was stated to the meeting that this year was closed by the payment of all debts in full, the funds for which came from outside works and the sale of grain.
  2. The delegates from each village presented a report of the quantity of wheat, oats, barley, flax, peas, etc remaining.
  3. It was decided by all present that from this date until the arrival of new crops, six bushels of wheat be retained for the personal use of each person, and that in the spring one bushel of wheat and one bushel of barley be sown for each individual: the remainder of the land to be sown in oats. Flax and peas can be sown in accordance with the desire of each village. The majority of the members of the meeting expressed their wish that each village should keep on sowing flax and peas, and, to keep feed for the stock, one hundred bushels of oats for each team of horses and fifty bushels of barley for each yoke of oxen.
  4. It was decided that by the 15th of February each village must have the grain for people, seed grain, grain for horses and oxen separated. The seed grain must be carefully cleaned and stored in good granaries, and all balance of grain in each village, after 15th February will be hauled to railroad points for sale. As per the reports the community has at present, the grain for sale will amount to seventy five thousand dollars. Shipments of grain will be made as heretofore, through the community offices. All moneys received from the sale of grain will be deposited with the Home Bank of Canada at Winnipeg and withdrawn when required.
  5. All merchandise will be purchased, as before, through the community office at Verigin and those villages, which have credit accounts, will receive goods to the value of same. All villages having a credit account, are willing that goods be bought for villages which have none. And in view of this it was decided at this meeting that no person should purchase goods individually.
  6. An inventory of all property belonging to the community beyond the village outfits was made and is attached to general accounts.
  7. The community has in all villages about four hundred teams of working horses, valued at $350.00 per team, which amounts to one hundred and forty thousand dollars, five hundred yokes of oxen, valued at $100.00 per yoke, amounts to fifty thousand dollars, five hundred milk cows, valued at $35.00 each, amounts to seventeen thousand and five thousand dollars. Besides that there are full outfits for horses and oxen as: harness, farm implements, wagons, sleighs, etc. All affairs of the community consisting of 42 villages are in good shape.
  8. The community accounts for 1909 were presented by V. A. Potapoff, S. Reibin and M. W. Cazakoff. Accounts were found correct in every respect and approved by all present. The copy is attached here within.
  9. Vasil Potapoff and Simeon Reibin requested the meeting to allow them to resign their positions. Their resignations were very reluctantly accepted, and the meeting tendered them a hearty vote of thanks in acknowledgement of their services in the interest of the community in the past.
  10. It was decided to proceed with the election of managers of the community affairs. The following were elected for 1914 for purchasing goods and implements and distributing same to villages: Nicholas Fofonoff, of village Vernoe, Vasil Hleboff of village Lubovnoe, John Podovinikoff, who was in office at Verigin before, Alex Reibin, of village Vosnisennie, Pard Potakoff, of village Bogomdannoe, M. W. Cazakoff was re-elected as a manager of office and ministerial affairs.
  11. As the community had good heavy crops and fall success in life during the year 1909, it was decided by all those present to send no men on outside work this coming summer, but instead to increase cultivation acreage at home.
  12. It was decided by this meeting to deliver to Verigin flour mill all wheat in excess of amount reserved for the purpose of grinding and selling the flour. Prices on wheat were set as follows: For highest-grade 85¢ per bushel, and for second grade 80¢ per bushel. The villages situated at the north colony will receive for long hauling 10¢ per bushel extra, and villages Tambovkia, Trudohubivoe, Vossianie, and Petrovo and Voskresinie 5¢ per bushel extra.
  13. The question was raised before the meeting regard to the immigration to British Columbia. It was definitely shown that in Saskatchewan where the Doukhobors live at present, in consequences of wide prairies lying a considerable distance from the sea, the climate in winter is very dry and cold, the temperature is often over 30 degrees Reaumur, and therefore some sickness prevails, such as bad coughs and rheumatism. Immigration to British Columbia was decided as most necessary.

A particular report of the British Columbia climate was submitted by Peter V. Verigin and by Nicholas Ziboroff, delegates from British Columbia. The first party of community Doukhobors immigrated to British Columbia for the purpose of starting works, and has been living there for two years. They have found the climate exceedingly mild in winter: temperatures not being over 15 degrees Reaumur. This occurs about ten times during all the winter, but generally, the temperature is 3, 5 and 7 degrees below zero Reaumur, and sometimes 2, 3 and 7 degrees above zero Reaumur.

In consequence of the mountains, the water for drinking is very pure, and the air also very clear and healthy. The reporter, Peter Verigin, is under the impression that the air and waters are similar to those in Switzerland in nature, and even much more healthy. Therefore, with the view to become healthier, immigration to British Columbia has been decided on possibly sooner than intended.

In British Columbia it is possible to grow fruits of nearly all kinds: apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc. Small. fruits and vegetables are grown wonderfully good. The community has already bought about ten thousand acres of fruit lands. There is splendid timber on it for building purposes.

Toward the close of the meeting there were several conversations in regard to the necessity of the moral enlightenment of the Doukhobors as a Christian Community of the Universal Brotherhood. As already stated, God is universally good, and consequently his followers also must be good, which is their superior degree of nobleness and enlightenment. Such followers of spiritual necessity must not be blood-thirsty, and therefore their food must not be slaughterous. A person whose object is to be pure in spirit, must also be anxious about cleanliness of his body, as for instance, all houses as far as possible clean, especially in living rooms the air always must be as like as possible to the outside air, which is given by the Lord for the nourishing of all people and animal. We deem necessary the water in every village must be kept in clean wells. It is also necessary that every well must be laid round inside with stones or brick, and good pumps installed.

The meeting continued four days. It was open every day for eight hours.

With sincere wishes for every success from the Lord in their future life and with greeting to all brothers and sisters in every village, the meeting was brought to a close.

S. Reibin,
Ex-Secretary to Doukhobor Community.
Free Press, Winnipeg, March 1, 1910.

Inventory of Property Under Direct Control of Community Committee (Exclusive of Village Outfits). 
The building at Verigin station and 3 acres of land


The brickyard at Verigin and 10 acres of land


Flour and oatmeal mill at Verigin and 10 acres of land


The property at farm, including one section of land


The property at Canora, including one farm of land


The brickyard at Yorkton (brick is not included)


The land and cement enterprise at Yorkton


The land and buildings at Benito, Man.


The land at Swan River, Man.


Movable property at farm


The land, 7,410 acres, paid in full at $8.50 per acre


Twelve outfits, engines and threshing machines




Above property paid in full.
Besides that there are 13,520 acres of land purchased (British Columbia land included) which amount to $347,215.00.  Deposit paid up.


Grand Total


Statement of Future Debts
Land in Saskatchewan, payments till the year 1917


Machinery etc. in Winnipeg


Land in British Columbia, payments till the year 1914




An Account of Income and Expenditure of the Doukhobor Community in Canada for 1909
Income –
Loan from the Home Bank of Canada. Winnipeg (British Columbia excepted)


To cash received from J. Podovinnikoff of Yorkton


To cash received from village Bogdanovka for horses


To cash received from P. Labintzeff for grinding flour


To cash received for old lumber mill


To cash received from some villages for sale of cattle


To cash received from V. Golooboff, the engineer


To cash received from Jacob Iwashin for land


To cash received from K. Novokshonoff for land


To cash for sold hospital at Yorkton (last payment)


To cash received from V. Pepin




Expenditures –
By payment of old loan and interest to B.B.N.A.


By payment of old debts for brickyard at Yorkton


By payment of an old debt for elevator at Verigin


By payment of M.W. Cazakoff account


By payment of an old debt to Quakers in England


By payment on land for 1909


By payment of taxes on land for 1909


By payment of Kamenka village debts to stores


By payment of accounts with Prince Albert colony


By payment to carpenters at Wurtz’s farm


By payment of an old debt for farm of WUrtz


By payment for 500 bushels of seed oats


To purchase of live bee hives for Otradnoe village


By payment of transportation and travelling expenses, 1908


By payment of transportation and travelling expenses, 1909


To purchase of railway ticket for T. Litoshenko to Russia


By payment of an old debt for brickyard at North Colony


By payment of an old debt for lumber mills


By payment of engineer’s account for certificates


By payment of purchase for mills (stones, etc.)


To purchase of threshing outfits, deposit paid


By payment of Simeonovo village account for lime


By payment to barristers


BY payment of balance for mill at Verigin


By payments to John Nimanikin


To office expense, stationery, telegrams, postage stamps, etc.


By payment of loan to H.B. of C., Winnipeg (B.C. excepted)


To interest on above amount for nearly 8 months


By payment to V. Pepin for his expenses




Total expenditures


Total Income


Adverse balance


Above adverse balance $68,791.93 was paid from other sources, as follows:
1. Villages deposited moneys of grain sale


2. By loan of British Columbia accounts, 1908


3. By moneys from store remains as a profit




An account of Community stores at Verigin and Benito of the inventory and net profit from commercial operation, showing how income is distributed:
To cash paid for Community debts, as shown above


To cash handed over to M.W. Cazakoff


To cash paid for the debts of Canora store


To goods on hand at Benito store


To goods on hand at Verigin store


To cash paid for buildings at Verigin


To value of telephone line 57 miles long


To cash paid for the buildings at Canora


To accounts unpaid by villages




Besides accounts of Doukhobor Community as shown above, there were incomes and expenditures of villages which amount to over $200,000 for 1909. All the villages except a few have paid their debts in full. Many villages have deposited large sums of money to be kept in their credit.


The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

The general account reveals the dual financial structure within the Community, consisting of the central office and treasury and the villages. All village income, sales and other general transactions were dispatched through the central office. At the same time, assets were held by the Community as a whole as well as by the villages. The general account, however, only identifies property under the direct control of the Community and not that held by the villages, giving an incomplete idea of the overall value of Community property.

In 1909, the income of the Community as a business concern amounted to $18,088.59 and its expenditures amounted to $86,880.52, not counting the incomes and expenditures of villages which amounted to over $200,000.00. This balance reflects the daring deficit financing which Verigin was undertaking, whereby, a planned excess of expenditure over income created a shortfall of Community revenue which was met by borrowing. The decision to create a deficit was made to build up the infrastructure of the Community as a self-contained entity through great investments in machinery and industrial plants.

The general account gives an incomplete idea of the overall productiveness of the Community, which, numbering over eight thousand people, was largely self-supporting. Many tens of thousands of tonnes of wheat were grown and ground into flour, vegetables grown for food, flax and wool produced, spun and woven for clothing, dairy products produced from the communal herd of cattle, and many buildings, equipment and household goods manufactured, all for internal use by the Community. None of this directly involved income or expenditure, assets or liabilities, and therefore, was not included in the general account.

Finally, in reviewing the general account it must be recalled that only ten years prior, the Doukhobors had arrived in Canada with no capital but strong hearts and willing hands, none having even the faintest knowledge of the English language, Canadian law, or modern methods of business and agriculture. The rapid material achievements of the Community over such a brief period, owing in no small part to the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin is nothing short of a sociological and economic wonder.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1906 Report and the 1912 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.

Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community held in Nadezhda Village, February 15, 1906

Manitoba Morning Free Press

During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood was governed by general meetings that were held early each year to receive the annual report and financial statement prepared by the representative committee and to vote on various matters of policy and practice brought before them. These gatherings were typically attended by two delegates from each village, the administrators in charge of community affairs and the leader Peter “Lordly” Verigin. The following is a rare extant report of the general meeting of the Doukhobor Community held at Nadezhda village, Saskatchewan, on February 16, 1906, as published in the Manitoba Morning Free Press, Wednesday, April 25, 1906. The minutes provide extraordinary insight into the administrative matters of the day, including the role of women in the Community and their participation in general meetings, immigration assistance to the Yakutsk exiles, the leader’s interpretation of a Doukhobor psalm, the treatment of animals, need for a hospital, and capital expenditures. In addition, the general account leaves no doubt of the extent of the material achievements of the Community under Verigin’s leadership at this time.

The number of people attending from the 44 villages (two men delegates and one woman from each village) was 132.  Besides these there were present those in charge of various Doukhobor affairs: Nicholas Zibaroff, V. A. Potapoff, Ivan Podovinnikoff, Paul Planidin, Fedor Soukhocheff, Evan Verigin, Evan Konkin, English translator Simeon Reibin, and, as representative of the Doukhobor Social-Religious society, Peter Veigin. Total present, 141. The meeting started at 10 a.m.

  1. The meeting was opened by the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father,” by Anastasia V. Popova, delegate from Otradnoe village.
  2. Peter Vasiilivitch Verigin remarked that the meeting place (one of the village houses) was very small for so large a number of people as 141, and that the Doukhobors in the three years they lived in community should have been able to erect a larger building for meetings. All present agreed to this.
  3. Peter Verigin also expressed himself that the attendance of women at these meetings was very remarkable for our time; as all cultured people now commenced to feel that women must be equal partners with men in all their life, and probably the Doukhobors were the first to invite women to attend such a meeting, which reflected honor to the men. Peter Verigin then spoke in turn to the women, saying that women should with gratitude accept such invitation, and in future with full feeling of equal power, start on the same footing as men in our common life. The women were very satisfied and thankful.
  4. The community accounts for 1905 were then rendered, being read by Simeon Reibin. Explanations were made by those in charge of the buying of goods and implements: Nicholas Zibaroff and V.A. Potapoff, and questions having been asked by some delegates, the accounts were passed by the meeting as correct and very satisfactory.
  5. Evan E. Konkin gave an account of his expenditure while assisting the immigration of the Yakoutsk brethren. The rumour that Konkin had been spending money without keeping account during this journey was found incorrect, as he gave very particular account of income and expenditure regarding every man separately. His personal expenditure was not specially large. His account is included in the generally account for 1905.
  6. The general account having been accepted as satisfactory by the meeting, it was decided to proceed with the election of managers of community affairs for 1906. The meeting rendered its thanks to those in charge for the past year, and asked them to continue for another year, they being fully acquainted with all affairs. The following were elected for 1906.
    For purchasing goods and implements: Nicholas Zibaroff and V.A. Potapoff, re-elected and Vasil Sherstobitoff and Dimitry Gritchin in addition.
    To superintend village horses, and, if necessary to buy more: Paul Planidin and Fedor Sookhocheff, re-elected, and Simeon Negraeff and Peter Chernoff in addition. Simeon Reibin was re-elected as English correspondent and Evan Konkin was appointed assistant Russian correspondent.
  7. It was suggested to make an inventory of all property belonging to the community beyond the village outfits, viz., engines, separators, sawmills, etc., and this was then made and attached to the general accounts.
  8. Altogether, in three years’ time of community life the purchases amounted to six hundred thousand ($600,000) dollars (for 1905 about $240,000; 1904, $160,000; 1903, $200,000), and as all goods have been bought as far as possible at first hand from wholesale houses, there has been a saving of at least one hundred and fifty thousand ($150,000) dollars, for instance: Prices – enamelled saucepans costing in local towns $1 each, were bought from factory warehouses for 60c; binders, $165 for $115; cloth, 90c per yard, for 60c; Prints, 12c for 8c; Axes (Best) $1.25 for 85c; Denims, 25c for 18c; Black Drill 20c for 13c; Horses which cost were $150.00 each were bought in a large bunch of 300 heads in 1903 for $75.00 each. Deducting freight of goods and expenses of buyers there remains a net profit of 25 percent.
    At 6 p.m. the meeting was declared closed. At 1 p.m., there was an interval of 1, 1-2 hours for dinner and during the day the meeting adjourned twice to change the air of the house, singing hymns meanwhile.
  9. February 16th. All delegates met at 9 a.m., the meeting was opened with prayer of psalm, “Being born young youth from holy Clouds” . . .  Peter V. Verigin explained the meaning of this psalm for our life: “We the Doukhobors as young children accepted the Covenant from the holy Clouds, by which we should understand from holy, enlightened men who renewed the life of humanity from the time of Christ up to our own days. We must look back on the past with feelings of thankfulness as on the commencement of our life and in future more and more to strengthen and attain, passing from the age of youth to more consciously wide existence.” Referring to olden times, before Christ, Peter Verigin refused to examine or estimate the holiness of people in the sense of real truth and enlightenment, he took as an example from the Bible the life of Samson. Notwithstanding that Samson was very strong physically, once tearing the mouth of a lion, he was not ashamed to kill 30 men, whose clothing he brought as a payment to the parents of the girl he intended to marry. In conclusion Peter Verigin said that if they want examples there are sufficient holy enlightened men of newest time starting from Christ, and especially it is necessary for each man to be controlled in his life by his own conscience.
  10. The whole meeting expressed a desire that for future understanding, the meaning of community life should be more clearly defined as: – 1. Spiritual fellowship and meakness between men in which people are understanding great gentleness and (2) Material profit.
  11. The question was raised, How should we treat animals? It was decided by the whole meeting that as we are not killing animals for food we should treat them as well as possible; as for instance: especially cows, should have nice light, dry quarters, work horses should not draw too heavy loads and in winter should not be taken out of the stables for heavy work if it be colder than 20 degrees Reaumur (-13 Fah’t) and generally work should not be done with horses during very severe frosts.
  12. Sieves have been fitted all Community Flour Mills; and the meeting unanimously decided that notwithstanding the heavy crop of 1905 the sieves should be arranged to take out not more bran than 1 in 10, so not to waste the wheat uselessly. All wheat for grinding must be perfectly clean and dry.
  13. The question of building large roller flour mills was brought up. The whole meeting agreed that it was necessary to build such mills, as at present each village had, from the crop of 1905 far more wheat than was needed for one year and it would be most profitable to grind surplus wheat into flour and sell it in that form. There will be a large profit in such operation as it is possible to sell flour for more than wheat. For such purpose it will be necessary in time to build on railway lines warehouses for flour. The meeting decided to build a flour mill near the railway at Verigin Station. It will be necessary to build with flour mill an oatmeal mill as well. The whole meeting agreed that this would be very desirable, as oatmeal will be very valuable as a food, especially with milk for children.
  14. It was decided to build a warehouse for flour at Yorkton during the coming summer.
  15. Peter V. Verigin brought forward the question as to whether it would be desirable to build a hospital, as he had noticed very many Doukhobors were going to the doctors in the local towns. Our own hospital would be more useful and satisfactory in every way. At this time a letter was read from Russia from Ivan and Olga Vasileva who offered their services to the Community, one as a teacher and the other as a nurse. By the desire of the majority the question as to a hospital was left undecided, the meeting agreeing that the delegates should speak of the matter in their villages and decide definitely later.
  16. It was unanimously decided to buy about 100 teams of horses, which will be necessary for executing the railway contract. Delegate Michael Androsoff from Village Novoe remarked that it would be wise to buy young horses, 3 to 4 years old, and put same in the villages, while heavy, strong horses are sent from the villages to the railway. The latter will bear heavy work better and the young <indecipherable>. The whole meeting was in agreement with this.
  17. It was decided that for the same railway contract must be bought as soon as possible oats, and also all tools such as scrapers, wheelbarrows, shovels, etc.
  18. In conclusion the men of the meeting referred to the women delegates, asking them to tell all the women in the villages to be imbued with the sentiment of high duty as mothers of manhood; to commence in future to ennoble man; as by nature itself women are much softer in character than men. They, men in daily life are moving amid ruder surroundings, doing hard work, hauling timber, and suffering from winter colds, and there is no wonder that the character is much ruder than that of women. It is very desirable that when men will return from their outdoor work, women should give them solace and good comfort in their homes.

A psalm was then sung “Protect us Lord and have mercy upon us,” and with sincere wishes for every success from the Lord in their future life and with greetings from all to all brothers and sisters in every village, the meeting was declared ended at 7 p.m.

Glory to God.

An account of Income and Expenditures of The Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood in Canada, for 1905:

Income from Villages


Part 1.


Village –


1 –   Otradnoe                                                                                                   


2 –   Smirenie                                                                                                   


3 –   Nadeshda                                                                                                 


4 –   Prakuratovo                                                                                             


5 –   Spaskoe                                                                                                   


6 –   Lubovnoe                                                                                                 


7 –   Efremovo and Trushdenie                                                                         


8 –   Voskresenie                                                                                             


9 –   Trudolubivoe                                                                                            


10 – Tambovskoe                                                                                            


11 – Vossianie                                                                                                  


12 – Petrovo                                                                                                    


13 – Vernoe                                                                                                     


14 – Blagodarnoe                                                                                             


15 – Terpenie                                                                                                   


16 – Rodionovo                                                                                               


17 – Sovetnoe                                                                                                  


18 – Besednoe                                                                                                 


19 – Novoe                                                                                                      


20 – Blagoveshenie                                                                                           


21 – Slavnoe                                                                                                    


22 – Kapoostino                                                                                              


23 – Osvobojdenie                                                                                           


24 – Lebedeva                                                                                                 


25 – Lubomirnoe                                                                                              


26 – Klebodarnoe                                                                                            


27 – Pakrovskoe                                                                                              


28 – Vosnosenie                                                                                               


29 – Vera                                                                                                         


30 – Simeonova                                                                                               


31 – Tichomirnoe                                                                                             


32 – Kamenka                                                                                                 


33 – Michaelovo                                                                                              


34 – Troetskoe                                                                                                 


35 – Oospenie                                                                                                  


36 – Bogom-Dannoe                                                                                        


37 – Pavlovo                                                                                                    


38 – Blagosklonnoe                                                                                          


39 – Kolmikovo                                                                                               


40 – Ooteshenie                                                                                               


41 – Razbegaylovo                                                                                           


42 – Moesaevo                                                                                                


43 – Kirilovo                                                                                                    


44 – Goreloe                                                                                                    




Income Common


Part No 2 –


1 –   Loan from Bank B.N.A. Yorkton                                                           


2 –   To cash received from Prince Albert brothers towards


         payment for land near village Vernoe                                                         $5,000.00


3 –   To sale of 13,771 lbs of 1904 senega root at 55 cts. per lb                        


4 –   To sale of 14,060 lbs of 1905 senega root at 50 cts. per lb                       


5 –   Balance in hand from last acct.                                                                  


6 –   To cash from threshing grain from V. Salikin                                                 


7 –   To cash from threshing grain from A.F. Reibin                                              


8 –   To cash from villages (1904 debts)                                                               


9 –   To cash for sleigh, sand, etc. sold in Yorkton by Evan Podovinnikoff            


10 – To cash from V.A. Potapoff, being net profit from store sales by him            


11 – To cash for gristing from Blagoveshenie village                                              


12 – To cash from Alexaevka village for needle work                                             


13 – To cash from Yakutsk brothers:


                     M. Arishenkoff, Vosnesenie                                                              


                     M. Novokshonoff, Blagoveshenie                                                      


                     P. Kinakin, Klebodarnoe                                                                 


                     T. Markin, Oospenie                                                                          


                     N. N. Sookhocheff, Razbegaylovo                                                    


                     F. Arishenkoff, Kamenka                                                                 






Part 1, Land –


1 –  By entry fees for land, being balance due on 1,372 homesteads


      at $5.00 (except some Devil’s Lake townships)                                           


2 –  By third payment on land purchased near village Vernoe                           


3 –  By deposit on one section of land near Slavnoe                                           


4 –  By deposit on 160 acres of H.B. Co land near village Pokrovka                     


5 –  By deposit on 160 acres of land near Vossianie village                                   


6 –  By purchase of land with building, sand pit and machine for


      making cement blocks at Yorkton                                                               


7 –  By balance on house in Yorkton                                                                    


8 –  By purchase on land at Swan River, Man.                                                      


9 –  By deposit on land in Canora                                                                           




Part 2, Horses and Oxen –


1 –  By interest on purchase price of horses bought in 1903                                  


2 –  By purchase of one horse for village Slavnoe                                                  


3 –  By purchase of horse by Simeon Kabatoff, village Spaskoe                            


4 –  By purchase of oxen for village Razbegaylovo                                                


5 –  By expense of Paul Planidin and Fedor Sookocheff when


      buying horses                                                                                                 




Part 3, Implements and Machinery –


1 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. traction engine with separator


       from Gaar, Scott & Co.                                                                             


2 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. engine (traction) with separator


       from American Abell Co.                                                                           


3 –   By purchase of one separator from American Abell Co.                                


4 –   By purchase of 3, 25 h.p. plowing engines, Reeves & Co.,


       at $2,410 each                                                                                          


5 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. engine (plowing) with separator,


       from Reeves & Co.                                                                                   


6 –   By purchase of one 20 h.p. plowing Reeves engine with


       separator for Devil’s Lake Colony                                                             


7 –   By purchase of one 25 h.p. plowing Reeves engine with


       Separator for Devil’s Lake Colony                                                             


8 –   By purchase of 38 binders at $115 each                                                    


9 –   By purchase of 52 mowers at $41 each                                                     


10 – By purchase 30,000 lbs of Manilla twine at $12.30 per 100 lbs                 


11 – By purchase 50 sickles at $3.75 each                                                           


12 – Balance for 1904 on binders and mowers                                                  


13 – Balance for 1904 on drills, wagons, disc harrows, etc.                               


14 – Balance for 1904 for engines                                                                     


15 – By purchase 25 wagons at $51.50 each                                                    


16 – By purchase 25 drills at $74.50 each                                                         


17 – By purchase 20 disc harrows at $35.25                                                       


18 – By purchase 60 plows at $18.00 each                                                       


19 – By purchase 30 wagons at $52.50 each                                                    


20 – By purchase 40 sleighs, 20 at $22.00 and 20 at $25.00                                


21 – By purchase 7 gang plows, 4 shares at $133.00 each                                   


22 – By purchase one hay press                                                                           


23 – By difference to Gaar Scott for exchanging 18 h.p. portable


       engine for new 20 h.p. traction, freight on same                                             


24 – By purchase of one wind stacker for separator                                             


25 – By purchase of ten bellows for blacksmithing                                                


26 – By purchase of 4 gang plows (2 shares) at $37.00 each                                


27 – By purchase of shares and the repairs from Massey Harris Co.                     


28 – By purchase of shares and repairs from Fairchild Co.                                   


29 – By purchase of one buggy                                                                            


30 – By purchase of one old sleigh and buggy for E. Podovinnikoff                         


31 – By purchase of one spring wagon                                                                 


32 – By purchase of one dray for hauling goods from railway to store                   


33 – By purchase of one wagon in Yorkton                                                            


34 – By purchase of 47 pumps                                                                            


35 – By purchase of one fanning mill                                                                      


36 – By expense of setting up machinery and certificates for engines                       




Part 4, Dry goods, etc.


1 –   By payment for dry goods, including last year debts (exclusive


       of 1905 fall purchases)                                                                             


2 –   By purchase of wheat (spring 1905) for some villages                                


3 –   By garden seed                                                                                            


4 –   By purchase of stove, tops and chimney covers                                          


5 –   By purchase of harness and shoe leather                                                    


6 –   By purchase of hardware, crockery and tools, including last


       year debts (except 1905 fall purchases)                                                    


7 –   By purchase of sugar, tea, salt and other groceries                                     


8 –   <indecipherable> grease and oil for implements                                          


9 –   By purchase of glass for windows                                                              


10 – By purchase of soap                                                                                 


11 – By purchase of footwear for winter                                                           


12 – By purchases of wool and expenses of shepherd                                          


13 – By purchase of butter and tubs for same                                                    


14 – By purchase of flour in spring 1905                                                              


15 – By purchase of cement and cement block sundries in Yorkton                      


16 – By minor purchase in Yorkton and Swan River by all villages                     




Part 5. Sundries –


1 –   By travelling expense of Yakutsk brothers                                                  


2 –   By purchase of three railway tickets from Winnipeg to


       Rosthern at $3.00 and one to Yorkton at $2.80 by Simeon


       Reibin, for Yakutsk brethren                                                                           


3 –   By payment Mr. Selchuk for transportation to California                                


4 –   By payment Mr. Vladimir Titilman for transportation                                       


5 –   By repairs for engines, separators and all implements                                  


6 –   By permits for wood and brickyard freight                                                 


7 –   By stationary and postage for general purposes                                               


8 –   By payment to H.P. Archer for his needs                                                        


9 –   By travelling expense of community officials                                                  


10 – By transportation for workmen not repaid                                                    


11 – By sundry purchase for flour mills and bridge on the North Colony             


12 – By freight on goods purchased in Winnipeg, etc.                                        


13 – By payment of loan to B.B.N.A. Yorkton, principal                                 


14 – By 4 per cent, interest on same                                                                 


15 – By school taxes at Devil’s Lake                                                                   


16 – By school taxes at Fort Pelly                                                                        


17 – By road taxes North Colony                                                                     


18 – By road taxes at South Colony                                                                  


19 – By purchase lumber, etc for building at Verigin Station                                  


20 – By expense of building in Yorkton                                                                


21 – By expenses for bags and commissions on selling seenga root


       to W. Flemming, Brandon                                                                             


22 – By exchanging on cheques and remittance                                                      


23 – By purchase of drugs in Winnipeg                                                                  


24 – By purchase of one set of stones for flour mill, North Colony                          


25 – By expenses of carpenters in Yorkton by Evan Podovinnikoff                       


26 – The expense of Evan Podovinnikoff on himself and visitors                            


27 – By school fees in Yorkton for three boys                                                        


28 – By telegrams                                                                                                  


29 – By surgical and other expenses for people with sore eyes                              






Income, Part 1                                                                                              


Income, Part 2                                                                                                


Total Income                                                                                                


Expenditure, Part 1                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 2                                                                                           


Expenditure, Part 3                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 4                                                                                         


Expenditure, Part 5                                                          






Grand total Expenditure                                                                                


Grand total Income                                                                                       


Adverse Balance                                                                                            


The Summary of Debts –


1 –   Hardware                                                                                                 


2 –   Glass                                                                                                           


3 –  Groceries                                                                                                   


4 –   Soap                                                                                                         


5 –   Coal oil, axle grease, etc.                                                                           


6 –   Dry goods (spring 1905)                                                                           


7 –   Leather                                                                                                     


8 –   Implements                                                                                             


9 –   Engines                                                                                                   


10 – Iron goods                                                                                                


11 – Pumps                                                                                                         


12 – Unpaid loan to B.B.N.A.                                                                          


13 – To government for homesteads                                                                 




We are paying 5 per cent per annum on all overdue accounts.


Inventory of property under direct control of Community Committee (exclusive of village outfits)


1903 – Engines


                      3 portable, two 18 h.p., one 16 h.p. of Gaar Scott Co.                


                      2 tractions, 20 h.p. one of them much damaged G.S. Co.            


                      1 traction 22 h.p. Gaar Scott & Co.                                            


1904 – Engines


                     One 25 h.p. with very bad damage, of Reeves Co.                       


1905 – Engines


                      5 traction engines, 25 h.p., Reeves Co.                                     


                      1 traction engine, 20 h.p., Reeves Co.                                         


                      1 traction engine, 28 h.p., American Abell Co.                            


                      1 traction engine, 26 h.p., Gaar Scott Co.                                   


Six separators, bought 1903                                                                             


Five separators, bought 1905                                                                            


Four saw mills                                                                                                  


One planning mill                                                                                                 


One hay press                                                                                                     


One brick machine                                                                                               


The buildings at saw mills                                                                                  


The buildings at Verigin Station                                                                         


Six grist mills                                                                                                     


The land, not including Prince Albert colony interest                                         


Outfit in Yorkton, 27 acres of land, one machine for making cement


Blocks, house for keeping cement, house for sick people. For all this


has been paid cash                                                                                            




On the remained owing                                                                                   


Interest 5 per cent, per annum                                                                           






Aforementioned inventory nearly covers all owing


An account of income and expenditure of the Evan E. Konkin, while assisting in the immigration of Yakutsk brethren:




To cash received from Simeon Reibin in Yorkton                                                 


To cash received from Simeon Reibin through bank at Moscow                            


To cash received from Peter V. Verigin through the Moscow bank


care of Mr. Doonaeff                                                                                      






Part 1 –


By purchase of ticket from Yorkton to London, England                                         


By ticket from London to Christchurch and return                                                     


By ticket from London to Moscow                                                                        


By ticket from Moscow to Yasnoe Polano and return                                               


By ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg and return, with travelling




By ticket from Moscow to Irkutsk, Siberia, by railway                                           


By travelling expenses from Irkutsk till met brethren, and return


(on wagon)                                                                                                              


By ticket from Irkutsk to Moscow, by railway                                                        


By ticket and travelling expenses from Moscow to St. Petersburg


and return                                                                                                                


By tickets for myself and Vasily Verigin from Moscow to Libaw                             


By two tickets again with V.V. from Libaw to Mitaw, including


travelling expenses                                                                                                   


By two tickets with V.V. and travelling expenses from London to


Christchurch and return                                                                                          




Part 2 –


By purchase of 131 tickets at $11.00 each from Libaw to London on


the steamship                                                                                                    


By purchase of 143 tickets at $24.50 from London, Liverpool to


Quebec, Canada                                                                                              


By tickets for 16 children at $2.50 each                                                                  $40.00


By two tickets for A. Machortoff to Yorkton at $17.00                                         


By two tickets for L. Mackay to Yorkton                                                               


By deposit in Quebec for 31 sick people for their expenses                                  


By purchase of 123 tickets at $16.00 from Quebec to Winnipeg                        


By 31 tickets at $5.00 from Winnipeg to Rosthern                                                


By 78 tickets at $2.50 and $2.30 from Winnipeg to Verigin                                  


By nine tickets from Winnipeg to Canora and Buchanan, Sask                                




Part 3, by part payments to Yakutsk brethren on the way –




1 –   A. Reibin                                                                                                       


2 –   E. Zbitneff                                                                                                     


3 –   A. Moojelsky                                                                                                 


4 –   A. Moojelsky and E. Zbitneff (for burying two children)                                 


5 –   P. Svetlisheff                                                                                                  


6 –   F. Soukhocheff                                                                                                


7 –   Evan Oosacheff                                                                                              


8 –   A.S. Popoff                                                                                                     


9 –   F. Strukoff                                                                                                       


10 – L. Mackay                                                                                                    


11 – E. Verigin


12 – V. Shiloff


13 – E. Jmaeff                                                                                                         


14 – N. Shkuratoff                                                                                                  


15 – S. Oosacheff                                                                                                   


16 – N. Kazakoff                                                                                                    


17 – N. Sherbkoff                                                                                                   


18 – Samsonoff for wife                                                                                         


19 – P. Verigin


20 – E. Choudakoff                                                                                                 


21 – G. Posnikoff                                                                                                    


22 – E. Popoff                                                                                                       


23 – M. Popoff                                                                                                     


24 – N. Rilkoff


25 – F. Diachkoff                                                                                                    


26 – A. Verishagin                                                                                                   


27 – For renting house for party in Libaw                                                               




Part 4 –


By payment to V. Tchertkoff for his travelling expenses in connection


with the Yakutsk brothers’ transportation                                                               


By payment to Tchertkoff in account of Doukhobor transportation                        


By payment of V. Verigin debts in Siberia                                                              


<indecipherable> in Moscow                                                                               


By remittance to mother in Russia                                                                             


By telegrams on the way                                                                                          


By payments for hotels in Montreal, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk,


Libaw and Mitaw                                                                                                  


By expense on E. Konkin himself personally for four months                                   


By expense on Vasil Verigin                                                                                   


By purchase of two suits of cloth for Konkin and Vasil Verigin                                


By payment for exchange of Canadian money for Russian                                     


By balance handed to Simeon Reibin on arrival                                                  






Income, total                                                                                                  


Expenditure, Part 1                                                                                              


Expenditure, Part 2                                                                                           


Expenditure, Part 3                                                                                              


Expenditure, Part 4                                                                                           


Total expenditure                                                                                            



The Community was formally a democracy in which the general meeting was the supreme governance authority. However, in practice, while Peter “Lordly” Verigin’s formal powers were small, his real influence was immense. This was due, not only to his position as hereditary leader, but to his powerful personality, superior education and intellectual prowess. Resolutions at the annual general meetings never went contrary to his advice, and during the twelve months that elapsed between meetings, he and his advisors acted as an executive with sweeping powers to make almost any decision on behalf of the Community.

The general account reveals the dual financial structure within the Community, consisting of the central office and treasury and the villages. All village income, sales and other general transactions were dispatched through the central office. At the same time, assets were held by the Community as a whole as well as by the villages. The general account, however, only identifies property under the direct control of the Community and not that held by the villages, giving an incomplete idea of the overall value of Community property.

In 1905, the income of the Community as a business concern amounted to $189,782.90 and its expenditures amounted to $243,963.21, not counting a bank loan of $50,500.00 which Peter “Lordly” Verigin was able to secure at the very advantageous rate of 4 per cent, covered by Community assets of $61,925.00. This balance reflects the daring deficit financing which Verigin was undertaking, whereby, a planned excess of expenditure over income created a shortfall of Community revenue which was met by borrowing. The decision to create a deficit was made to build up the infrastructure of the Community as a self-contained entity through great investments in machinery and industrial plants.

The general account gives an incomplete idea of the overall productiveness of the Community, which, numbering over eight thousand people, was largely self-supporting. Many tens of thousands of tonnes of wheat were grown and ground into flour, vegetables grown for food, flax and wool produced, spun and woven for clothing, dairy products produced from the communal herd of cattle, and many buildings, equipment and household goods manufactured, all for internal use by the Community. None of this directly involved income or expenditure, assets or liabilities, and therefore, was not included in the general account.

Finally, in reviewing the general account it must be recalled that only six years prior, the Doukhobors had arrived in Canada with no capital but strong hearts and willing hands, none having even the faintest knowledge of the English language, Canadian law, or modern methods of business and agriculture. The rapid material achievements of the Community over such a brief period, owing in no small part to the leadership of Peter “Lordly” Verigin is nothing short of a sociological and economic wonder.

For more information on the general meetings and accounts of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood, see the 1904 Report1910 Report and the 1912 Report of the General Meeting of the Doukhobor Community.