The Doukhobor Monument to Alexander I in Terpeniye

by Alexander A. Chukhraenko

In 1818, Tsar Alexander I, while on a tour through Russia, visited the Doukhobor village of Terpeniye along the Molochnaya River in Tavria. He stayed overnight in the Sirotsky Dom (Orphan’s Home) and the next day attended a banquet and religious service. The Tsar was impressed by the orderliness and efficiency of the Doukhobor colony. For their part, the Doukhobors held Alexander in the highest esteem as their saviour and benefactor. To commemorate the Tsar’s historic visit, the Doukhobors erected a monument in his honour. The monument stood in the village for a century until Bolshevik agents identified it as “ideologically harmful”. In this Doukhobor Genealogy Website exclusive, local Ukrainian historian Alexander A. Chukhraenko describes the Doukhobor monument to Alexander I, its eventual fate, and its overall significance as one of the oldest historic and cultural monuments of the Doukhobors, and indeed, the whole of the Zaporozhye region. Translated into English from the original Russian by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.

Portrait of Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825)

Many historians have noted that Tsar Alexander I was especially inclined towards the Doukhobors and even visited them at their place of settlement. The circumstances of the Imperial visit to the Doukhobors are widely known in the historical literature; indeed, some regional specialists even assert that there was not one, but two, such visits.

The Byelorussian academic N.M. Nikol’sky writes in his book Istoria Russkoi Tserkvi (“History of the Russian Church”) that “when Alexander I went to the Crimea near Molochnye Vody (“Milky Waters”) in 1818, the Doukhobor leadership invited him to their place and provided him lodging for the night (in the village of Terpeniye as it was the Doukhobor capital); there, they arranged a magnificent reception and sang to himthat he образует бытие Бога в России (“forms the being of God in Russia”). It is thought that the Tsar and the Doukhobors were mutually interested in each other: after all, Alexander I was the emperor who halted persecution against the Doukhobors and allocated lands for them to settle on the right bank of the Molochnaya River. Thus the Emperor was interested to meet the Doukhobors, of whom there had been so much discourse, and learn how the sectarians he sponsored had fared in their new place.

The Emperor’s visit to Terpeniye is described in more detail in the article Духоборы – Александру Первому (“To the Doukhobors – Alexander I”) by N.V. Krylov, Candidate of Geographical Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Melitopol Pedagogical University: “In November of 1818, Alexander I left the Crimea for Taganrog. He uses some archival records preserving a description of this visit.

“The Emperor arrived there in a carriage, which stopped at the crest of a ravine overlooking the estate. The inhabitants of the settlement – Doukhobors – were there, and after posting the horses, raised up the Sovereign’s carriage in their arms and brought it into the settlement to the porch of a two-storied house there [Sirotsky Dom]. After exiting the carriage, the Sovereign ascended to the top floor of the house, where a soft bed was prepared for him, which he ordered removed and fresh straw brought in its place.

The Doukhobor monument to Alexander I circa 1915.

“On the second day a breakfast was prepared for the Sovereign under great oak trees, of which two have survived until now [at the end of the 19th century – Krylov]; there, the Sovereign spent a long time talking with the Doukhobors and listening to their singing of psalms.

“In memory of this visit, a brick monument was erected at the site where the Emperor’s breakfast was held.

“In the 1902 archival record, Деле об охранении памятников древности в Таврической губернии (“File about the preservations of antique monuments in Tavria province”) the monument is thus described: it has the form of a quadrangular column, with a height of four arshins (a Russian imperial unit of measure equal to 71.12 centimeters) and a width at the square base of one arshin, with a vase above it.

“The date of the monument’s construction is not identified in the file. However, knowing that the Doukhobors were deported to the Caucasus in the early 1840’s, it is reasonable to presume that it was built in the 1820’s or 1830’s.”

It is possible to assert, writes Krylov, that the Doukhobor monument was the first historic monument built in the Zaporozhye region. However, this has not helped it to survive to the present…

Where is the monument and what is its fate?

According to popular belief, it stood in the central street of the village of Terpeniye near the modern offices of the “Druzhba” agricultural cooperative – a local government building before the Revolution – where there is today a monument to Lenin.

Monument to Lenin in Terpeniye, believed by some to be built from the Doukhobor monument to Alexander I.

The local historian S.K. Gulin stated that after the Revolution, the vase from the pedestal was dumped over, the pedestal was rebuilt, and on it was set up the bust of V.I. Lenin. There are other details as well.

According to the oldest inhabitant of the village, Anna Ivanovna Mezentseva (born 1912), when she was a child, she saw a monument, similar to the one described above, along the fencing of the old church (near the Sirotsky Dom site). Now it is the edge of the roadway connecting the village boarding school with the springs water park. And its far away from the central street – about 200 meters.

However, why speculate when there is a direct reference in the above-noted document that the monument was erected “at the site where the Emperor’s breakfast was held”; that is, under the great oaks. One of them has survived till today.

Therefore, this writer considers that the monument was located somewhere near the famous great Terpeniye oak – in the vicinity of the village kindergarten. Incidentally, the old church was located in the same area – a few tens of meters to the east. In general the first theory (proposed by S.K. Gulin) should be considered fanciful, dictated by the ideological motives of the time.

As we see, the monument to Alexander I is linked to very important events in the history of our village. Much to our regret, it was identified as “ideologically harmful” during the Bolshevik period and destroyed. Today, it could serve as a village ornament and an important historical and cultural tourist attraction. Hence there are valid reasons to restore the monument.

To this end, a description, dimensions and photo are available. The monument itself is not architecturally complex; structurally it resembles a simple memorial monument. It would be very simple to construct and would not require expensive experts and large financial investments. It is necessary only to have the approval of those in authority. But in my opinion, such a restoration of the monument is only viable with the assistance of the Doukhobor community abroad.

About the Author

Alexander Anatolyevich Chukhraenko is a native of the former Doukhobor village of Terpeniye in the Melitopol district of Zaporozhye province, Ukraine.  He teaches history at the Terpeniye collegium “Zherelo” and also manages a local school museum.  He is a correspondent with the local newspaper “Melitopolskiye Vedomosty”.  He has researched, compiled and written a vast amount of information about the history of his village and surrounding area.  In 2007, he published the book, “Terpeniye: Pages of History”.  His discoveries are providing rare and invaluable insights into the Doukhobor period of settlement in the Molochnaya region.

For More Information

For more information on Doukhobor archaeological sites on the Molochnaya, see the articles Doukhobor Memorial Stone from the Village of Bogdanovka and The Mystery of Terpeniye’s Buried Treasure by Alexander A. Chukhraenko, The Cossack Cross of Spasskoye by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff with Alexander A. Chukhraenko and The Doukhobor Monuments of Efremovka and Rodionovka by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff.