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Among Russian Sects and Revolutionists

The Extraordinary Life of Prince D. A. Khilkov

Graham Camfield

In his lifetime Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Khilkov (1857–1914) became known in a number of seemingly contradictory roles and contexts: courageous officer, Tolstoyan, defender of the oppressed, leader of the Dukhobor exodus, revolutionary terrorist and returning Orthodox prodigal. Born into one of Russia’s ancient aristocratic families, with close links to the court, he chose an unexpected path that led him deep into the Russian countryside and brought him to the very edge of the Empire. Renouncing a brilliant military career, he gave up almost all his land to the peasants and settled on a small farm at Pavlovki, Khar’kov province. There, his support for peasants at variance with local landowners and the Church brought him into conflict with authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, and led to his exile, firstly among religious dissidents in Transcaucasia and later among political émigrés in Switzerland.
Using a wide range of often obscure published sources, this book explores Khilkov’s extraordinary life through his autobiographical notes and the accounts of many who knew him, among them Lev Tolstoi and his disciples, the Marxist Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, fellow members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Orthodox clergy who guided him back to the Church.


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My first acknowledgement must be to the rich collections of the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science, where it has been my privilege to work over many years. It was there, while researching materials on Russian sectarianism, that I encountered so many references to the name of Dmitrii Khilkov, whose curious history captivated my interest. Without access to the Library’s holdings of Russian and other material, especially the Russian revolutionary pamphlets, this book would not have been written. I must record also my gratitude to Ol’ga Nikolaevna Nedogarko, researcher and local historian of Sumy district. The publication, in 1990, of her article on Khilkov and his collaboration with Lenin’s newspaper Iskra in Voprosy istorii KPSS, at much the same time as my own article on the Pavlovtsy appeared, prompted me to contact her. Ol’ga is the great- granddaughter of Semen Prokopenko, one of Dmitrii Khilkov’s closest companions, both in Pavlovki and in his subsequent exile. She knows the village and descendants of the Pavlovtsy, as well as members of the Khilkov family. She has kindly shared with me some of her own unpublished work on Dmitrii Khilkov, which is acknowledged in the text. Thanks to Ol’ga also, I had the privilege to meet Aleksei Aleksandrovich Khilkov, grandson of Dmitrii Aleksandrovich, living in Moscow district. Like me she believes that his memory should be preserved and honoured in his homeland and to this end her research over many years has done much to raise local aware- ness...

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