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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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CHAPTER 1: The Khilkovs in Peace and War


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The Khilkovs in Peace and War

On 19 March 1856 an imperial manifesto proclaimed to the Russian people the end of the Crimean War and recognised the pressing need to address the problem of serfdom. Tsar Alexander II had been on the throne for just a year and the prospect of peace and hopes of much needed reform gave cause for optimism among his subjects. It appeared to herald a relaxation of the former oppressive regime of Nicholas I, and hold promise of greater freedom for the people. It was at this significant moment in Russian history that Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Khilkov was born in November 1857 to a life of wealth and privilege as a member of Russia’s ruling elite. His formative years were to witness the consequences of emancipating the serfs on his own family estate, the return of war in 1877, and the assassination of Alexander II by a terrorist bomb in 1881.

The Khilkovs were numbered among the most ancient Russian noble families, who traced their line back to Rurik, founder of the Russian State, through the sixteenth century Prince, Ivan Khilok (Riapolovskii), from whom they derived their name.1 Generations of Khilkov princes gave distinguished service to the Tsars, while their wives and daughters served as ladies in waiting at Court. A strong military tradition ran through the family. In the nineteenth century Stepan Aleksandrovich Khilkov (1786–1854) had distinguished himself in the war against...

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