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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 8: Sectarians and the State in Russia

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CHAPTER 8

Sectarians and the State in Russia

The exile to Transcaucasia in 1892 of first Khilkov and then Bodianskii made a deep impression on their fellow Tolstoyans, a number of whom were at that time assisting Tolstoi with famine relief in Samara. In her memoir of that time Vera Velichkina recalls how the news of Khilkov quietened the intense arguments being carried on among Tolstoi’s followers and turned their thoughts to common concerns and absent friends.1 From the spring of 1893 several followed them into voluntary exile. By this time all the Tolstoyan communities in Russia had broken up and dispersed, and some members now transferred to the Caucasus. To Bashkichet came S. P. Prokopenko and N. I. Dudchenko (both from Khar’kov); Prince G. A. Dadiani was a frequent visitor and finally relinquished his position and career to join his friend Khilkov. Bodianskii with his family and four faithful peasants from Poltava were living at Orpiri in Kutais province. They were soon joined by V. I. Skorokhodov, M. V. Alekhin and others from the Bairachnyi community, which had now folded. Before long there was a community at Orpiri of twenty three people, including children. This small but active company became a channel for the spread of Tolstoi’s teaching among the Russian population of Transcaucasia, the majority of whom were religious dissenters.

From 1830 onwards and for the remainder of the century Transcaucasia was home to large numbers of dissenters exiled...

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