Decembrists in Irkutsk

Bronze horseman On December 14, 1825, Lieutenant Panov and other leaders of the uprising (mostly high-ranking officers) marched armed troops to Senate Square in St.Petersburg to force the Senate to sign a manifesto deposing the autocrary, abolishing serfdom, instituting democratic reforms, etc. However, the uprising was suppressed because of indecision and wavering on the part of its leaders. Five were executed. Others punished in various ways: reduced to the ranks and sent to the Caucasus, a scene of fierce fighting at the time, or deprived of all rights and estates and sent into exile for life in Siberia. Among the places these exiles were sent was the Irkutsk Province.

After the Amnesty of 1856, declared at the time of Alexander's ascension to the throne, only forty-two of the exiles returned home. Those who did were still banned from living in the two capital cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

The first Decembrists came to Irkutsk in the summer of 1826. From Irkutsk they were sent on to other places according to the terms of their sentences: those sentenced to banishment went to remote, thinly-populated areas of Eastern Siberia; those sentenced to hard labour, to mines, factories, prisons and forts.

Siberian HighwaySiberian Highway (before the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway)

In spite of all this they retained their best human qualities, strengh and nobility of spirit, purity of ideals, and an active attitude towards life.

Some of them settled near Irkutsk and later in the town itself. These highly-educated men and women exerted an enormously beneficial influence on the cultural, moral, and political development of local society. Their abilities were also of immediate practical use. For instance, A. Yushnevsky, P. Borisov, A. Podgio and Ye. Obolensky taught the children mathematics, natural science, Russian, French and music. F. Wolf and A. Muravyova practiced medicine among the peasants of surrounding villages. V. Rayevsky opened a school for adult peasants.

S. G. Volkonsky (1788-1965)

Sergei VolkonskyA particularly important role in the life of Irkutsk society was played by S. G. Volkonsky (1788-1865), ex-major-general, veteran of the 1812 Patriotic War, and one of the leaders of Decembrist's Southern Society. He was deported to a village near Irkutsk, where he tilled the fields with the peasants, teaching them advanced farming methods. His house in Irkutsk (which he designed himself), became a major centre of cultural life, much like S. Trubetskoy's. Recititations, amateur theatricals and concerts were given here, and debates were conducted.

Piotr Mukhanov (1799-1854)

Piotr Mukhanov (1799-1854) was the staff-captain of the lzmailovsky Life-Guards Regiment. He was a friend of the poet Alexander Pushkin, and was himself a writer, author of novellas and vaudevilles and translator of French comedies staged in Russia. Mukhanov studied at Moscow University and then at the Column Leaders' School, which trained officers for the General Staff. After the failure of the insurrection of December 14, 1825, he was sentenced to twelve years of penal servitude, which was reduced to eight years followed by exile for life in Siberia.
In response to questioning by the committee of inquiry, Mukhanov wrote that at Moscow University he had ardently studied Russian literature and history, and at the Column Leaders' School, natural sciences and mathematics. In prison he gave history lectures to his cellmates, demonstrating a brilliant knowledge of the subject and a splendid style of narration.
After his term in prison, Piotr Mukhanov was deported to the Bratsk settlement, a remote corner of the lrkutsk province. "This village," he wrote to his mother, "has depressed me much more than a prison has ever done. All the nine prisons I was at were better than this settlement."

In the next letter he described his new place of abode thus: "It is a small village on the banks of the Angara, surrounded by impenetrable forests, and devoid of ploughlands and meadows, a wild unpopulated desert, a most abominable place. And when the Governor-General told me I would be sent to the worst place, he was speaking the complete truth, for I have never seen a place worse than the Bratsk settlement, despite the fact that I have travelled all over Russia."

However, this onerous life could not break the Decembrist's powerful spirit. He started growing species of rye and wheat hitherto unknown in Siberia, made hydrological studies of the Angara, and built a church. After countless petitions by his family, in 1648 Mukhanov was finally allowed to move to the village of Ust-Kuda, sixteen kilometres from Irkutsk. Here he was among friends again, and read to them the stories and novellas he had written in prison . On February 19, 1854, Mukhanov died. Local regional studies students recently discovered the house where Mukhanov lived shortly before his death.

The wives and fiancees of some Decembrists came to Siberia to share the lot of their men, overcoming the opposition of the authorities and of their relatives, losing their rights and possessions, and travelling thousands of kilometres by sledge and carriage. The women included Yekaterina Trubetskaya, Alexandra Muravyova, Maria Volkonskaya, and Polina Annenkova.

Yekaterina Trubetskaya Yekaterna Trubetskaya, countess and wife of Sergei Trubetskoy, one of the founders and headers of the Northern Secret Society.
Many of the Decembrists' wives voluntarily followed their husbands. According to Russia's laws, convicts' wives, if they so desired, were allowed to follow their husbands to Siberia. However, for the Decembrists' wives a new law or, rather infringement of the law, was devised. In order to strike the Decembrists totally out of their lives, the Church and State passed a law whereby the Decembrist's wives were considered widows and allowed to remarry within their husbands' lifetime without an official divorce. However, Yekaterina Trubetskaya turned down this offer, and so did the other Decembrist's wives. When they departed for Siberia, they left behind their privilegies as nobles and were reduced to the status of exiled prisoners' wives, with restricted rights of travel, correspondence and property ownership. They were not allowed to take their children with them, and were not always allowed to return to the European part of Russia even after their husbands' death.

But nothing could stop these courageous women. Yekaterina Trubetskaya was the first to leave for Siberia (in July 1826).

On government orders and on their own initiative, the local authorities tried to put obstacles in their way. Nicholas I resolved to shut the Decembrists off completely from the rest of the world. Correspondence with them was forbidden, and very little information about them reached their nearest and dearest. The tsar hoped that with the passing of time their names and the events linked to their names would be forgotten. Those plans were foiled, however, when the Decembrists' wives set out after the "noble convicts," as they were called by the Siberian people. The wives could not be banned from writing, and in their letters they were able to convey the truth to their relatives. The local officials were highly embarrassed by the presence of these brave women.

And so, after covering over five thousand kilometres, a vast distance in those days, and enduring inconceivable hardships on the way, the Decembrists' wives faced one more ordeal in lrkutsk. They had to sign a "renunciation" allowing them to meet with their husbands not more than twice a week and only in the presence of an officer, and they had to give up their money and valuables, only a very small part of which they were to receive back for living expenses.

On the night of July 23, 1826, Sergey Trubetskoy was deported as part of the the first party of Decembrists sent to Siberia. And on the following day Yekaterina Trubetskaya set off for Irkutsk. During her long journey she was pursued by bandits in the taiga, and her carriage broke down on the ice of the River Yenisei, but nothing could stop her. At Irkutsk the officials did everything possible to prevent this brave woman from going any further. They detained her for about nine months, first forcing her to sign the renunciation paper mentioned earlier, and then telling her that her husband was already on the other side of Lake Baikal when he was in fact very close by, for the Decembrists had not yet been sent to work in the mines. Day after day Countess Trubetskaya suffered these obvious indignities, and in the end gained permission to leave for Blagodatsk, where the first party of Decembrists was imprisoned. Together with another Decembrist's wife, Maria Volkonskaya, who had caught up to her on the way, she rented a little house with tiny rooms that were so cold that at night hoarfrost would form on the walls and their hair would freeze to the bed.

In 1827 the Decembrists were sent from Blagodatsk to Chita, and a few years after to Petrovski Zavod, where a prison was built for them. Everywhere they were moved, their wives helped them bear the burdens of prison life.

S.Trubetskoy 3 daughtersIn 1839, Trubetskoy was deported to the small village of Oyok, thirty-eight kilornetres from Irkutsk, and Yekaterina Trubetskaya and their three daughters and son, who had been born in Siberia, went with him.

Although their relatives sent them large sums of money, the family still had financial problems. The house they built in Oyok cost a considerable amount, and they also they sent large sums of money to help their comrades scattered across Siberia's vast cold territory. According to contemporaries' memoirs, the Trubetskoys' house was open to everyone, and its warm atmosphere was due mostly to Yekaterna Trubetskaya, with whom anyone felt at ease.

S.Trubetskoy's HouseIn 1845 the Trubetskoys were allowed to move to lrkutsk, where they rented a house. In 1854 they began to build a wooden mansion in the style of the 18th century, with a suite of rooms.
Unfortunately, Yekaterina Trubetskaya, who was so happy about the mansion being built, never had the chance to live there - she passed away on October 14, 1854.


Decembrist Nikolay MuravyovThe Decembrists made a great contribution to the study of the history, geography, economy and ethnography of Siberia. They also continued their literary and journalistic activities. N. Bestuzhev created a whole series of portraits of exiled Decembrists and their wives and children. These, like many other relics from the lives and activities of these remarkable men and women, are now on view at the museum in S. Trubetskoy's house.

The Siberian soil tilled by the Decembrists became for some of them a place of eternal rest. In the graveyard of the Znamensky Monastery, there are small, modest monuments of Baikal marble on the graves of N. Panov, P. Mukhanov, and V. Beschasny. Yekaterina Trubetskaya and her children are also buried here.

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