About History – The ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ of Georgia

The Doukhobors (Russian: Духоборы) living in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia are a religious community exiled from Russia in the mid-19th century.

The word Doukhobor means ‘spirit wrestler’ in Russian. Considered to be heretics by the Orthodox Church in Russia for their rejection of church ritual many Doukhobors chose exile in the Caucasus region of the Russian empire in the 1840s rather than convert to Orthodoxy. A number settled in the Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia.

Doukhobor Settlements 1841-1899 (c) J. Kalmakoff

By the end of the 19th century there were around 10,000 Doukhobors in Georgia.

19th century Doukhobors in Georgia

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many Georgian Doukhobors chose to return to Russia and very few remain in Georgia.

The following pictures of the Doukhobor community in the village of Gorelovka in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region of Georgia were taken during a visit in 2006.

Doukhobor houses are decorated in Russian style in a pale blue color and often have an earth roof, commonly called a green or sod roof.

The building pictured below is the Doukhobor meeting place in Gorelovka village. It was originally the house of Peter Kalmykov, son of Illarion Kalmykov (the first leader of the Doukhobors that settled in the area in 1841).

The interiors of Doukhobor houses are Russian in style.

The Doukhobor oven is Russian in style and has a space for a bed that is used in very cold weather

Due to the scarcity of wood in the area the Doukhobors make fuel ‘bricks’ from cow and sheep dung and use them to heat their homes and cook their food.

There is a cemetery of Doukhobor community leaders in Ninotsminda District.

Cemetery of Doukhobor community leaders in Ninotsminda District

Many of the graves date from the 19th century.

Illarion Kalmykov (Russian: Илларион Калмыков), the leader of the main group of Doukhobors that arrived from Ukraine in 1841, is buried in this cemetery.

In 1898-99 over 7,000 Doukhobors emigrated from the Russian Empire to British Columbia in Canada and around 40,000 descendants still live in Canada today.

At the time of our visit to the village of Gorelovka in 2006 there were no more than 700 Doukhobors living in Ninotsminda District. There are likely to be far fewer today and those that do remain are mostly older people.

Doukhobor woman in her house in Gorelovka village

There is a belief that the storks that nest on Doukhobor houses in the Ninotsminda District of Samtskhe-Javaheti region fly away when the Doukhobor occupants leave, and never return.

Further reading: Doukhobor Genealogy Website

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7 Responses to “About History – The ‘Spirit Wrestlers’ of Georgia”
  1. Really interesting! Great photo’s my friend 🙂

  2. Alexandra says:

    Wow! That was very interesting! Thank you!

  3. 2browndawgs says:

    Very interesting!

  4. dazeezmom says:

    Fascinating!! Love the pictures!!

  5. Absolutely beautiful place! Amazing history of a way of life that looks like it will soon pass into history in Georgia. Found the heating fuel interesting. In America and Native Americans and the Pioneers all burned dried Buffalo dung for heat….

  6. Janitsays says:

    Beautiful, well researched post.
    Modernism has wiped away a lot of old customs and the information age will probably have us all end up with similar preferences.

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