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Dukhoboria, the Georgian Russia. Ethnographic study

There are two Russian worlds living now in Georgia without intersecting: expats who moved here after February 2022 because of pacifist views; and the Doukhobors, who were exiled here for their pacifist views almost 200 years ago. Our research is the result of these worlds met.

Author: Gavriil Malyshev
urban planner,
architecture researcher
With help of Lina Filip


Press to read in Russian

The study of the Russian folk architecture of Dukhobors in Georgia, or how to stay yourself while living in exile.


  1. Introduction. How have we discovered Georgian Russia
  2. Short history of the Dukhobors
  3. Current condition of Dukhoboria
  4. Architecture of the Dukhobors
  5. The villages portrait. What is still left of Dukhoboria?
  6. The conclusion. Why are russian newcomers and dukhobors important to each other?
  7. Reading list. For those, who want more

Introduction. How have we discovered Georgian Russia

Georgia is one of the most popular destinations for the new wave of Russian emigration. Tens of thousands of immigrants from Russia who disagreed with the militaristic policy of their country settled in the large cities of Sakartvelo (mainly Tbilisi and Batumi). Here they began to study the new context and themselves in this new context, as well as yearn for their homeland.

These two parallel processes of researching the Georgian New and nostalgia for the Russian Old led me to discover on the map of Georgia a bush of villages with names very atypical for this country: Tambovka, Orlovka, Efremovka. It turned out that in the mountains of Javakhetia, there are Dukhobors still live compactly — the descendants of the Russian protestant sect exiled here in the first half of the 19th century for their pacifist ideas.

Russian pacifists have been living in Georgia for nearly two centuries: this information could give newly arrived Russians so much-needed philosophical and historical foundation for staying here.

This amazing discovery touched my heart. Many expats who suddenly find themselves inside another culture are now rethinking their own identity. Not wanting to associate themselves with Putin’s state, those who have moved are looking for self-representation roots in their culture and ethnicity. Russian pacifists have been living in Georgia for nearly two centuries, a knowledge that could give newly arrived Russians a much-needed philosophical and historical foundation for staying here.

However, today these two Russian worlds in Georgia do not intersect, knowing nothing about each other. Nothing is known about the material culture and architecture of the Dukhobors — there are no scientific articles or blogs. What houses do they live in, what do their villages look like?

We made an expedition to the disappearing Georgian Russia — Dukhoboria. We traveled around all the villages, counted, photographed and described all the huts, talked with the last members of this ethnic group. We are pleased to present you the results: the most complete and up-to-date description of the Russian native architecture in Georgia.

Short history of the Dukhobors

  1. Who are the Dukhobors ?
  2. How did Dukhobors appear in Georgia?
  3. Burning Arms and the First Exodus from Georgia
  4. Soviet Time, Perestroika, and the Second Exodus
  5. Saakashvili and the Third Exodus
Who are the Dukhobors ?
The Dukhobors in national costume

The Dukhobors are an ethno-cultural group (sub-ethnos) of Russians that arose in the 17th century as a Christian sect, united around Protestant ideas that had penetrated from Lithuania. The Dukhobors rejected the ritualism of the Russian Orthodox Church and the hierarchy of civil power. They did not recognize temples, crosses, the Bible and priests, believing that an intermediary was not needed to interact with God. Also they denied the power of the tsar as the God’s
viceroy, they abstained from paying taxes and recruiting into the Russian army.

The historical areas of the Dukhobors are the southern Russian and Ukrainian provinces: Tambov, Voronezh, Yekaterinoslav (today Zaporozhye). Among the first Dukhobors there were many Don Cossacks who refused violence and military service. The Dukhobors settled in autonomous communities, and were persecuted by the Russian state as an anti-state and anti-church sect, which also sheltered deserters.

How did Dukhobors appear in Georgia?

Emperor Nicholas I, who did not accept any freethinking, decided to finally resolve the Dukhobor issue in 1837, organizing their mass expulsion to Transcaucasia. Javakhetia was chosen for resettlement as a practically uninhabited mountainous region with a harsh climate, recently recaptured from Turkey. According to the cunning plan of the authorities, the deportation of the Dukhobors here solved several problems at once: in addition to the actual isolation of dangerous heretics and the impossibility of spreading their ideas in remote areas, new deserted lands needed colonization. The calculation was also that in the neighborhood of hostile Turkish tribes the Dukhobors would be forced to abandon their pacifist ideas and take up arms in order to protect themselves and the new state border.

Dukhobors village of Gorelovka in Javakheti, 1983

Javakheti, historically inhabited by Armenians and Georgians, was depopulated as a result of numerous wars, Arab and Turkish conquest. After the territory was joined to Russian Empire, the Christian population began to return to their historical homeland. Good-neighborly relations were established between them and the Doukhobors.

Russians, accustomed to agriculture find themselves in lack of fertile lands in mountains. To make their end meet they learned cattle breeding from Armenians. Instead, the Caucasians borrowed potato culture, which ripens perfectly even in the harsh mountain climate. Mutually beneficial cultural exchange took place, of course, in the architectural, culinary, and household spheres. At the same time, mixed marriages were banned in the community, and the Doukhobors managed to preserve their spiritual traditions in an almost unchanged form.

Burning Arms and the First Exodus from Georgia

The Protestant work ethic and collectivism contributed to the Dukhobors’ accumulation of wealth. Like Jews and Starovers in Russia, by the end of the 19th century they had become owners of the largest farms in Georgia, simultaneously setting the local non-Russian population against themselves, dissatisfied with inequality. The pressure on the community was also increased by the authorities: in 1895, in response to the introduction of universal conscription in Transcaucasia, the Dukhobors organized a mass burning of weapons. Some historians consider it to be the first pacifist protest in history. The repression ended with the mass emigration of the Dukhobors from Georgia to Canada, organized with the support of Lev Tolstoy, ideologically close to the pacifist traditions of the Georgian Russians.

Dukhobors preparing for deportation to Canada, 1899
Soviet Time, Perestroika, and the Second Exodus

The already shrunken Dukhobor population was hit hard even more by the Bolshevik policy of dekulakization and atheism inforecement. Nevertheless, the historic Dukhobor villages were still populated mostly by Russians until the late 1980s. The Dukhobors lost the possibility to openly believe after Lenin came into power, but they have succesfully preserved their culture based on more of an ethnic and historical basis rather than a confessional one. Perestroika and glasnost, on the one hand, led to a return of religious traditions in the community, but on the other hand, to the growth of interethnic tension. The nationalistic enthusiasm in Georgia and the chauvinistic statements of Gamsakhurdia, the first president of the independent country, frightened the Dukhobors. Hundreds of families had fled to Russia under the state program of «Return of compatriots». While in 1989 there were over 3,000 Russians living in the district, by 2004 only 700 have still remained.

The village of Novy, built for Dukhobor settlers migrated from Georgia to the Russian Tambov region in 2008.
Saakashvili and the Third Exodus

After Saakashvili came to power, the Dukhobors’ situation improved. The national policy of the new government, hostile to Moscow regime, was based on an friendly attitude towards Russians, e.g. after Russia introduced visas for Georgians, there was no mirroring response from Georgian officials. The Dukhobor cooperative has had its debts forgiven, and a new road has been built with U.N. and U.S. money, providing a year-round connection between Dukhobors country and Tbilisi. The Russian school was preserved and repaired, and the main community center was given historical monument status and had been renovated. However, an anti-Georgian propaganda campaign in the Russian media, deployed amid strained Russian-Georgian relations and the war in 2006-2008, affected the Dukhobors’ minds. Lacking access to an alternative perspective due to their lack of knowledge of the Georgian language, many Dukhobors were once again scared of ethnic discrimination and left the country. In addition, the increased Armenian and Georgian population in the historically Dukhobor settlements deprived the Russians out of political representation in the local authorities, finally turning the Dukhobor community into a national minority. A recent study from 2017 puts the number at no more than 200 remaining Dukhobors in Georgia.

Current condition of Dukhoboria

The map of the Dukhoboria country
Spatial structure

Georgian Dukhoboria is located today in the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti, in the municipality of Ninontsminda. The villages are concentrated in the mountainous region, at an altitude of about 2000 meters above sea level, in a harsh climate with long and snowy winters and cool summers. The first settlers in 1841 were founded eight villages: Bogdanovka, Gorelovka, Tambovka, Rodionovka, Spasovka, Orlovka, Efremovka and Troitskoye. Two more villages, Kalmykovo and molokanian Vladimirovka, were added later. Today, the Dukhobor population still remains in all 8 historical villages.  

Structurally Dukhoboriya is divided into two clusters of villages. 1 — Tambovka, Rodionovka and Vladimirovka, located around the mountainous Lake Paravani. 2 — other villages, stretching along the Gyumri-Akhaltsikhe highway almost to the Georgian-Armenian border.

The village Gorelovka is the capital of the Dukhobor community, where the majority of the Dukhobor families live and where the Sirotskiy Dom is located. This is the community center and the place of collective prayers. Besides, the Russian-speaking school is situated in Gorevolka. The empty village of Kalmykovo is still an important sacral site: here is the cemetery of the first settlers, a sacred gravestones that the Dukhobors worship. Bogdanovka was renamed as Ninotsminda in 1991, it is the administrative center of the municipality, but due to fact that almost all Dukhobor population is extinct here, it no longer has any real significance for the Dukhobor community. 

The toponymy
A directory sign with the Russian names of Dukhobor villages duplicated in Georgian

The names of the Dukhobor villages were mainly the same as the original names of the villages in the Russian provinces, from where the resettlement started in 1841. On the background of the rise of national self-consciousness that swept over Georgia in the early 1990s, the countrywide wave of renaming had started. Soviet and Russian names of cities and villages had been changed to Georgian names, this process also affected the Dukhoboria. In 1991 Bogdanovka became Ninotsminda, Rodionovka became Paravani (according to the name of the lake), and Troitskoye became Sameba. Interesting fact is that during the Soviet period Troitskoye was called Kalinovka, (Communists wanted to get rid of the religious root in the naming, and Troitskoye was named after Holy Trinity) . The Georgian authorities, however, returned the village name to its former meaning, translating it into their language («Sameba» means «Trinity» in Georgian). Today, with practically no Dukhobor population left in the villages, there is a high risk of further renaming of them: Georgian and Armenian majority are not interested in preserving the historical toponyms. The loss of the Russian names of these villages will completely erase this unique layer of history from the map of Georgia, which will be a tragedy for the country cultural herritage.

Population dynamics

By our estimation, there are approximately 40 Russian Dukhobor families left in Dukhobor by 2022, or just over 100 people out of a total population of approximately 7,700 in the district.

Dynamics of the Russian population of Dukhoboria

Current population (August 2022):

  • Bogdanovka (since 1991 Ninontsminda): 5200 people, 2 Russian Dukhobor families
  • Gorelovka: 1200 people, about 30 Russian Dukhobor families
  • Tambovka: 140 people, 1 Russian Dukhobor family
  • Rodionovka (from 1991 Paravani): 280 people, 1 mixed Russian-Armenian family
  • Spasovka: 270 persons, 1 Russian Dukhobor family.
  • Orlovka: 250 persons, 1 Russian Dukhobor family.
  • Efremovka: 140 people, 4 families of Russian Dukhobors.
  • Troitskoye (since 1991 Sameba): 70 people, 1 Dukhobor family
  • Kalmykovo: 0 people
Interethnic relations

The vast majority of the population in Dukhoboria today are Armenians. There are also some Georgian-Adjarians resettled here from the mountain villages of Adjara (mainly Khulo), which were swept away by landslides in the early 1990s. Most of these eco-migrants live in the village Spasovka. All the Armenians we talked to were very respectful towards the Dukhobors, praising their hard work and calm nature. They are nostalgic about the times when there were many Russians in the villages, they say there used to be clean, tidiness and order were on streets, and all the houses were painted beautifully in white.


Apart from humans, Dukhoboria is inhabited by storks. Javakheti is the only region in Georgia where they can be found. Photo from the village of Troitskoye (Sameba)

The Russian Dukhobors who we talked to also spoke about the Armenians in a friendly manner, noting that the relationships are more pragmatic than personal: they can ask for something, exchange things, but the can not make really close connections with the Armenians. Close friendship is hindered by language and cultural barriers: Dukhobors noted that they feel like they are different here, like they are ethnic minority. Moreover, even the young Dukhobors that studied in schools in independent Georgia speak Georgian, but not Armenian. Despite these facts, a mixed Russian-Armenian family still lives in the village of Rodionovka (Paravani). Russian remains the language of interethnic communication, and most of the signs in stores in the region are either duplicated in Russian or written only in that language.

The economy

Today, most of the Dukhobors are dependent on welfare pensions, assistance from their relatives who have moved to Canada and Russia, and profits from selling cow’s milk. Interestingly, there is still a functioning cooperative in Gorelovka, where the Dukhobors have pastures collectively, share hay fields, take care of their cattle. In addition, the villagers have personal vegetable gardens where they grow potatoes and tomatoes. Recently, Dukhoboriya has become increasingly popular among tourists. From Tambovka starts a number of hiking routes in the mountains near Lake Paravani, there is a well developed navigation and camping. The orphanage in Gorelovka and the last house in Kalmykovo function as museums, and donations are collected for their activities. The Gorelovka Dukhobors, however, say that they are tired of the attention of journalists and are not trying to make money from tourists.

The harvested fields between Spasovka and Kalmykovo
The dialect

Dukhobors, as speakers of the Russian language, are in high demand as teachers in schools. At the same time, they speak a specific dialect of Russian: they pronounce sound «h» in spite of «g», they soften the endings of present tense verbs of the third person, and they also use some words that are no longer spoken in modern Russian. One young woman, who plans to become a language teacher, admitted to us that she tries to get rid of her dialect.

The attitude towards Russia and the community perspectives
Recently built police station in the former Bogdanovka (Ninontsminda since 1991)

None of the remaining Dukhobors we talked to were planning to move to Russia. Some are held back by their family, some have never been abroad and feel the country to be a distant place, and Georgian citizens need a visa to travel to Russia. The negative attitude towards Russian Fedration also is shaped by the image of Putin and the Russian-Ukrainian war he started. Dukhobors identify themselves exactly as Georgian Russians, they are generally satisfied with the Georgian state, they note good medical and social infrastructure, roads, absence of nepotism and corruption. It was surprising for us Russians to hear complimentary comments about the government from grandmothers in the villages, instead of the standard Russian trope about «everything has collapsed, and it used to be better» nostalgic things. Nevertheless, Russians in the villages are depressed by their ethnic loneliness: they feel like they are the last representatives of a culture that is fading away.

Architecture of the Dukhobors

The forced exile and subsequent life away from their ethnic territory led the Dukhobors to idealize their native historical environment, which is clearly visible in the settlement types and the architecture of the dwellings. They carefully reproduced the traditional Russian planning principles and architectural visual imagery to re-create their homeland in a foreign land. But at the same time, they invented new techniques that adapted traditional houses to completely different climatic conditions, used local materials and borrowed solutions from their new neighbors, Armenians and Georgians. So, a new branch of Russian folk architecture was born in the Javakheti mountains — unique and not yet studied.

The villages spatial structure
Comparison of Russian (on the left) and Armenian (on the right) villages spatial structure in Javaheti

Most Dukhobor villages have a linear structure, which is traditional for the Russian village since 19th century. Two mutually facing rows of houses are oriented with their gables towards the street, and there are narrow extended plots of land behind the houses. There is a striking difference between the structure of the Dukhobor villages and the neighboring Armenian ones, which are more compact with a chaotic pattern of houses.

The spatial structure of the Russian villages was formed in the conditions of fertile soils due to the rich traditions of agriculture and gardening, while the inhabitants of the Armenian villages were more inclined to cattle breeding. These facts can explain such a difference in the size of the household plots. Even in the harsh mountain climate, the Dukhobors continued to plant crops.

The straight street, the axis of the Dukhobor village, was historically shaped primarily by the gables of the houses, in other words, with the houses narrow facades. The red line of buildings was kept with respect: all the huts were standing side by side, with no bias. Houses were connected with the street by small offset.

Utility buildings were situated either in the back of the plot, behind the house, or along the streets. In the village of Tambovka, which stands on the shore of Lake Paravani, there are still buildings of traditional Russian saunas located closer to the water — a common spatial practice in villages of Russia itself.

Armenian and Georgian buildings of the later period significantly distorted the traditional structure of the Russian village, introducing disorder to the regular plan of the settlement and violating the paint The best preserved historical structure is found in the villages of Tambovka and Efremovka.

The Dukhobor Hut. Architecture of the traditional dwelling

In the villages of Russia, there are almost no houses of the first half of the nineteenth century left: they were rebuilt and replaced by new ones. In Dukhoboria, however, the traditional «huts» (which is how the locals call these houses) have been preserved in their original form in large numbers due to the land isolation. Here begins the most interesting part of our stories. The Dukhobor house is very similar to the traditional Russian village house «Izba» which can be found all over Russia: the original features of the house are readily identifiable by the window casings, the glazing, and the general floor plan. But at the same time it represents a unique typology, visual and constructive analogues of which do not exist anywhere else.

Conditions of the architecture formation

Very roughly Russian traditional dwellings can be divided into the southern type (Khata) and the northern type (Izba). Khats were built in a warmer climate, their walls were usually made of clay or saman (straw bricks), while Izbas were always built of logs, in order to keep heat for the long cold winter. The traditional Dukhobor dwelling represents a different branch of architectural evolution: it is a southern Khata that was suddenly moved into an unsuitable climate. A Khata had to become an Izba. 

Originally from the southern provinces of the Russian Empire, the Dukhobors were forced to adjust their construction skills to the harsh mountain conditions with long, cold winters, strong winds, and lots of snow. The Dukhobors were not familiar with the architectural techniques of the Russian North. By adapting local materials and borrowing construction technologies from their new neighbors, the forced migrants created their own version of a warm house from the traditional Southern Russian hut «khata-mazanka». 

The hut layout
The components of a Dukhobor hut

Dukhobor huts are low one-story structures with whitewashed walls and a low (almost flat) gable roof. The rectangular house usually consists of three spaces: the front hut, which faces the street; the anteroom «seny», where people enter the house; and the back hut or yard, which is used as a utility room. 

Wall materials
Houses made of log, stone and saman bricks

The oldest houses were built of wood, which used to be the most common material for Dukhobors back in Russia. The log huts were assembled from timber. However, in mountainous Javakheti, at an altitude of about 2,000 meters, there was practically no wood and it had to be transported from afar, so this material was soon no longer used: log houses are rare here. Most of the huts were built with saman bricks over which clay and white plaster were placed, a technique also common in the historical homeland of the Dukhobors. The use of local stone, such as limestone tufa and other rock materials, was an innovation. Regardless of the material, the walls were whitewashed, after which the house took on the familiar appearance of a mazanka. The whitewash plaster was made from limestone, which the Dukhobors brought from the south. They burned it in pits right inside their courtyards until lime was obtained.

Dukhobor houses are different from traditional south Russian huts because of the impressive thickness of the walls, an important tool to combat the cold in the harsh conditions of the Transcaucasian mountains.

The unique roofing constructions

The roof is the most unusual part of the Dukhobor dwelling. Its structure has no analogues in the Russian and Ukrainian traditional architecture. In the southern Russian and Ukrainian provinces the roofs were traditionally built with a four sided hip roof covered with straw or reeds. The gable roofs could be found in the northern regions with a lot of precipitation. In order to remove snow and water from the roof, these northern Izbas have a high-pitched roof. In contrast, we see very low slope in Dukhobors gable roofs, with a flat platform between the gable slopes.

Such a roof is covered with a large layer of turf with grass growing picturesquely on it. The Dukhobors call this layer a » blanket». This sod roofing is not typical for Russian architecture: such a solution was widely used in Scandinavian countries and in certain regions of northern Russia, because it perfectly retains heat in cold climates. But people from southern provinces, Dukhobors could not know about such a technology, so their «green» roofs are their own innovation, adapting the southern «Khata» house to the frost. The need to retain a large amount of soil can explain such a gentle, almost flat shape of the roof slopes.   

The disadvantage of the sod roofing is its heavy weight with a thick layer of snow added to a layer of turf, stone and grass in the winter. To hold that weight, you need strong bearing structures: the roof can not just lean on the walls, as it has traditionally been done in the Russian or Ukrainian dwellings. Dukhobors have developed a unique structural system of the roof: there were a number of T-shaped pillars standing along the whole house, the top horizontal bar of which was attached to the vertical pillar with two brackets — therefore the structure resembles a trident. Two ridgepols logs were parallely placed to the pillars, at a distance of about half a meter from each other. These logs passed through the entire house and carried the rafters (10-12), on which in turn the planks and soil were placed. As a result, the heavy roof almost did not put a load on the walls of the building, which provided an amazing strength to the house. Probably only thanks to this construction the Dukhobor huts survived the frequent earthquakes of Javakheti and have been preserved in their original form. 

The roof-bearing trident pillars are the main distinctive feature, a «chip» of the Dukhobor house. They are part of the main facade of the houses — the Dukhobors were the pioneers who were no longer shy about displaying building structures, long before the era of avant-garde and metal modernism (although in some houses the posts were still hidden within a stone wall). Two horn-like ridgepoles went beyond the facade plane and, together with the trident, formed a unique stern image.

«Horned» house with two ridgepoles in the village of Rodionovka

The ground was kept from sliding down from the roof by a fencing plank that ran along the entire eaves. The plank was an alternative to «the stream» — a water gutter in the traditional Russian architecture: in addition to its constructive function, it drained water from the roof. Like «the stream» in a traditional Russian house, the board was supported by wooden or stone hooks, sometimes made in the form of a bird’s head. The plank itself could also be decorated with carvings.

Such a unique roof design is probably not only an example of the Dukhobors’ brilliant adaptation of the southern Russian dwelling to the cold climate, but also an illustration of cultural exchange and borrowing of technology from the new neighbors. Flat green roofs of soil «banuri» have been used for centuries in southeast Georgia (Javakheti and nearby Meskheti). Georgians called such houses «baniani sakhli» or «brkelbaniani» (ბრტყელბანიანიანი). The soil roof of such a house was entirely flat and layed on one or two rows of pillars, depending on the area of the room, with grass growing on top. The old Georgian villages of Javakheti and neighboring Meskheti that were ravaged by the war could still partially survived, so thay might have been a source of inspiration for the Dukhobors that happened to be here and told them which roof would not let them get cold in the harsh mountain winters.

In order to give the roof structure a more traditional and tidy appearance, the Dukhobors closed the front part of the roof with a triangular wooden fronton imitating the triangular gable roof. The fronton was decorated in many ways: artistic carvings, a hand-carved towel, and a false attic window were placed there. The gable fronton concealed the presence of two ridgepoles, a flat platform between the roof slopes and trident column, making the house look more like a typical Southern-Russian hut. 

The Dukhobors call the gable of the house «preacholok», which means a «hairdo».

Windows: carved platbands and shutters

Perhaps the main marker of «Russian» in architecture are the wooden platbands on the windows. Almost every hut in Dukhobor is decorated with them. The long winter gave a peasant a lot of free time, and encouraged the advancement of the art of woodcarving. The pattern of the platbands is very diverse, yet familiar — similar designs can be found in villages all across Russia. In addition to the platbands, the windows usually had shutters, which were sometimes decorated with artistic paintings. This tradition of window decoration proved surprisingly durable: platbands and shutters are still in use even in new houses of the region, including some Armenian ones. This architectural element is familiar to every Russian since childhood, making the nostalgic feelings of the Russian expat all the more intense.

Terrace (with Georgian roots?)

The pillar gallery that surrounds the Dukhobor house on one or both sides is very similar to a traditional element of Georgian architecture, the terraces-ayvans. It is possible that the Dukhobors borrowed this architectural technique from the Georgians, but this hypothesis is contradicted by several facts. Firstly, there were practically no contacts with Georgians in the first decades of Dukhobor villages existance: Javakheti was devastated, and the Russians lived there in isolation. At the same time, there are galleries even on the oldest houses dating from the 1840s (although they could have been added later). Secondly, such structures can also be found in buildings of South Russian and Ukrainian provinces: there were plenty of sunshine there, which dictated the creation of shaded spaces not only in Georgia. Nevertheless, we can almost certainly state that the later Dukhobor houses (from the beginning of the XX century) adopted the carved decoration of the brackets on the gallery pillars from the Georgians. Almost identical carving patterns are found on aivans in Tbilisi and throughout Georgia. Thus, in Dukhoboria we can witness an amazing mixture of two national architectural schools: a house with Russian carved platbands and, at the same time, a Georgian terraced aivan.

The terrace pillars standed on the soil rampart that surrounded the house on all sides and protected it from frost penetration in winter. In Russia this rampart is called «zavalinka». It could be a simple soil pile, an saman wall or even a stone structure. A bench was placed on the rampart — a very traditional technique for Russian architecture, which you would not expect to find in Georgia.

The Dukhobor architecture evolving

As the years passed and the Dukhobors became more integrated into the Transcaucasian society, new technologies were introduced into their culture so the architecture changed as well. In the first half of the 20th century the traditional hut was no longer around: it was replaced by something that modern Dukhobors called a «house» as opposed to a «khata». New houses were made of stone, were well insulated, and had a high gable roof with an attic. Nothing remained of the old roofing technology: the roof was laid with timber, metal sheeting, and slate, but not with turf. The house was considerably taller, windows were larger, and a veranda or porch was added to the entrance hall. A large gable now had a stained-glass window in the attic. However, the appearance of the house kept its former features — the walls were still covered with white plaster, the windows retained their platbands and shutters. The gallery-ayvan was also preserved (and even developed). Some modern Dukhobor houses were built of Armenian tufa and have a four-slope roof — in the late 20th century the Armenian population in Dukhobor outnumbered the Russian population, and the penetration of architectural techniques from another culture accelerated. 

Today the majority of Dukhobors have left their homes, and their place is taken by Armenians and Georgian-Adjars. The new residents modify historically Russian buildings according to their traditions and experience: some buildings are no longer whitewashed, some have rooms added to them, and some have had their platbands and shutters removed. Russian stoves are removed from the houses and replaced by smaller fireplaces or tandoor. Old huts are rebuilt for utility purposes. The unique architecture of the Dukhobors is threatened by their exodus, as the Russian houses may also soon disappear, leaving no memory of the amazing culture that was once thriving in Javakheti. 

Interiors and household items
Dome ceiling
The vaulted ceiling of a hut in the village of Rodionovka (Parovani)

The interior decoration of Dukhobor huts closely resembles the interiors of the houses of the Russian North — it is spacious and minimalistic. Due to the roofing specifics, there was no attic in the houses, and therefore no flat ceiling (the roof slope was too low for it). Therefore, the living space in the house ends with a dome arched vault — the roof bottom, making the rooms of the compact hut visually wider. 

Bumpy floor
The floor in the hut of Svetlana and her son Arakel from the village of Rodionovka (Parovani)

It is surprising, but apart from the attic abscence, there was also no basement — the was no any space between ground and the floor. Such a technology, raising the house above the ground, was extremely common in the northern provinces of Russia, but was unknown in the southern ones — the warm climate and low precipitation allowed the house to be put directly on the ground. The Dukhobors of the southern origin continued to place their weighty house directly on the freezing ground: the presence of a rocky foundation often made the construction of a foundation unnecessary. Inside the house, the floor was a rammed soil covered with clay — this could not be perfectly aligned, so the hut floor was bumpy. In the XX century, such floors began to be cemented and covered with boards, but they still remain in many houses.

Walls as thick as a castle and embrasure window

The walls were also whitewashed inside the house with wallpaper later put on them. The enormous thickness of the walls is evident in the window frames, resembling fortress embrasures. In contrast to this severity there are light lace curtains used in huts. Under the old Russian tradition, the Dukhobors still keep greenhouse tomatoes on the deep window sills.

The Russian Stove

In the corner of the hut there was a Russian stove. There could be two in the house — one in the front and one in the back of the hut. It is surprising to find massive whitewashed Russian stoves in the mountains of Georgia, as they are absolutely identical to the stoves in Russian villages. The stoves were heated with dung, due to the shortage of timber. Because of the low roof, there was no need for a brick chimney — the smoke was led out by a small wooden flue. Nowadays, Russian stoves, which are not very economical, are hardly used either by the Dukhobors or by the Armenians who have now occupied their homes, so they are supplemented by small fireplaces. Modern residents of ancient huts eagerly get rid of Russian stoves, greatly expanding the area of rooms, but destroying a valuable historical artifact.

A pillar to be worshipped

There were benches placed along the walls of the hut, as a traditional Russian dwelling should have. In the middle of the room there is a trident pillar, supporting the roof. This pillar was decorated with paintings, carvings or shawls. Although it has no sacral meaning, it still centred the inner space of the house in an idol-like manner, and resembled a pillar-«mother» that is typical for a traditional Georgian darbazi house. There is nothing like it in any other branch of folk Russian and Ukrainian architecture: this column makes the interior of the Dukhobor house unique.

The iconless icon corner

The Dukhobors did not accept crosses or icons, so it was strange to see an analog of the icon corner inside their houses. However, in the same place where Orthodox people used to put a lamp and an icon in Russian and Ukrainian villages, the Dukhobors hung a clock on the wall. Rejecting any traditional religious symbolism, they nevertheless invented their own: a lovely picture of a daisy flower decorates the gables of houses, the tiles of stoves, and the carvings of platbands.

Shelves of tableware, striped mats, wooden furniture, and a Russian stove — despite nearly two centuries of separate existence, we easily recognize the native aesthetic in Dukhobor huts.



The most remote and (probably because of this) intact Dukhobor village, located on the shore of Lake Paravani. 

Statistics of the preservation of Dukhobor huts:

7 — residential, in good condition
8 — uninhabited, but in good condition, conserved
7 — are ruined, in ruinous condition

There is 1 Russian family in the village: Lyubov Rylkova and her daughter.

Rodionovka (Paravani)

The most picturesque village of Dukhoboria is located on the relief shore of Lake Paravani. A considerable number of farm buildings have been preserved also. Local rock stone was used to build the houses. The old huts are in poor condition, most are destroyed and rearranged.

Stone house with whitewashing in Rodionovka village

Statistics on the preservation of Dukhobor huts:

6 — residential, in good condition
5 — uninhabited, but in normal condition, mothballed
7 — deteriorating, in ruinous condition

One mixed Russian-Armenian family lives in the village: Svetlana Bublichenko with her Armenian husband and children.

The store building in Spasovka

Statistics on the preservation of Dukhobor huts:

3 — residential, in good condition
3 — uninhabited, but in normal condition, mothballed
4 — are ruined, in ruinous condition

There is 1 Russian family in the village: Nikolai and Nura Kurbatov.

Orlovka streetview

A large and lively village. Many houses are inhabited by Armenians and rebuilt. Most of the Russian houses are newer, early 20th century. A historic Dukhobor farmhouse has been preserved.

Statistics on the preservation of Dukhobor huts:

22 — residential, in good condition
3 — uninhabited, but in good condition, conserved
5 — are ruined, in ruinous condition

There is 1 Russian family in the village: Svetlana.


Sacred place of the Dukhobor community. Historically, the family of Nikolai Kalmykov, one of the leaders of the movement, lived here. Today his house has been restored and transformed into a gathering place for community members. There are also «mogilochki» — gravestones of the first settlers, who are worshipped as saints by the Dukhobors.


The capital of Dukhoboria. Most of the remaining Russians live here (about 30 families), and a school named after Leo Tolstoy operates here. The main community center — the former Orphanage — is also located here. The summer house of Lukeria Kalmykova, a prominent Dukhobor activist and leader of the community in the late 19th century, stands out in its ensemble. The summer house, which was built as a «palace of the Queen» by the entire community, is an amazing fusion of Georgian and Russian architecture. Two-storeyed, it is surrounded on all sides by carved galleries-ayvans, decorated with exquisite paintings and ornamentation.

The crane well, which the Dukhobors call «pereves»?

A large and lively village. Many houses are occupied by Armenians and were rebuilt. 

Efremovka main street

Statistics on the preservation of Dukhobor huts:

20 — residential, in good condition
3 — uninhabited, but in normal condition, conserved
6 — are falling apart, in ruinous condition

There are 4 Russian families living in the village.

Troitskoye (Sameba)

Here, the newer Dukhobor houses (early 20th century) are mostly preserved. The houses are in good condition, although some are being rebuilt by Armenians.

Russian house almost on the Georgian-Armenian border

9 — residential, in good condition
1 — is deteriorating, in ruinous condition

One Russian family lives in the village: Vladimir Zhmarev and his daughters.

The conclusion. Why are russian newcomers and dukhobors importaNt to each other

The flow of expats to Georgia from Russia has brought with it many unique competencies, knowledge, and skills. They are looking for opportunities to apply themselves here, but often face accusations of colonialism. Recently, for example, the expat community of urban planners criticized the team of enthusiastic restorationists who moved from Moscow and St. Petersburg and had announced the start of their work in Tbilisi.

A Russian emigrant who would prefer Tambovka or Gorelovka (which, by the way, has an excellent Internet connection) to Tbilisi would be free to create without fear of being accused of colonialism.  

Indeed, the cultural gap between Russian and Georgian societies is huge. Different history, values, language and post-Soviet experiences make it impossible for Russians to effectively integrate into Georgian society without years of cultural and language studies immersion. Members of the Georgian architectural community have told us that they are not interested in the knowledge of expats, and even less in need of their help: the countries are too different. The activist enthusiasm of young Russians, accustomed to self-organization and creativity in Russia, may remain neglected and even rejected in Georgia, inevitably creating frustration and exclusion in the society of the new Russians of Tbilisi. 

The knowledge of Dukhoboria, on the other hand, could fundamentally change the situation. Historically Russian villages are a great site for Russian expats to volunteer and create. There is plenty of work for restorers, architects, artists and event makers. The lonely last Russian Dukhobor families need friendship, equal fellowship, and help with household chores: they are in need for fellow-Russian neighbors. The unique Dukhobor huts, monuments to Russian architecture, need to be restored and maintained. With a common language and culture, the expats and Dukhobors have a lot to offer each other. A Russian expat could freely create without fear of accusations of colonialism, if he would prefer Tambovka or Gorelovka (where, incidentally, the Internet is excellent) to Tbilisi. The Georgian state could support such undertakings: first, to preserve Dukhoboria, a disappearing cultural hotspot on its territory; second, to «root» the incoming Russians — valuable professionals who are ready and able to be of service to society.

The Russian world is not Putin, not war and not the Russian Federation. The Russian world is platbands, it is Leo Tolstoy, it is village huts and izbas, it is a centuries-old tradition of pacifism and resistance to the authoritarian state.

What else can the Dukhobors give to expats, besides the essential feel of self-demand and sense of home? It is the knowledge that it is possible to live in Georgia and remain Russian. It is possible to respect Georgian culture at the same time, but also to preserve one’s own. It turns out that there is no need to get rid of the Russian identity, no necessity to shamefully hide your origin and distance yourself from it: after all the Russian world is not Putin, not war and not the Russian Federation. The Russian world is platbands, Leo Tolstoy, it is village izbas and khats, it is a centuries-old tradition of pacifism and resistance to the authoritarian state. To live and create in Georgia, it is not necessary to become a Georgian. Dukhobors can teach expats how to remain themselves.

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