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Emelyan Ivanovich Pugachov (Russian: Емелья́н Ива́нович Пугачёв), born in 1740 or 1742 and executed in 1775, was a pretender to the Russian throne who led a great Cossack insurrection during the reign of Catherine II. Alexander Pushkin wrote a remarkable history of the rebellion; and he recounted some of the events in his novel Captain's Daughter (1836).
Pugachev, the son of a small Don Cossack landowner, married a Cossack girl, Sofia Nedyuzheva, in 1758, and in the same year participated in Seven Years' War as part of the Cossack expedition to Prussia under the command of Count Zakhar Chernyshev. In the first Russo-Turkish War (1768 - 1774), Pugachev, now a Cossack khorunzhiy (corresponding to the regular army rank of podporuchik, or junior lieutenant), served under Count Peter Panin and participated in the siege of Bender (1770).
Invalided home, Pugachev led for the next few years a wandering life. More than once the authorities arrested and imprisoned him as a deserter. In 1773, after frequenting the monasteries of the Old Believers, who exercised considerable influence over him, he suddenly proclaimed himself tsar Peter III and organised the insurrection of the Yaik Cossacks which ignited the flames of all-out peasant war in the lower Volga region.
Insurrection 1773 - 1774
The story of Pugachev's strong resemblance to the murdered tsar Peter III, whom his wife, the future empress Catherine II, had overthrown in 1762, comes from a later legend. Pugachev dubbed himself Peter III the better to attract to his standard all those numerous dissidents who attributed their misery to the government of Catherine, for the populace generally remembered Peter as Catherine's determined opponent. The destitute thousands who joined the new Peter had one aim: to sweep away utterly the intolerably oppressive upper classes.
Pugachev told the story that he and his principal adherents had escaped from the clutches of Catherine, and had now resolved to redress the grievances of the people, give absolute liberty to the Cossacks, and put Catherine herself away in a monastery. He held a sort of mimic court at which one Cossack impersonated Nikita Panin, another Zakhar Chernyshev, and so on.
The Russian government at first made light of the rising. At the beginning of October 1773 it simply regarded Pugachev as a nuisance, and offered a mere 500 roubles as a reward for the head of the troublesome Cossack. At the end of November it promised 28,000 roubles to whomsoever should bring him in, alive or dead. Even then, however, Catherine, in her correspondence with Voltaire, affected to treat l'affaire du Marquis de Pugachev as a mere joke, but by the beginning of 1774 the joke had developed into a very serious danger. All the forts on the Volga and Ural had now come into the hands of the rebels; the Bashkirs, led by Salawat Yulayev, had joined them; and the governor of Moscow reported great restlessness among the population of central Russia. Shortly afterwards Pugachev captured Kazan, reduced most of its churches and monasteries to ashes, and massacred all who refused to join him.
General Peter Panin thereupon set out against the rebels with a large army, but difficulty of transport, lack of discipline, and the gross insubordination of his ill-paid soldiers paralysed all his efforts for months, while the innumerable and ubiquitous bands of Pugachev gained victories in nearly every engagement. Not until August 1774 did General Mikhelson inflict a crushing defeat upon the rebels near Tsaritsyn, when they lost ten thousand killed or taken prisoner. Panin's savage reprisals, after the capture of Penza, completed their discomfiture. On September 14, 1774 Pugachev's own Cossacks delivered him up when he attempted to flee to the Urals. Aleksandr Suvorov had him placed in a metal cage and sent to Moscow for a public execution, which took place on January 10 1775.
- N. Dubrovin, Pugachiev and his Associates (Rus.; Petersburg, 1884)
- Catherine II., Political Correspondence (Rus. Fr. Ger.; Petersburg, 1885, &c.)
- S. I. Gnyedich, Emilian Pugachev (Rus.; Petersburg, 1902).
- Pushkin on Pugachov: God save us from the Russian riot, absurd and cruel
- Russian film on Pugachov (1999)
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