"Haymarket Riot" of Kharkov: the Bloody Easter 1872

April 2022

Mikhailovska square (in Soviet times - Rudneva, now - Heavenly Hundred) has long been a traditional place for mass celebrations of Kharkiv residents. In 1872, Easter fell on April 16, but the fun did not last long. The holiday was interrupted by a street fight that escalated into a massacre. For several days, the townspeople beat the cops and smashed the police stations. To pacify the unrest, were used the military troops. This was the first mass action of the workers and artisans of Kharkov against the tsarist regime.

Unlike Chicago 1886, no one was hanged, so this event is unknown abroad, but in Kharkiv memory about it remains alive to this day. Pictured is the aftermath of a Russian airstrike on this quiet historic area at the beginning of spring 2022. And please support our digital media center via this page to help the civilian residents of Kharkov being under shelling during all time of this madness.

Submitted by Thunderbird on April 19, 2022

In those days, a century and a half ago, the border of the "clean city" of merchants and officials with the suburbs of the poor and factory settlements passed along Mikhailovska square. Near the square there were houses rented by workers' artels. In one of the apartments, the company, after violent libations, started a fight. The owner of the living space failed to appease the heated ones, and he called the bailiff. The police rounded up the troublemakers. It was planned to deliver them to the 1st station, the building of which was adjacent to the square, where the bailiff Shmeliov was in charge. In the meantime, the square was filled with a lot of people, among whom there were enough drunken workers and street hooligans. Those who gathered demanded the release of the detainees and the extradition of Shmeliov.

Kharkiv residents celebrating Easter began to beat off the arrested from the policemen. Several equestrian cossacks tried to restore order to the square, but they were stoned. Then the head of the station, Shmelev, ordered the fire brigade to disperse the people - in those days, firefighters not only put out fires, but were also involved in law enforcement.

Horse-drawn carriages of firefighters at full gallop crashed into the crowd. Panic and stampede began, in which five citizens died, including two children: a 15-year-old girl and a baby who was in the arms of a nanny. Firefighters doused people with water from hoses, but this only inflamed the crowd. Hand-to-hand combat began, which acquired a massive scale. Mikhailovska square has turned into a battlefield:

"The bailiff Shmeliov called the fire brigade to disperse the crowd and ordered to pour water over the crowd from fire pipes, through which there were already clashes and fights between the people and firefighters, who ran in the crowd with axes and struck blows with ax butts; but one of the firefighters, badly beaten the crowd, rushed unconscious into the crowd, and with a wave of an ax chopped the head of an absolutely innocent soldier who was passing through the square and carrying government packages in his bag. This murder of a soldier so embittered the crowd of people that it started beating firefighters and policemen and set about destroying the police station located on this square, demanding the release of those detained from the crowd by policemen".
Novitsky V.D. "From the Memoirs of a Gendarme"

Angry people surrounded the building of the 1st police station and began to smash it. Kharkov governor-general Dmitry Nikolaevich Kropotkin (Piotr Kropotkin's cousin), the judicial chamber prosecutor Pisarev and investigators arrived at the scene of the riots. Their promises to look into the actions of Shmeliov and punish the perpetrators did not work: the governor was expelled from the square, and the police unit (which is also the bailiff's apartment) was soon taken by storm. The captives were released, the cops fled. Twilight fell on the city, but the unrest continued.

Protesters attacked the governor's house. Those who were in it barely managed to escape, escaping from the crowd through vegetable gardens and orchards. The commander of the Kharkov garrison, General Makukhin, was ordered to bring armed soldiers to the streets (there were barracks just next to the square). A team of 60 fighters arrived at the square. Under the drum roll, they pushed the people back and freed the 1st station, which by that time had been defeated. By nightfall, the troops took both Mikhailovska square and the police station.

In the early morning of April 17, the situation in the town continued to escalate. People gathered on the square again, demanding from the authorities the extradition of Shmeliov. The actions of the police from the 2nd Nikolayev (central) unit and firefighters were not successful. The crowd surrounded the soldiers guarding the ruins of the police station. An eyewitness to these events was Vasily Novitsky, who in the future will become the head of the Kiev gendarmes and the mayor of Odessa. On Easter 1872 he came to Kharkov to visit relatives:

“The next day, early in the morning, the same police station, guarded by a military team, began again to be surrounded by a crowd, from which they threw stones and eggs at the sentries and cursed. The captain of this team, Malyavin, appeared to General Makukhin, doused with eggs from head to toe, and asked to strengthen the composition of the team, which was threatened with the seizure of rifles; with the same statement, in my presence, one of the infantry commanders, Colonel Khrushchov, came to General Makukhin. The governor appeared on the square again, but could not move the crowds away from the site, but did not begin to help the troops.

There is one interesting detail in these memoirs. Novitsky walked around the city without fear of being beaten because he put on a Cossack uniform: "this was insured against all kinds of violence and attacks." According to him, Captain Malyavin, the commander of the soldiers guarding the police station, arrived at General Makukhin. An officer in an egg-stained uniform reported that the townspeople threw stones at the soldiers and threatened to take away their weapons. Malyavin asked to send reinforcements, but Makukhin could not fulfill his request without an order from the city authorities.

The sun and shadow at the site of the collision of broken history with broken modernity near the Court of Appeal. In total, at least four bomb craters were counted in this neighborhood

Governor-General Kropotkin arrived at Mikhailovska square again, urging the public to disperse. People didn't listen to him. Kropotkin was afraid to use military units against citizens and decided to use firefighters again. Once again, a word to Novitsky:

"Сalled the fire brigade of another section, which, with the appearance of it, was instantly, in the literal sense of the word, destroyed by the crowd, the barrels were chopped, the horses were harnessed and rushed along with the firemen along the square and the street; firefighters, being beaten, clutching at axes, butts fought off the blows inflicted by them from a crowd armed with stones taken from the pavements.After that, the governor asked the commander of the troops, Adjutant General Kartsov, to send troops to the square; while the troops had gathered in sufficient numbers, there was an infantry team - and as soon as it turned to the square and offered its rear, - the crowd rushed at the team, which, running across the square, reached the booths, stopped and, leaning on them, spontaneously opened fire from rifles; several dead and wounded appeared, whom the crowd carried to the governor's house and the state bank, where troops were sent to guard the governor's house and the bank."

As we can see, after the second and unsuccessful attempt to calm the rebellion, the governor-general ordered the use of the troops that arrived with him on the square. A team of infantry was sent against the townspeople. Entering the square, the column of soldiers turned its back to the crowd. Several thousand rebels, armed with sticks and stones, rushed to the attack and crushed the line. The infantrymen ran across the square and, having secured themselves from behind with barracks, opened fire.

The wounded and the dead appeared in the crowd, and the wave of people receded back. A stray bullet hit the viewer - the hussar cornet Sushkov; one of the unrest participants was stabbed to death with bayonets. The rebels did not continue the attack, but carried the body of one of those shot to the governor's house. Archbishop Nektary was able to stop the people, calling for a joint prayer service for the dead and leading the rebels along Moscow street (now avenue). The protesters moved along Moskovska street to the city center, simultaneously capturing and destroying the building of the Nikolayev police unit on the square of the same name - now it is Constitution square:

"After that, Archbishop Nektary arrived on the square to exhort the people, who persuaded the crowd to follow him to the bishop's house to listen to prayer. The crowd followed his carriage, but along the entire Moskovskaya street the crowd walked with unfurled red, revolutionary flags and, having reached Nikolayevska square, rushed to the building of the city police and destroyed it in the same way as the Mikhailovsky police station, which in my eyes was destroyed so that only walls and the roof remained, and the doors, windows, frames were completely destroyed, like all the property as a district police station, and their own, which belonged to the police officials lived in the station. The cases of the city police were thrown out of the building and were blown by the wind in sheets along Nikolayev square. The crowd was driven away from the building of the city police by shots of the troops and went to pray to the bishop's house, from where they dispersed. From the shots several people were injured. outside without the risk of being beaten or killed. I myself saw on the square the former Kharkov police chief Prozhansky in one tattered shirt; the uniform and other accessories of the garment were torn on him; shreds of his clothes dangled from him. With the arrival of troops, mainly cavalry, and with the appearance of military patrols on the streets of the city, on the third day the riots subsided and did not recur. These riots, I repeat and confirm again, were undoubtedly developed by the revolutionaries and represented a dangerous spectacle - in terms of consequences - from a crowd of several thousand people, which was a monster, armed with anything, and mainly with stones".

Throughout the town, gendarmes and policemen, both active and retired, were beaten. An attempt by the workers of Goncharovka to capture the 3rd Zalopanska police station was repulsed by the soldiers, they opened fire again. The wounded appeared, but the residents listened to Nectary, who (matching such sweet name!) calmed the crowd and held a prayer service at his house on the territory of the Holy Intercession Monastery (for this, Kropotkin, along with him and part of the people, went from Mikhailovska square to the monastery in a penitent procession). On April 18, reinforced soldier patrols and cavalry appeared on the streets of the town, and the riots did not resume.

The Palace of Justice, where the Court of Appeal now sits, was built in the central part of this square according to the design of Academician Beketov in 1889-1902

Adjutant General Nikolai Mezentsov arrived to investigate the causes of the unrest. Officially, during the events of the 16-17th April, 27 people were killed and seriously injured, according to rumors - much more. In total, over 3,000 people took part in the riots. The authorities searched for the "committee" that raised the uprising and even tried to enter into negotiations with it through university professors, but to no avail. Shmeliov was acquitted by the court in the summer of 1873 for the absence of corpus delicti in his order.

Unrest broke out quite spontaneously as a response to police brutality due to a banal domestic quarrel, but subsequent events were fueled by ringleaders from the revolutionary circles, which were just beginning to strengthen in the working-class districts of Kharkov. This, in particular, is indicated by the fact that those walking towards the house of Nektary shouted out revolutionary slogans and carried red flags. Novitsky wrote about it this way:

"At that time, I had absolutely no idea about politics, about social revolutionary propaganda and movement; I was far from any thought of giving these street riots any shade or character of political significance. But later, after several years of my service in the gendarme corps and a full acquaintance with the social revolutionary movement moving towards Russia and growing at that time within Russia, I could not but come to a positive conclusion and the inference that the riots in Kharkov in 1872 already had an unequivocally political character and coloring, supported by local, only born in the city of Kharkov, social revolutionaries, whom I personally did not know, but saw in the crowd as instigators; specs with dark blue glasses - in order to change their appearance and be unrecognized. The case of the unrest came from an unpretentious and ordinary cause, but the riots in their further development were due to the incitement of the crowd by the revolutionaries who appeared, influenced the crowd of drunken brawlers, of which there were a lot on the occasion of holidays, usually held by the mob in organized annually on Mikhailovska square booths, with folk performances and swings".

Gendarmerie Lieutenant General Vasily Novitsky lived for 70 years and died a natural death in 1907. Other prominent participants in the Kharkov unrest then were killed. Governor-General Kropotkin was shot near his house in 1879 by a Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) member Grigory Goldenberg. The attack was a response to the secret murders of prisoners of the notorious Novo-Belgorod Central in the current Pechenegi village, closed by the next governor Mikael Loris-Melikov (future prime minister of the Russian Empire). A year earlier, Sergey Kravchinsky mortally wounded Nikolai Mezentsov, who had already risen to the rank of gendarme chief. At the urging of Mezentsov, the tsar refused to grant the Senate's request for a commutation of the sentences of those convicted in the trial of the 193rd. “For the katorga torment of my comrades, Mezentsov must die,” Kravchinsky decided, instead of shooting at the enemy from around the corner, wishing to stab him with a dagger, meeting face to face on the street and thereby providing a chance for resistance. Several times when meeting with him - those were still unimaginable times when the chief gendarme walked along the street among passers-by, accompanied by only one guard - Kravchinsky abandoned his intention: he could not raise his hand to kill a person. After the assassination of Mezentsov, the revolutionary will write a pamphlet "Death for Death", where he criticized the idea that individual terror can bring about a social revolution ("class power can overthrow only a class") and regard terror only for self-defense. Later, Kravchinsky would say: "Murder is a terrible thing, there is only one thing worse than it: to endure injustice without a murmur"...

In addition, we highly recommend you to look at such our colourful photo excursus along revolutionary sights of Darwin street where the Kharkov anarchists were based in 1917-1918.

Besides, see also a collection of stories about the current revival of the tsarist imperial order in the part of Kharkiv region under Russian occupation.