This page was created by Elena Sokoloski. 

The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Literary Genius

I abhor this place.

It is a caricature of itself, with “multicolored caftans, Turkish pantaloons, fezzes, turbans, European frock coats, and military uniforms” (Hamm 33), victim of its own indecision. I would compare it to Sodom, except that it has “all of the vices and none of the enlightenment or hospitality of that Biblical city” (33). All over the city echoes itself in fractured light, while the smell of the winding ribbon that is the puddle Byk washes over everything within its reach. Even if the people were not lazy or boring or uneducated or disinterested in that moral fiber which animates the rest of Russia to greatness, it would not achieve anything of value: the forests are stripped bare from overuse, the water overburdened as much as it could be, and those peaceful moments on the upper bank squares just wrong enough, like the reflection of Petersburg in a cracked mirror.

It’s undeveloped in all the key sectors: How a city will support such a large and fractured population without the use of industry is astounding, yet the craftsmen all work for themselves alone. The canals are shallow and the railroads laid out lead to pointless places, within Bessarabia alone, as if anyone would ever wish to depart Kishinev for a place even less suited to human habitation than it. The people eat what is available, there is no sense of culture or taste as there was during the time of the great Tsars before. They don’t cover their tables and for every prayer uttered to God above, they whisper five more for the sorcerer among them, praying she spare them from her wrath (Bugnion 75). When they think they have discovered one among them, they proceed to her house in a search mob, uncivilized as they are (71).

Perhaps these are just the common people, you say. Those without reminder of the dignified way to live, or who lacked the proper training in their youth to be a proper member of the Russian society (never mind that this applies to nearly all who live there) may be blights upon the imperial splendor, but what of the dignified classes? The police and administrative workers here all exchange bribes with impunity: There are a select few who refuse to do so, but the majority believe that a basic level of bribe is appropriate for any who wish to achieve any amount of protection from the local government, and even a few more who exact such a high price in their dealings that they put a blight on the entire system. This moral laxness, utterly unregulated and unshameful, is representative of the city as a whole.

What is so bad, so awful, so unbearable about exile? In a place like Kishinev … the question speaks its own truth.


Pushkin was exiled to Kishinev for a short period of time. Long story short, he hated it.


This vignette attempts to understand how high-class Russians perceived Bessarabia, criticizing it for faults present throughout the kingdom but which amassed in the little frontier-town in a concentration too high to be ignored. A bad replication of Russia proper, almost a perversion, the frontier-town represented what, to many, was an unconquerable land, undesirable both in its resources and in its people.

Bugnion, M. La Bessarabie: Ancienne et Moderne. Ouvrage historique, géographique, et statistique. Chez l'auteur, 1846.
Clark, Charles Upson. Bessarabia. 1927.
Hamm, Michael. The character and development of a Tsarist Frontier Town, Nationalities Papers, 26:1, 19-37.

This page has paths:

This page references: