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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - #21, December, 2003



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

December, 2003:–

SONG: "Song of the Volga Boatmen" – Russia

Q: Where is the River VOLGA?

Q: Who were the Volga Boatmen?

A: The River VOLGA rises in the Valda Hills North-West of Moscow, and flows through the many Mouths of the Volga Delta, into the Caspian Sea below Astrakhan. It is the longest river of Europe, 3531 km (2194 miles) in length.

Volga Map Click Map for enlargement

From its source in a small lake among the Valda Hills, the Volga flows South-East through Ostashkov and Selizharovo to beyond Rzhev, where it turns North-East to Tver, then East to Dubna, North of Moscow. The Volga again flows North-East to Rybinsk , then generally South-East past Yaroslav, Kostroma, Kineshma, Nizhniy Novgorod and Cheboksary to Kazan. The Volga is now a very wide river. It continues on its way South past Simbirsk and Togliatti, East to the great semi-circular bend at Samara.

SAMARA (Kuybyshev, city, capital of Samara (Kuybyshev) Oblast, Russian SFSR, in East European USSR). Located at the confluence of the Volga and Samara rivers, the city is an important port and a rail and industrial center (and a major stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which was completed to Vladivostok a few years after 1900. Manufactures include motor vehicles, railroad equipment, chemicals, and machinery.

Founded in 1586 as a defense outpost, the city developed into an important grain-trade center of the Volga River region. Major industrial growth began in the early 20th century. The city's name was changed from Samara to Kuybyshev in 1935. When Moscow was threatened by the Germans during World War II, Kuybyshev served (1941-43) as the administrative center of the USSR. Pop. (1989 est.) 1,257,000. The name Samara was restored to both the City and the Oblast in 1990.

The Volga then flows West to Syzran, then South-West past Balakovo and Saratov, then South-South-West past Kamyshin and Volzhskiy to Volgograd.

VOLGOGRAD was founded in 1589 as Tsaritsyn, a fortress on the South-East frontier of Russia. It was taken by cossack rebels twice: in 1670 by Stenka Razin (d. 1671) and in 1774 by Yemelyan Pugachov (1726- 75). With the expansion of the Russian Empire in the 19th century, Tsaritsyn became an important port for products shipped down the Volga R.

Early in the Russian Revolution the city was taken (1917) by the Bolsheviks. During the civil war that followed it was occupied by White Russian troops for three months in 1919. In 1925 the city was renamed Stalingrad, for Joseph Stalin, who had retaken the city for the Communists, and held out against the White Russians.

During World War II, Stalingrad, a strategically located industrial center, was a vital German objective. A large German force mounted an assault on the city on Aug. 20, 1942, after a period of heavy air raids. A successful Soviet counter-offensive began on November 19, and on February 2, 1943, the Sixth German Army surrendered, thus ending the German advance into the USSR. German casualties alone came to more than 300,000, and the Soviet city was almost completely destroyed. Reconstruction began immediately after the war. The city was renamed Volgograd in 1961.

Between Volzhskiy and Volgograd, the Volga sends off a branch, the River Akhtuba, South-East to the Caspian Sea, and after Volgograd, the remainder of the Volga turns South-East and follows, and interweaves its own sub-branches with sub-branches of the Akhtuba, and they all flow past Astrakhan, on the main Volga River, and enter the Caspian Sea as the mouths of the Volga Delta.

The chief tributaries of the Volga include the Oka, Vetluga, Sura, Kama, and Samara Rivers. The Volga and its tributaries drain an area of about 1,450,400 sq km (about 560,000 sq mi). The river is navigable for most of its course from about March to mid-December. During May and June, fed by the melting snow, it is subject to great floods.

Canals connect the Volga with the Baltic Sea, Sea of Azov, Black Sea, Don River, and the city of Moscow. The lower reaches of the river are major fishing areas. The entire Volga Valley was claimed for Russia by Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible) during the 16th century.

Info from Funk & Wagnell's New Encyclopedia, Philip's Concise World Atlas, Eighth Edition,
and the Samara Region Administration website:

Volga Boat Song

Ei, ookhnyem!
Ei, ookhnyem!
Yeshcho razik,
Yeshcho raz!

Razovyom mui beryozoo,
Razovyom mui koodryavoo,
Ai da da, ai da, Ai da da, ai da,
Razovyom mui koodryavoo.

Ei, ookhnyem!...(etc.)

Mui po beryezhkoo idyom,
Pyesnyu solnishkoo poyom,
Ai da da, ai da, Ai da da, ai da,
Pyesnyu solnishkoo poyom.

Ei, ei, tyanee kahnat seelbnyey!
Pyesnyu solnishkoo poyom,
Ei, ookhnyem!
Ei, ookhnyem!
Yeshcho razik, Yeshcho raz!

Ekh, tui, Volga, matreka,
Shiroka i glooboka,
Ai da da, ai da,Ai da da, ai da,
Shiroka i glooboka.

Ei, ookhnyem!
Ei, ookhnyem!
Yeshcho razik, Yeshcho-to raz!
Ei, ookhnyem!
Ei, ookhnyem!

  Yo-Heave- ho
Yo-Heave- ho
Once again,
one more time!

We'll straighten / untwist the birch,
untwist the curly / leafy / bushy birch

We go along the bank singing a sunny song

Hey, you, Volga, mother river, wide and deep

For more info, go to: and

For a translation into singable English, go to:

A:The Volga boatmen (burlaki) were in fact no boatmen at all but members of local peasantry whose daily duty it was to drag the boats and ferries up the river past the rapids and other difficult places.

...Everybody in Russia knows: They are bondmen, their landowner has hired them out to a rich merchant, and now they have to pull the merchant's heavy barge against the current of the Volga. For their landowner this is a good bargain, but the bondmen get nothing, of course... ...All their power is needed, and the sturdy cudgels of birch-wood at the ends of ropes bend when the men stem their breasts against them:

"Ey ukhnyem! Ey ukhnyem!" - "All together! All together!"

"The greatest single image associated with the Volga River is "The Volga Boatmen" or "Volga Barge-Haulers" painted by Ilya Repin in the 1870s. The picture now hangs in the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, where a procession of tourists come every day to admire it, the single most famous painting in Russia. Repin painted and sketched his studies for this masterpiece in the village of Shiryayevo, just north of Samara, using local people and real barge-haulers as his models."

Repin's Volga Boatmen

Repin's Volga Boatmen
For a larger view of the painting go to:

One of the songs of Volga bargemen and haulers was orchestrated by Balakirev. It became famous all over the world as "The Song of the Volga Boatmen".

"Song of the Volga Boatmen" is a Traditional Russian Melody
in the Hypophrygian Mode. It is on Page 37 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 3:
Third Position, Modes, and Pentatones
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

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