Nikola Voivodov – the man from Vratsa who inspired Botev

Learn more about Nikola Voivodov - the man from Vratsa who inspired Botev!

Little is known about Nikola Voivodov, the native of Vratsa, who was the first in our history to use a ship to cross the Danube and start insurgent actions in 1867. His exploit inspired Hristo Botev to capture the ship "Radecki" nine years later.

Nikola Hadjikrastev Varbanov, as is his real name, was born in 1842 in Vratsa, in the wealthy family of Hadji Krastyo Varbanov, a successful merchant-jelepchi and winemaker. He received a brilliant education for his time at the prestigious "Robert College" in Constantinople. He speaks English, French, Italian, Turkish and Greek. In 1865, he went to Milan to study the silk industry - at that time silk weaving was one of the flourishing occupations in Vratsa. 

This trip of his changed his destiny forever – there he met the revolutionary ideas of Mazzini and Garibaldi. Determined to devote himself to the liberation of Bulgaria, he left for Brail, where he actively participated in the work of the Brail Bulgarian Municipality, and then for Galats, where he looked for like-minded people. At that time, he also changed his surname to Voivodov. His faithful companion at that time was the Serbian Cvetko Pavlovich, whom he met in Italy and who introduced him to the ideas of the carbonari ("coal workers") - a secret political organization active since the beginning of the 19th century in France and Italy. Voivodov and Pavlovich thought that the moment was right for starting an uprising in Bulgaria. They contacted Stefan Karadzha, who didn't think the time was right, but started his feverish preparation anyway. They decided to rent special accommodation for the headquarters of the future Chetniks and for the storage of weapons.

In 1867, Voivodov and Tsvetkov managed to organize a small but tight rebel group in a short time, which included Bulgarians, Serbs, Montenegrins and the former Russian officer Nikolai Dalmatov. Elected for voivodе, Nikola wants "his company to have the appearance of a regular army that goes into open battle with its adversary, and not of a bashibozushka band of robbers that makes a bad impression on the civilized European nations." Aided by local Bulgarians in Galats, all Chetniks were dressed in handsome uniforms, and their caps were black, with brass and silver lions. It is said that the Romanian girl Florina, Voivodov's favorite, sewed a green silk flag with a raging lion and the inscription "Freedom or Death".

The detachment was supposed to cross into Bulgaria via Raduevac (Serbia). In order to arrive before the Chetniks, Nikola Voivodov and Tsvetko Pavlovich boarded the Austrian steamship "Germany" and on August 20, 1867, they docked at the port in Ruschuk (Ruse). Because of treason, the Turkish police are waiting for them there. Valiat Midhat Pasha knew from a Bulgarian spy about the arrival of the two revolutionaries, and the Austro-Hungarian consul in Rousse, Georg von Martyrt, ceded the sovereignty of the steamer. In the firefight that broke out on "Germany", Pavlovich was killed on the spot, and Voivodov was seriously wounded and died later. He was originally buried in Ruse, probably by grandma Tonka Obretenova.

On August 23, 1867, Metropolitan Michael of Belgrade held a memorial service for the two Orthodox Bulgarians in the Cathedral Church in Belgrade, delivering a touching speech:
 "And again we must mourn new victims of barbaric murder, grieve for our innocent people, killed by atrocity... by the wild power of fanaticism and brutality... our citizen of Belgrade and Nikola Voivodov, son of our brotherly people, suffered martyrdom in Ruschuk, on the steamer "Germany" ... is not this an ugly violation of all that is holy, and is not this an act of wild beasts ... and to all this Europe looks indifferent ... ".

The incident on the Austro-Hungarian-flagged steamer led European diplomats to discuss with their governments the unprecedented murder of Vojvodov and Pavlovic on Austrian soil. If we exclude the atrocities after the April Uprising and the capture of the ship "Radetsky" by Hristo Botev, there are few cases when European diplomacy at that time dealt with the "Bulgarian question" so carefully.

In 1938, an initiative committee moved the voivode's bones to the Church of St. Ascension" in Vratsa. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death, in 1967, the remains were transferred to his native house, where they remain today.


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