Letter from the Inspector of Printing Houses and the Book Trade in Kyiv to the governor generals of the imperial provinces of Kyiv, Podolsk and Volyn, 27 December 1906.
I have the honour to report that I have conducted an investigation regarding the statement that I recently received from Your Highness about the significant increase in the trade of pornographic postcards and images in Kyiv.
Based on my information and information that was provided to me by the Kyiv Police Chief on 16 December (a copy of which is attached), I have reached the following conclusions:
- The trade in pornographic images is carried out in Kyiv, but it is no more developed than in other large cities.
- In Kyiv, neither I nor the police officers found any instances of the open trade of such images, nor their exhibition in shop windows. Usually, people selling pornography keep their goods in their pockets and only show them to customers who are interested. Meanwhile, in June of this year in St Petersburg, I noticed a man openly selling the most outrageous pornography on Nevskii Prospekt. When I wanted to detain him with the help of a policeman, he immediately disappeared.
- In Kyiv, pornographic publications are obtained mainly from Odessa and Warsaw. Traders of this commodity usually come to the Kyiv Contract Fair. At this time, the policemen and I conduct surveillance on postcard dealers and every year it is necessary to confiscate pornography and prosecute the perpetrators. These people are then usually forbidden from trading at the Contract Fair. This year, according to my report, the Kyiv Governor forbade the Odessa merchant Chaim Halperin from trading postcards there. Halperin was brought to my attention for selling pornography in 1905 and was fined 25 rubles by the Justice of the Peace for the Third district of Kyiv on 29 April 1905.
- In my opinion, the spread of pornography in Kyiv, as well as other cities, is due to a number of common reasons. First, the public’s love for various immoral spectacles and pictures in cinema, living photographs, operettas, and farces. It is also due to the law’s relatively lax attitude towards people engaged in the pornography trade.
From the above, Your Highness, please see that on my part there is constant monitoring of the spread of the trade in pornographic images in Kyiv and the perpetrators are brought to criminal responsibility.
From reporting on this, I have to honour to add that from the public side of things, I am convinced that some people look at the pornography trade too leniently, whereas others look too harshly, considering famous paintings, artists in tights etc. as pornographic, which is not in accordance with the law.
A copy of the letter of the Kyiv Police Chief to the Inspector of Printing Houses and the Book Trade in Kyiv, 16 December 1906.
In relation to correspondence from 27 November 1905, I inform Your Highness that there is a secret trade in pornography in Kyiv, as in other major cities. In our city, it happens mainly on Khreshchatyk. It is extremely difficult to find this evil because of traders’ method of selling from under the counter or from inside their pockets, and especially because the police have absolutely no means or opportunity to appoint people solely to monitor this trade and detain people found to be in this dirty business.
In any case, I can say that the pornography trade in Kyiv is not particularly widespread because there is always police surveillance, both as a result of your repeated instructions and the police orders that I have issued on the subject. For example, this year we have detected many people with pornographic and illegal postcards, after which I have drawn up protocols and submitted them to you or to the Governor.
It was also possible to trace other people involved in the pornography trade. Police agents are currently collecting more subversive information about them, which will be reported to you.
Further reading: Siobhán Hearne, ‘An Erotic Revolution: An Erotic Revolution? Pornography in the Russian Empire, 1905–1914’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 30:2 (2021): 195–224.