Dreaming of the will of the peasant and warrior Pugachev after long wanderings comes to Yaik and in conversation with the Cossack watchman learns that the men are waiting for a new king – peasant. Such a king is the murdered Peter III – he would have given the people a free will. This thought captures Pugachev.
He comes to the Kalmyks and urges them to leave the army, to flee from the Russian oath. Ataman Kirpichnikov learns of this and joins a riot. A mutiny broke out in the Cossack troops. Together with the Atamans Obolyaev, Karavaev and Zarubin, Pugachev decides to move to Moscow.
Soon, he joins the Urals escaped convict Hlopush, dreaming of seeing a peasant king. He demands to let him go to Pugachev, seeing in him... the embodiment of his ideal. Hlopush offers to capture Ufa – this will allow the Pugachevites to get their own artillery.
Ataman Zarubin lures Pugachev to more and more troops – they surrender without a fight. But after the first defeat in the camp of Pugachev, strife begins. One of the insurgents – Tvorogov – is trying to extradite Pugachev to government troops. He is supported by the traitor Kryamin. The troops begin to panic, and along with Pugachev, his entire army is dying.
Not the last actor of the poem – Russian melancholy, steppe landscape, weeping trees, endless sands, solonchaks, versts, vents… With this Russia, no one can help it. Kholopusha is dying, Pugachev perishes, – “under the soul, you fall just as if you are under a burden.”