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
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.”
Emelyan Pugachev, long dreaming of getting peasants free from the Tsar’s court, arrives in the Urals, where, in conversations with the Yaichi Cossacks, he learns of the desire of those coming to power of the “peasant king”, whom they thought was Peter III, insidiously killed for wanting to give the Russian people. Pugacheva with a head seized this thought, building in his wild head various plans. He decides to become this Russian, a good, peasant king, about whom the Russian people were so delirious.
Arriving to the Kalmyks, he calls them to revolt, leave the army, refusing to swear allegiance to the tsar, and join him. Rapidly flared up rebellion and ataman Kirpichnikov joins Pugachev. Ataman rebels Obolyaev, Karavaev, Zarubin adjoin Pugachev and decide to move to Moscow. The army of the rebels quickly grew and became stronger. In the army there were many experienced soldiers who trained illiterate peasants in military affairs. On the way to Pugachev is Khlopusha, a former escaped convict, proposing that he take Ufa on the way to Moscow and replenish the arsenals of the army with the necessary artillery. Pugachev’s faithful companion Ataman Zarubin attracts new forces to the side of the insurgents. The soldiers pass to their side without a fight, the peasants who are dissatisfied with the painful life adjoin. The people’s army of the rebels with success and victories is advancing along Russian soil.
But here came a series of setbacks and in clashes with regular tsarist troops, the Pugachev army suffered its first defeats. And then manifested Tvorogov, one of the very first rebels, who decides to extradite his ataman-comrade. Traitor Kryamin supports him and in the army of Pugachev, ferment begins. In bloody unequal battles, when part of the army betrayed the ataman, Emelian Pugachev was taken prisoner.
All the action of this poem takes place against the backdrop of Russian sadness, dreary steppe, sad trees, desert solonchaks, endless roads and roadside trees. With such a Russia, loners do nothing. Chlopush, Comrade Pugacheva, perishes with Pugachev himself. Pugachev was executed.