Bolotnikov was a fugitive kholop (a kholop, also chlop in Polish is a serf, slave), who joined the Cossacks, was captured by Crimean Tatars, sold in Turkey to galleys, escaped to Venice, learned about False Dmitriy I and went to Russia via Germany and Poland. In the town of Putyvl he gathered his first regiment. His army quickly grew, supported by promises of False Dmitriy. Its ranks comprised of serfs, free peasants, cossacks, and many other categories of the population, even several boyars and knyazes. In his proclamations Bolotnikov rallied not only against tsar Vasili Shuysky, but also called for the abolition of serfdom.
At the peak of the uprising it controlled over 70 towns in Southwestern and Southern Russia and lower and middle Volga basin. In October-December, 1606 he besieged Moscow, but had to retreat to Kaluga . In 1607 he was defeated and captured under Tula. In 1608 he was blinded and drowned.