Vyshnevetsky – Establisher of the Zhaporizhian Sich
Dmytro Vyshnevetsky, widely known as Bayda, was the first hetman in Ukrainian history. He is most famous for uniting a number of small southern Ukrainian Cossack bands at the end of the fifteenth century to fight the nomadic Crimean tribes on the Ukrainian steppes. In 1552 he also established the Zaporizhian Sich on Mala Khortytsia Island in south-central Ukraine which would become a powerful political, social, and military organisation. The Sich’s appearance is inseparably bound with the formation of the Cossacks as a separate social stratum with its own traditions and way of life. With time, the Sich turned into a kind of knightly order in which everyone was required to observe strict discipline and profess absolute allegiance. The predominant objectives were fighting the enemies of Eastern Orthodoxy and for the independence of the homeland. Both hetmans and atamans, another type of ruler, were elected rather than appointed or installed in power by birthright. This made the Sich one of the earliest democratic institutions in the world. Dmytro Vyshnevetsky was born in 1516 into the noble Hedyminovychi family, and was an ancestor of the Ryurikovych dynasty. Vyshnevetsky fought the Crimean Tatars and Turkish Empire not only on Ukrainian territory, but abroad: he attacked the Tatars and Turks constantly during his 10 years as a military leader. But in 1563 the Turks wrecked his army and Vyshnevetsky was captured and sent to Istanbul, to Sultan Suleyman. To punish Vyshnevetsky for the damage he’d dealt the Turkish Empire, Suleyman ordered him hanged on a hook by his rib – a slow and painful death. The great agony he had to endure did not prevent him from continuing to hurl abuse at the sultan and Islam, getting the Turks so riled up they ended his torture by shooting him full of arrows, just to shut him up.
Khmelnytsky – A Legend of the Ukrainian People
Bohdan Khmelnytsky is a legend of the Zaporizhian Cossack hetmanate. He was head and shoulders above other Ukrainian leaders, as he was the only one to succeed in organising a successful national uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that ruled Ukrainian territory at that time. The uprising, from 1648-54, had at its goal the creation of an independent Cossack state and the abolishment of serfdom for Ukrainians, an ideal that was well ahead of its time. Bohdan Khmelnytsky was born in about 1595 in the village of Subotiv, near Chegeryn, into a noble family. His father served the Polish king and it was assumed that the son would follow suit, but during the Polish-Turkish war of 1620 his father was killed and Bohdan was captured by the Turks. The future hetman and great Ukrainian leader might have served anonymously on a Turkish galley for the rest of his life and never have become known to history if his mother hadn’t ransomed him. Returning from captivity he refused to join the Polish king, instead joining the Zhaporizhian Sich. In rising successfully against it, he was to become the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s worst enemy. Khmelnytsky, however, is also famous for making a fatal mistake. In 1654 he signed the Treaty of Pereyasliv with the Tsardom of Russia. The treaty subjected Ukraine to the Russians in return for their help against the Polish, a loss of independence that would haunt Ukraine for centuries to come – until 1992 and even beyond. But we shouldn’t be too hard on Khmelnytsky. Who knew in 1654 that Russia had its own plans, and would never honour its obligations under the treaty?
Ivan Mazepa – Fighter Against Russian Oppression
Ivan Mazepa is one of history’s best known Cossack leaders, in no small part because Byron, Hugo, and Pushkin wrote about him and Tchaikovsky made him into the hero of an opera. Mazepa built and renovated numerous churches and monasteries, and literature, art, and architecture flourished under his patronage. Kyiv’s Mohyla Academy, the first Ukrainian institution of higher learning, experienced a golden age under his rule. Mazepa was to play a central role in the tragedy that unfolded in 1709 in Poltava, where the dream of Ukrainian nationhood came so close to realisation. Mazepa was born into a noble Ukrainian family in 1639, which allowed him to receive an excellent education in a number of European countries. This helped develop his outstanding diplomatic and military skills. Despite his being a close friend of Peter the Great, Ukraine’s well-being and sovereignty were still his top priorities. In autumn 1708 Sweden’s King Carl XII promised to help Mazepa liberate Ukraine from Russian rule, and in March 1709 Ukraine and Sweden signed a treaty providing for the creation of a Ukraine free from ‘all foreign possession’. In the early eighteenth century Sweden was a first-rate military power, while Russia was widely perceived as a backward and barbarous domain of little military consequence. Once the main Swedish army entered Ukraine, Mazepa openly sided with Carl against his friend Peter, believing that the Swedish army had the advantage. Yet, at the very beginning of the battle, a large part of the Swedish army was destroyed. The assistance Carl expected from Turkey and the Crimean Khanate didn’t materialise, leaving the Swedish king to become increasingly desperate. To prevent the Ukrainian Cossacks from actually joining the Ukrainian-Swedish alliance that had been planned on paper, the Russian authorities spread rumours that Mazepa had joined with the Swedes in order to submit Ukraine to the Polish oppressors once again. Mazepa was declared a traitor and his name was anathematised. After the fatal battle of Poltava in 1709 Mazepa and Carl managed to flee into Turkish territory. There Mazepa died. If his thwarted plans had been realised, Ukraine might have had independence back in 1709 and Russia might not have become one of that era’s most powerful states.
Orlyk – the Author of Europe’s First Constitution
Pylyp Orlyk is widely known for writing the first European constitution, called `Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host’. It was the first document in the world to establish a democratic standard for separation of government powers between legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. The constitution also limited the hetman’s executive authority and established a Cossack parliament called the General Council that was democratically elected every three years. Orlyk’s constitution was a classic example of a constitutional monarchy or presidential parliament republic, and was the first written state document in Europe. This testifies to the long-standing tradition of democracy in Ukraine, and in fact much of the document’s content was included in the French Constitution after the French Revolution. Pylyp Orlyk was born in 1672 into a noble Czech family in Vilejka, in what is now Belarus. During Ian Hus’ rebellion his family had to leave Czech territory and move to Poland, and then farther east. An excellent student, Orlyk studied in Vilnius and later at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, before beginning work in the Ukrainian hetman’s chancellery. Within seven years he’d become Ivan Mazepa’s secretary and closest associate. In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Battle of Poltava in 1709, Orlyk was forced to escape to Ottoman Turkey. Between then and 1720 he lived in Sweden, Germany, France, and Poland, and was declared hetman of Ukraine in exile by the Swedish king. The year 1711 saw him try to invade Ukraine at the head of an army of Tatar and Cossack soldiers, but this attempt at liberating his homeland from Russia came to nothing. After 1720 he returned to Turkey, and his adventures continued. He passed a long exile in the Macedonian city of Salonika, separated from his wife in Krakow, and died there in 1742. His voluminous diaries, in Latin, French, Polish and Ukrainian, are still eagerly read by historians.