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¹7 (2014)
Tunnelling Towards Hope

28 February - 6 March 2014

Ukraine History

A Stronghold of Rulers and Rebels

With the recent death toll jumping to nearly 100 and 1,000 injured, Hrushevskoho Street, one of the strongholds of EuroMaidan’s three-month-long protests, made headlines around the globe. It was here, on 19 January the country’s stand against government corruption, abuse of power, and the violation of human rights turned from peaceful protest to all-out revolution. Having witnessed much over the years, Hrushevskoho is a street with a history, and not only care of recent days.


Ukraine Today
Acelebrity using their status and intelligence to influence public views and opinion is rarely seen in modern society, even less so in Ukraine. Here, the majority of celebs use their time, effort, and money to enhance or further their career rather than put their name to something that can do good for others. However, as EuroMaidan intensifies, some are making themselves heard – and they fall either side of the EuroMaidan divide.
It used to be that when rebellion and revolution occurred, the intellectual, creative, and spiritual elite would be front and centre.


Ukrainian Culture

When Walls Can Talk

People have been writing on walls since the dawn of civilisation, we call it graffiti, and ranges from simple written words to elaborate wall paintings. Sometimes it is merely the creator wanting to leave his or her mark; sometimes there is an underlying social or political reason. And it is due to the latter that graffiti has exploded across Kyiv in recent months. Anti dictator messages aside, we peel back a few layers of paint to look at graffiti in the city in general.


Ukraine History

Ukraine’s own Robin Hoods The Cossacks

The words that attempt to better define just what a Cossack is, vary from mounted soldier to adventurer to freebooter to guerilla, with many other connotations in between. They were a mysterious clan who pledged allegiance to few, often living and dying by their sword and even though you can still find them on the streets today, these men from times long past, continue to keep us questioning.
When I was in school, we were taught that Cossacks were the true heroes of our past. One of the best stories I have ever heard about this group relates back to a Turkish battleship in 1492 where having attacked it, the Cossacks then freed the Ukrainians the Turks had usurped; all of whom had been meant for slavery.

This is not an unusual story, and although it depicts this group of independents in a rosy light, other accounts also exist where these outlaws were painted a very different hue. But putting their heroic past aside for a moment, most of these men were simple people. Yes, they had power and influence over hundreds if not thousands, but they also had faults and failings of their own. Even still, we continue to remember them, as heroes of our Ukrainian past: those men who fought for our independence when we couldn’t do it ourselves, the many who stole from the rich to feed the poor and every one of whom supported the freedom to which each man, woman and child was, is and always should be entitled.

The Awakening
As far as history is concerned, bands of Cossacks are first mentioned around more or less the beginning of the 15th century, where Ukrainians generally referred to Cossacks as ‘free, independent persons, making their living through military service’. Depending on who you ask, however, very different interpretations can be included in that definition. In Turkish for example, the word itself is translated as ‘free traveler’, while its meaning is something closer to ‘robber’ or ‘thief’. And as Cossacks could quite often be found stealing from the travelling caravans of their southern neighbours, that other, less attractive name, is not at all one of accident…
Now that we know approximately when they appeared, there are several more versions about the how and why. One reason has to do with protection and specifically the protection of lands from foreign invasion. As agricultural processes continued to develop in these earlier times, Ukrainian lands were turning into a honey-pot for rulers from Poland, Turkey and Russia. To ensure that invasion and theft were minimalised, many men formed groups to fortify and secure their lands. The development of slavery in Turkey was also a reason forcing these men to fight, not only for their own lives, but also to save the lives and freedoms of their friends and relatives.

Better Together…
Year after year, the title of Cossack was becoming more and more embedded into the vocabulary of society. They were organising themselves better and preparations for battle, should the need arise, was becoming less problematic. Weapons and armour were easier to come by and while in the middle of the 15th century, this band of outlaws was simply a group of men protecting their homes and family, by the end of that century, they were real and true Cossacks: organised, armed, ready and able to fight.
Fighting against the remnants of what was left of the Golden Horde, their impact in conflicts and alliances between Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth also became hugely significant. As their power increased, so too did their ardent and ravenous behaviour. Razing townships and raiding territories, these groups had become fiercely independent and were no longer controllable; living, as legend says, all for one and one for all.
Heading into the 16th century, their numbers only continued to increase as inhabitants of different villages began running from serfdom and the oppression that seemed to be a rampant force at the time. As an age-long aspiration to be and remain free, the Cossacks fought constantly against Turkish and Tatar conquerors as well as the Polish gentry who were trying to turn Ukraine into a colony.  

…Than Alone
Their movement into the south toward lands where Zaporizhia is situated now, signalled the creation of the Zaporizhska Sich – the capital of Cossack establishment on Hortytsya Island. At the time, thoughts of independence were nonexistent and instead, the realisation of freedom from outside influence was the goal. This move would be a crucial point in their history which resulted in several uprisings, making the Cossacks, or the Zaporizhian Sich, very difficult for the Commonwealth to control.
Heading into the 17th century, the backdrop for the War of Independence was drawn up as Cossacks’ demands for expansion of the Cossack Registry – a privileged elite within the Commonwealth Army – were being persistently ignored. Waiting for the right leader to be able to show them the way, it was in 1648 when Bohdan Khmelnytskiy came to power and all hell broke loose for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. A new aristocracy appeared as Cossack leaders found autonomy under the Russian Tsar which freed them from the Poles. They became the top legions within society, holding ruling positions within the state and attempting to retain hold  of their independence right up until the end of the 18th century.

Alternate Ending
This, however, is not the way everyone understands their history. One of Ukraine’s greatest historians, Mykhailo Hrushevskiy, often wrote about Ukraine’s chronicles, focusing specifically on the roots of Cossack uprisings. Revealing a more self-serving aspect of Cossack behaviour, Hrushevskiy often depicted the lack of national interest these characters had. Many Cossack Otamans (generals) were Polish, for example, and there existed considerable infighting among each other for lands granted by the Polish King. More specifically, according to Hrushevskiy, the first Cossack War was started by Krishtof Kossynskiy, a Cossack Otaman who had been assigned by the King to manage lands on the Ros’ river in 1590. Not long after, they were commandeered by the mayor and Otaman Cossack of Bila Tserkva, Yanush Ostrozhskiy, claiming that they were not Kossynskiy’s lands to control.
He talks pointedly about the middle class interests the Cossacks of Poland and Ukraine represented; often mentioning acts which occurred before the appearance of Khmelnytskiy, questioning whether their actions really had occurred in the name of patriotism. Fighting for different classes, but not always for the whole of the country, their armies were a powerful force, used by different regions as each region saw fit. But the opposite was also true, where, should the Cossacks have run into trouble, their alliance with one or other country, namely Poland, Turkey or Russia, would last as long as it was needed, or until a new alliance could be made with someone else.
Their resistance against outside authority, their military exploits and their ideas about freedom is what keeps them popular in today’s culture. It is however a romantic perception, as these men could often be quite savage and cruel. And so, while their idolisation within our history books proliferates a notion of martyrdom, it is also important to understand a history that is often omitted.

Creating History
While their influence surely, is felt less today than 500 years ago, their ancestry still lives on. Modern Ukrainian Cossacks of 2009 are united, more or less, as one group with one Hetman for the entire territory of Ukraine: President Victor Yushchenko. Cossacks remains an important piece of history for many as there are approximately 700 Cossack organisations worldwide with more than 300 thousand people working in cooperation. Their goal is to keep this history alive as well as to work in connection with local police - aiding and maintaining order during events that require assistance. There also continue to be events in association with the proliferation of Cossack society, culture and tradition and groups within Kyiv itself are available to enlighten the Ukrainian public about what it truly meant to be a Cossack.
Taking the good with the bad, their primitive nature is what has kept their spirit alive in the past, but perhaps it will be their natural propensity toward the assurance of freedom that will make their future just as enigmatic. Whatever the case, they continue to enlighten and enthrall and their ethno-cultural entity continues to be a potent military force for Ukraine and country.

Vadym Mishkoris

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    Ukraine Truth
    Rights We Didn’t Know We Had

    Throughout EuroMaidan much has been made of Ukrainians making a stand for their rights. What exactly those rights are were never clearly defined. Ukraine ratified the Univer­sal Declaration of Human Rights in 1952. The first article of the Declaration states all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, they are endowed with reason and conscience, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. The ousted and overthrown Ukrainian government showed to the world they don’t understand the meaning of these words.

    Kyiv Culture

    Pulling Strings
    Located on Hrushevskoho Street – the epicentre of EuroMaidan violence, home to battles, blazes and barricades – children’s favourite the Academic Puppet Theatre had to shut down in February. Nevertheless, it is getting ready to reopen this March with a renewed repertoire to bring some laughter back to a scene of tragedy. Operating (not manipulating) puppets is a subtle art that can make kids laugh and adults cry. What’s On meets Mykola Petrenko, art director of the Theatre, to learn more about those who pull the strings behind the show.


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