Map showing Zaporozhian Sich and the partitions of Ukraine during the Cossack Era. (click to enlarge)
Frequent Tatar attacks in 15th-16th centuries caused the south-eastern Ukraine to be depopulated. Neither Poland nor Russia wanted these territories at that time. However, driven by the harsh serfdom in Poland, many Ukrainians started to flee there, forming a new society called Cossacks meaning free men. To protect themselves from the Tatars, a military unit was formed in the lands of the lower Dnipro in 1550s. It was named Zaporozhian Sich where "Zaporozhian" means "za porohamy" ("beyond the rapids").
Polish government wanting to keep the defence structure, but fearing a threat of losing Ukraine, created a register to control the Cossacks, and appointed its own leader. However, in 1578, they were forced to give them more rights and freedoms to keep their support. The Cossacks now had their own policies sometimes opposite from the Polish ones.
In 1648, after years of tension between Cossacks and Poland, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky started a revolt which became the Cossack-Polish War, and in 1654 he signed the Pereyaslav Agreement with Russia. Cossacks kept their autonomy, but became officially part of Russia. However in 1667, as a result of Polish-Russian Treaty of Andrusovo, Right-Bank Ukraine was given back to Poland. The Cossacks were mostly resettled to the Left-Bank Ukraine, and Hetman had power only on this territory.
In 1697, Ivan Mazepa (on the right) became the Hetman. He wanted to unite the Ukrainian state at first still under Russia. However, Tsar Peter I was threatening Ukrainian autonomy by his reforms, and Mazepa turned to Sweden for support. In 1709, their forces were defeated, and Mazepa had to flee.
Catherine II, the empress of Russia, decided to destroy the Zaporozhian Sich in 1760s, and in 1775, she succeeded. The Hetmanate was abolished, and Russia gained the whole control over Ukrainian lands.
Bohdan Khmelnytsky (on the left and below) was born on December 27, 1595. His father Myhailo was a rich man and had a chance to send Bohdan to Halych where he was educated by Jesuits. After studying there for five years, he decided to get military education and went to Zaporozhian Sich - the best place for it at that time.
In 1620 he took part in his first battle against the Turks. His father was killed during it, and Bohdan was taken prisoner and spent two years in Istanbul until Cossacks freed him in 1622. His mother married a Polish man and left Ukraine. Bohdan became the only owner of his father's house and land, and soon he got married to Anna Somko. However, he did not want to settle down, and in the late 1620s, he joined the Cossacks, taking part in several battles in the next years.[3, 4]
In 1645-1646 Bohdan took part in Franco-Spanish War, and when he came back, he found out that one of his sons were beaten to death, the other two and his daughter were threatened, his house was robbed, and his wife got very sick and died from all this pressure. Bohdan wanted justice, and he asked Polish king for help. However, his request was rejected. He then started to tell people that this the way Poles act towards all Ukrainians and he urged them to unite and revolt.
On April 19, 1648, Bohdan was elected Hetman, and on April 22 he started the national uprising against Poland. By 1654, he regained almost all Ukrainian lands, and established Cossack confederation with its own administration. However, its independence was not recognized by Poland, and Bohdan had to get help from Russia. So in 1654, he signed the Pereyaslav Agreement which united two countries. It is believed that Bohdan Khmelnytsky received more privileges and freedom for Ukraine then it actually received, but the original documents of the agreement were never found
In the spring of 1656, Bohdan became very sick and died on July 27 (August 6), 1657. He is now believed to be one of the greatest national leaders, and he is very loved and honored by Ukrainians.
1775 - destruction of Zaporozhian Sich by Catherine II
Russia always wanted to own Ukrainian lands, but even more importantly, it wanted the people that lived there to consider themselves Russians, and even called Ukrainians Little Russians. However, Ukrainian people always opposed that, and when in the beginning of 18th century, Hetman Mazepa made an alliance with Sweden - Russian enemy to help him fight for Ukrainian independence, it became clear to Russian tsars that Cossacks were a major threat to subjection of Little Russians.
When by 1760s, the relations between Russia and the Zaporozhian Sich worsened, Catherine II (on the left) decided to destroy it. She saw this act as a way to finally deal with Ukrainians and to open a way to Crimea. However, she understood that the Sich had too much military power and her troops did not stand a chance against them, so she did not act directly. In 1762 she issued the Manifesto that recruited foreigners and settled them in Ukraine giving them land, political rights and freedoms, and local villagers having to support them with food and transportation. In exchange for colonized lands, Catherine II demanded the lands of the Zaporozhian Sich.
Kalnyshevsky, the leader of the Sich tried to convince the Crimean Khanate to help him fight Russia arguing that Catherine's policy would slowly lead to destruction of them both. However, the empress sent her representative to convince the Khan that Russia was only supporting Crimea and did not have any intentions to invade them. When rejected, a Muslim attack was provoked on the Tatars, and the Crimean Khanate had to sign a treaty with Catherine on 1772, thus leaving the Sich without its ally.
Finally, in August of 1775, Catherine II issued a manifesto that proclaimed abolishment of the Zaporozhian Sich, and the Cossacks there having no support were destroyed by Russian troops.
A Zaporozhian Cossack Attack, by Franz Roubaud.
1. Suprunenko, Volodymyr. "Some dates from the history of the Ukrainian Cossacks". Welcome to Ukraine: A journey to the places associated with Ukrainian Cossacks and their exploits. Accessed on March 12, 2008. <http://www.wumag.kiev.ua/index2.php?param=pgs20053/78>.
2. "Cossacks ". Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Accessed on March 22, 2008. <http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages\C\O\Cossacks.htm>.
3. Лущієнко О.О. "Богдан Хмельницький – видатний державний діяч, полководець і дипломат ". Accessed on March 12, 2008. <http://www.abc-people.com/data/hmelnickiy-b/ref2-txt.htm 2004>.
4. Kamen, Henry. Who's who in Europe, 1450-1750. Routledge, London, 2000, p. 167.
5. Butkevych, Volodymyr. "Why was the Sich destroyed?". Who Has A Right To Crimea. Accessed on March 12, 2008. <http://www.infoukes.com/history/crimea/page-04.html>.