Saturday, 03 February 2018 17:55


Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 03.02.2018




In 1554, Dmytro Vyshnevetsky (1516–1563), a Volhynian prince of Ukrainian-Lithuanian origin, built at his own cost a fortress called Sich on Mala Khortytsia island right in the centre of Dnipro river, downstream of the rapids. Because of its location, i.e. downstream of the rapids and further, all these lands of Ukraine were called Zaporizhia (Trans-Rapids), and its military inhabitans later were called Zaporizhian Cossacks.


The Sich became the headquarters of the Cossack Host. The islands Khortytsia and Mala Khortytsia with their high rocky shores were best suited for the deployment of the Cossack fleet and the organization of voyages to the Black Sea. 


When Vyshnevetsky went on a military expedition to Moldova, the local boyars betrayed him and handed him over to Turkey. Vyshnevetsky was executed according to the sultan’s order in Instanbul in 1563 using the cruel method of putting an iron hook under ribs and lifting the body. Vyshnevetsky remained in people’s memory as the die-hard Cossack Baida, who shot arrows at his enemies even as he was being tortured. The folk nickname Baida meant “a free man”. 


the zap baida

Prince Dmytro “Baida” Vyshnevetsky, painting, the 16th century. 

Many people started joining the Cossack Host especially after the Union of Lublin in 1569. Under Lithuania, peasants had personal freedom and paid quitrent to landlords or performed corvée for them, two days per week at the most. However, large quantities of gold and silver originating in America's Hispanic lands came to Europe and the price of grain skyrocketed. Polish landlords increasingly turned peasants into serfs in order to earn more money. In Poland itself, peasants had virtually no rights, except that they could not be sold, as it was in Muscovy.

The Sich had no other population than the Cossacks and a small number of merchants. The Cossack garrison in the Sich was organized based on the example of a knight order. A person of any nationality could join it after reading the Lord’s Prayer in Ukrainian. A novice, who was called molodyk (literally, a young man), acquired equal rights with other Cossacks after participating in military campaigns.


The Sich had extremely strict discipline during wartime, which was relaxed at times of peace. All Cossack starshyna (officers), including judges, were elected in direct elections and the same type of elections were held in each unit — kurin and palanka. The Kish otaman, elected by the Cossacks, had the power of life and death over them. Crimes were punished severely. The Cossacks buried murderers together with their victims.

In the early 16th century, permanent settlements of the Cossacks (zymivnyky) extended to the Sea of Oziv (Azov) and the Don River. A charter from the Polish King, Stephen Báthory, of 9 April 1582 recognized the eastern boundaries of the Cossack lands as extending “from the upper Orel River to the upper Kalmius River and from there to the Don estuary”. In the West, the lands of the Cossacks reached the Dnister River.


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