Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 01.03.2018
Despite all efforts and military expeditions to the West, the Cossack state did not succeed in establishing control over Western Ukraine. Weakened by wars, Poland did not put as much pressure on Western Ukrainians as Muscovy on Eastern ones. However, Polish magnates owned the majority of the lands in the region. Their exploitative practices in Galicia caused multiple rebellions of local hajduks (guerillas) — opryshoks.
The opryshoks (the common name of rebels in Western Ukraine, meaning separate, independent men) were active in rebellion groups in Right-Bank Ukraine since 1498. The most legendary was the movement (1738-1745) led by Oleksa Dovbush (1700–1745). He gathered a large group of the opryshoks and started attacking landlords and tenants in the Kolomyia region and later in Bukovyna and Subcarpathia.
His brother, Ivan Dovbush, and another opryshok group were also active in the Boiko region. Folk stories depict Oleksa Dovbush as the Ukrainian Robin Hood — he took money and property from the rich and gave them to the poor.
Oleksa Dovbush, painting, 18th century.
Another common name for Ukrainian hajduks (guerillas) in the 18th century was haidamakas. This word comes from the Turkish “daredevil, troublemaker”. In 1734–1735 and 1750 Muscovy helped Poland to suppress uprisings of the Ukrainian haidamakas. The biggest haidamaka rebellion — Koliivshchyna — broke out in February 1768.
Prior to this event, units of the Polish nobles (the so-called “confederates”) began to persecute civilian Ukrainians and ruining Orthodox churches instead of fighting for the freedom of Poland.
Maksym Zalizniak, portrait, 18th century.
In the spring of 1768 a Zaporozhian cossack Maksym Zalizniak gathered a detachment of insurgents in Kholodnyi Yar near Chyhyryn (in Cherkasy Oblast).
The nobles sent against them a Cossack regiment led by the Uman captain Ivan Honta. However, instead of fighting his compatriots, Honta himself joined the attack on Uman.
The liberation of Uman by the haidamakas was marked by the destruction of a bigger part of its Polish and Jewish population. The main reason for attacks on the Jews was that Polish landlords often leased their estates with Ukrainian peasants and even Orthodox churches to rich Jews, which led to exactions and humiliation and triggered interethnic conflicts.
Right-Bank Ukraine was freed from the Polish nobles, who fled to Poland, and the Polish troops remained only in Bila Tserkva.
Ivan Honta, painting, 18th century.
A council of the insurgents elected Maksym Zalizniak “hetman and prince of Smila” and Ivan Honta “colonel and prince of Uman”. This was essentially a step toward the restoration of the Hetman State in Right-Bank Ukraine.
However, Muscovy decided to crack down on the rebellion in then Poland's lands. The tsar was afraid of the restoration of the Ukrainian hetmanship in any form.
In July 1768, Muscovite troops treacherously captured the leaders of the insurgents during negotiations. The Muscovites attacked sleeping insurgents in their camp, capturing nearly 900 men whom they handed over to Poland.
The Poles punished the insurgents in an extremely cruel manner. The executioner first cut out stripes from Honta’s skin and then cut off his extremities. Before the execution, a Polish guard asked Honta for his belt, which Honta promised to give him. When the Pole asked him to make good on his promise, Honta said that it would be a belt made from his skin. The Muscovites were no less cruel as they branded insurgents with hot iron, cut out their noses and exiled those from Left-Bank Ukraine to Siberia.
Ukrainian peasants hardly resisted serfdom and often joined rebels. One of their leaders was Ustym Karmaliuk (1787–1835). His rebel group operated across Podillia, occupied by Muscovy since 1793 after the second partition of Poland, where it looted landlords’ estates and Muscovite government institutions. Up to 20,000 insurgents were in his groups during different times (1813-1835). Ustym Karmaliuk used to escape from Muscovite prisons multiple times by breaking through the bars, using a hanging bridge woven from the shirts of his cellmates and taking apart brickwork in his cell’s ceiling. After each successful escape, he made an incredibly complicated journey to his motherland from far-away Siberia which few exiles were able to leave until the end of their lives. Documents and legends contain many stories about Karmaliuk willing to give the shirt off his back to ordinary people.
Ukrainian, painting by Vasilii Tropinin, 1820s. According to one version, the painting depicts the peasant rebel leader Ustym Karmaliuk whom Tropinin saw in Podilia
After the destruction of the Sich by Muscovy, the majority of the cossacks secretly gathered and sailed in boats to lands under Turkish rule. The Zaporozhian cossacks first settled near Hacibey (now Odesa) and then moved south to the Danube, founding the Danubian Sich (1776–1828).
It continued the military traditions of the Zaporozhian Sich for another half a century and let tens of thousands of escapees from Ukraine find a life without serfdom.
The Danubian cossacks kept the customs and system of the Zaporozhian Sich, particularly they set the same kurins as in Zaporizhia. Every kurin bore the name of the locality from which its Cossacks came — Poltava, Uman, Kaniv, Korsun, Baturyn, etc.
Black Sea Freebooters, painting by Ilya Repin, early 20th century.
The older Cossacks did not want to return under Muscovy's rule at any cost, but more recent arrivals wanted back home. Winning over the Danubian cossacks to its side during the Muscovy-Turkish war, the tsarist government had them settled on the coast of the Sea of Azov as the self-governed Azov Cossack Host.
Initially recruited from the former Zaporozhian cossacks, the Azov Cossack Host and the Boh Cossack Host preserved, albeit in a limited fashion, the traditions of cossack self-government in the ancient lands of the Zaporozhian Sich (until 1864 and 1817, respectively), strengthening cossack presence in these ethnic Ukrainian lands.
Zaporozhians’ Camp, painting by Józef Brandt, 19th century.
The Muscovy's tsar never dared introduce serfdom in the former lands of the Zaporozhian Sich, unlike the rest of Ukraine’s territory. Fearing rebellions, the Muscovy's government divided peasants into landlords’ peasants and state peasants. The latter were largely descendants of the militant cossacks and they could not be sold, while the former suffered from cruel treatment.
TO BE CONTINUED