Wednesday, 24 January 2018 17:39


Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 24.01.2018



In 1471, the Lithuanian prince abolished the Kyiv principality and appointed the Lithuanian landlord and Catholic, Martynas Goštautas, as voivode in Kyiv. The Kyivans denied him entry into the city. The boyars asked the Lithuanian prince to respect Kyiv’s glory and appoint an Orthodox prince or one of his sons to the city. Goštautas must assemble a large army and only thus he succeeded in establishing himself in Kyiv. A large Lithuanian garrison permanently stayed in the Kyiv castle and new Lithuanian administrations were appointed in counties and volosts.

The abolition of the principality disgruntled the population in Ruthenia (Ukraine). People reminisced with regret about the times when Lithuania paid tribute to Kyiv. Ruthenian (Ukrainian) landlords began to prepare an armed action against Lithuanian rule. Princes Mykhailo Olelkovych, Fedir Bilsky and Ivan Holshansky led the conspiracy to put Mykhailo Olelkovych on the great princely throne. The conspiracy was uncovered in 1481. Prince Bilsky managed to escape dressed only in a shirt and leaving behind his wife whom he had just married, while princes Olelkovych and Holshansky were beheaded. 


In 1508, Ruthenian (Ukrainian) feudal lords led by Prince Mykhailo Hlynsky decided to stage an insurgency in an effort to restore the Kyiv principality. Hlynsky raided the estates of his enemies, but when government forces approached, he fled to Moscow where he was granted the boyar title and given estates. However, he returned and sided with Lithuania during the next Muscovy—Lithuania war. These events further weakened the positions of the Ukrainian nobility in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia. 


After several small appanage princes in the Siversk principality, which together with the Kyiv and Pereyaslav principalities had been called Rus’ since ancient times, sided with the prince of Muscovy in the late 15th century, he assumed the title “sovereign of all Rus’”, in an obvious claim to Kyiv’s status. 


As long as Lithuanian princes acted as the unifiers of the historical lands of the Kyivan state, respected the rights of the Ruthenian (Ukrainian) nobility (“neither touched old things nor introduced new things”), accepted Ukrainian culture and the Orthodox faith, the Ukrainian nobility and population ensured the success of the Grand Duchy. It was thanks to this support that the Lithuanian state became one of the most powerful countries in Eastern Europe, more powerful than Muscovy and other neighboring principalities. 


Ukrainians joined the Lithuanian state based on mutual agreements, “as an equal joins an equal and a free man joins a free man”. After the policies of the Lithuanian government had changed and became pro-Polish and pro-Catholic, Lithuania began to lose its ground and had to seek support from other states. It finally found it in Poland but lost its sovereignty and the status of a great power in exchange. 


The defeat of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia in a war against Muscovy in 1500–1503 showed that Lithuania had become weaker than Muscovy. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian army led by the Ukrainian Prince Kostiantyn Ostrozsky crushed the 80,000-strong Muscovite army at the Battle of Orsha (now in Belarus) in 1514.


the decline orsha

Battle of Orsha against Muscovites (1514), painting, 16th century. 


Meanwhile, Muscovy became much more powerful with the addition of the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates in 1553–1556. Muscovite forces led by a Tatar khan invaded the Livonian Confederation (a state created by German knights in the 13th century in the lands of the Estonians and Latvians) in 1557. Lithuania stood in defense of Livonia and the Livonian War broke out. 


The Polish king took advantage of the situation and proclaimed a “universal”, the joining of Volhynia and Podlachia to Poland. The universal promised to grant offices in Volhynia only to the local landlords. With no resistance coming from Lithuania, which had been weakened by the war and internal strife, the Polish king issued another universal joining the Kyiv and Bratslav regions to Poland. Thus, the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was halved. 


On 1 July 1569, the Union of Lublin was signed under which the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania united into a single state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, with an elected monarch, common diet (parliament) and treasury, one monetary system and a shared foreign policy. Lithuania lost its statehood by becoming a part of the commonwealth and preserved its sovereignty only in local administration, the organization of the army and the justice system.


the decline lublin

Union of Lublin (1569) by the famous Polish painter Jan Matejko of 19th century


The Union of Lublin left the Ukrainian people without its own state organization and facing greedy Polish landlords at a time when the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had become the most powerful state in Europe. 


The new Polish state defeated Muscovy several times. Seeing the heroism of the Zaporozhian Cossacks during the siege of Pskov, the Polish King, Stephen Báthory, issued, on 9 April 1582, a royal universal in Riga granting wide-ranging rights to the “registered” Cossacks, including the noble right not to pay taxes and recognizing lands stretching to the Don River as belonging to the Zaporozhian Cossacks. Báthory prophetically said that the Cossacks would found their own state.


the decline bathory

King Stephen Báthory, Polish painting, 16th century



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