Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 22

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

History of the Ukraine
By Dmytro Doroshenko

printed by
The Institute Press, Ltd.
Edmonton, Alberta,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 24

 p470  Chapter XXIII

 * * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(149) Population of the Slobidska Ukraine. (150) Cossack Regiments of the Slobidska Ukraine. (151) Their Social and Economic Conditions. (152) Landowner­ship. (153) Military Service. (154) Russian Reforms in the Eighteenth Century. (155) Cultural Conditions.

 * * * *

149. Population of the Slobidska Ukraine.

Simultaneously with the Ukraine of the Hetmans another Ukrainian territory on the Left Bank of the Dnieper lost its autonomy: this was the so‑called Slobidska Ukraine. The history of this territory requires a special chapter in the general history of Ukraine because of the peculiar circumstances of its population and their different conditions of life.

The name of Slobidska Ukraine covers a vast territory lying to the east of the present Poltava province, including the area of the present Kharkov province and the southern and south-western districts of the Kursk and Voronezh provinces. From the ethnographic point of view this territory contains a uniform Ukrainian population and belongs to the rest of the Ukraine. From the historical point of view it had a different fate. In the Tenth to the Sixteenth centuries it was at different times settled by Ukrainians and was part of the Princedom of Chernigov-Sieversk. It was the arena of the stubborn fight against the nomads, and the present province of Kharkov was the scene of the fatal campaign of the princes of Sieversk, sung in the epic "Tale of the campaign of Prince Igor" (Slovo o polku Igoreve) against Polovtsi. The Tatar invasion turned this country into a desert until the first half of the Seventeenth century, when it was recolonized by Ukrainians.

From the geographical point of view Slobidska Ukraine is a tableland (plateau) on the watershed of the basins of the Dnieper and the Don. Like the neighboring  p471 Ukrainian provinces on the west, its black earth steppe is cleft by deep valleys at the bottom of which rivers and rivulets flow. At one time the country was rich in forest and the rivers, which then were deeper, were important to navigation. Anchors and remnants of vessels of a considerable size have been found in their beds. In consequence of the destruction of the forests, the rivers have become shallow and have lost their former importance as means of communication.

At the dawn of our era the steppe of the present Slobidska Ukraine was the abode of quite a number of nomadic tribes which succeeded one another remaining only for a short time and moving ever westwards: Huns, Avars, Pechenegs (Patsaks), Turks, Polovtsi (Kumans) and Tatars. Their presence has been proved by numerous archaeological finds. When the Tatar Horde settled on the lower Volga, they traversed the steppe of the Slobidska Ukraine on their way to invade the Ukraine and Great Russia. Their tracks usually led along the watersheds of the more important rivers and coincided with the important trade routes leading to the East and South East.

At the end of the Fourteenth century when the power of the Golden Horde declined and Great Russian territories became united round Moscow, and Ukrainians and White Russians were under the power of the Lithuanian princes, Ukrainians tended to expand toward the south and the Muscovites toward the south-east. The territory of the Slobidska Ukraine was at the same time the so‑called "Wild Steppe" whence Tatar bands invaded the southern borders of Muscovy. As this border became populated during the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries it was necessary to build permanent fortifications against the Tatar menace from the steppe region. The Muscovite government introduced a system of border fortifications forming a line, to the north of which lived a scanty agricultural population and to the south spread the desert steppe. The Muscovites increased their holdings from time to time always pushing the line of the fortifications  p472 further and further south. But the colonization did not advance as rapidly as the fortification line. The sparse population was mostly composed of military outposts and Muscovite officials. Civilians were occasionally forcibly settled but as they never came by their own volition, they took the first opportunity of returning to Muscovy. Muscovy after the Interregnum and the wars at the beginning of the Seventeenth century, was considerably depopulated and was unable to furnish colonists to settle on these distant borders.

150. Cossack Regiments of the Slobidska Ukraine.

It was toward the middle of the Seventeenth century that Ukrainian colonists once again came to settle in these empty spaces. During a few decades they completely changed the aspect of the country, turning the wild steppe into a flourishing country with an active agricultural and military population. This colonization began in the first half of the Seventeenth century after the failure of the Cossack uprising against Poland in 1638. It was Ostrianin, the Cossack leader, who crossed the Muscovite frontier with about 900 men after having lost the battle of Zhovnin. They received permission from the Muscovite government to settle near Chuhuev, to the east of present Kharkov. The refugees were allowed to retain their Cossack military organization and were employed in the defence against the Tatars.

This first settlement, however, was not a success. The Muscovite border administration proved to be inefficient and moreover, cruel, and this discouraged the refugees. News came of improved conditions in the Ukraine and most of them returned home. Later, the defeat of the Ukrainian forces of Khmelnitsky in Berestechko in 1651, and the disappointment of the people discouraged because of failure in the struggle against Poland, led a new migration movement eastward beyond the Muscovite frontier. Thousands of Cossacks and peasants with their families and belongings started to seek freedom in the Wild Steppe. From the Muscovite government  p473 they received empty areas for settlement and permission to maintain their Cossack military organization which was far better defence against the Tatars than the former fortification lines. In a short time new towns grew up such as Sumy, Kharkov, Okhtyrka and others.

After 1659, unrest in the Ukraine caused successive settlements and new waves of refugees seeking peace and conditions favorable to agriculture. Coming in great numbers with their families, servants, horses, cattle and sheep, they at once renewed their habitual pursuits. Thus in 1652, from the town of Ostrog in Volynia, a train of about a thousand Cossacks came with their wives and children and founded the town of Ostrohozhk in the present province of Voronezh. Colonel Ivan Zinkivsky brought with him his complete regimental staff of Cossack Officers, Commander, Captain, regimental secretary and even regimental chaplains. Kharko, a centurion, came though his staff and Cossacks and together with all their families, goods and chattels, founded the present town of Kharkov. Reports of Muscovite border officials have been found in the archives in Moscow giving exact information about these pioneers, their numbers as well as the number of the horses, cattle, sheep and pigs they brought with them. Thus they did not require any help from the Muscovite authorities beyond permission to settle. It is clear that these settlers, who in a short time turned the Wild Steppe into a flourishing wealthy country, were very welcome to the Muscovite government. In spite of Muscovite centralizing tendencies and practice they left the new settlers their Cossack organization and tolerated a wide measure of local self-government.

Parallel to this colonization by the masses, there was also a very important monastic colonization. We know of similar colonizations by monks in the ancient Kievan State and it is also known in Western Europe. In Slobidska Ukraine the monastic colonization represented the vanguard of settlement. In the year 1624 we  p474 have the first mention of the Svyatohorsky (Holy Mount) monastery that afterwards became very famous. Quite a number of monasteries grew up in the Slobidska Ukraine. The monks settled the peasants who were dependent on their monastery, started agriculture and founded schools. These newly founded monasteries became centres of culture.

151. Their Social and Economic Conditions.

Thus in the course of a few decades, across the Muscovite frontier of the Ukraine of the Hetmans, a new Ukrainian territory was growing up with the same Cossack military organization which the colonists had in their native country. Slobidska Ukraine consisted of five Cossack Regiments, Ostrohozhk, Kharkov, Sumy, Okhtyrka and Izum. Each Regiment formed a special territory, a province of the same name, subdivided into districts or hundreds. At the head of each Regiment was the Colonel with his staff of Cossack Officers. Following a different practice to that prevailing in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, the Colonels were here elected for life. The staff of the Cossack Regiment consisted of the Regimental Commander (head of the artillery, fortifications, etc.), Captain and standard bearer, the Colonel's aides-de‑camp and two secretaries. The staff of the Hundred consisted of similar Officers. The head of the Hundred (Sotnyk or Centurion) was elected by the Cossack Officers of the Regiment but departing from the custom of the mother country, he himself selected his own staff. A Colonel enjoyed very great power: he was head of the administration of the territory on which his Regiment was settled and chief judge; he led his Regiment in war time and distributed to newcomers free lands belonging to the Regiment. He had the insignia of his dignity, a mace, a standard and a seal. He published manifestos in his own name which in form and style were not unlike the Hetman's "Universal". The post of Colonel became hereditary in Slobidska Ukraine, which was also different from the mother country. The reasons for this were  p475 in the special conditions of the Cossack's settlement. Colonels were mostly leaders of groups of colonists and enjoyed a greater authority with the Cossacks within the Regiment, being also their representatives before the Muscovite voevods. This authority, in the course of time, became transferred to their descendents and in practice it became usual to have Colonels of the same family.

Although the Muscovite government gave the Cossack colonists complete internal self-government within the limits of a Regiment, they did not tolerate the union of the five Regiments under the leader­ship of one person chosen from among Cossack themselves. The Slobidska Cossacks did not have a Hetman as in the mother country. Each individual Regiment was dependent directly on the Muscovite voevod who had his residence in Bilhorod and who also confirmed the election of Colonels. The post of the voevod of Bilhorod was considered one of the most important in the Muscovite administration and only great boyars and titled princes were nominated.

The Muscovite government deliberately refused to allow the separate Cossack Regiments to unite under the power of a Ukrainian and dealt with each Regiment separately so as to prevent any feeling of separate territorial or national unity appearing among them. Each Regiment had its own constitution based on a separate charter from the Muscovite Tsar by which the Cossack military organization and the self-government by Regiments was granted. Cossacks were also freed from taxation and had the right of free trade and free distillation of spirits. The Rolls extending over several years of Registered Cossacks bound to active military service have come down to us. In the year 1700 there were 3,500 Cossacks on the Rolls, in the year 1732 there were 4,200. In case of a campaign the Slobidska Cossacks were obliged to put in the field 22,000 men, but altogether they numbered 86,000 men.

But peasants and burgesses, as well as Cossacks came out and settled in Slobidska Ukraine, bringing with them  p476 the social distinctions of the mother country. Reports of Muscovite voevods about the newcomers enumerate different classes, Cossacks, peasants, burgesses, and give their respective numbers. The town population was mostly merchants and artisans though also agriculturists. They brought with them their guild organizations and administered justice according to Magdeburg Law. The artisans' guild were closely connected with religious Brotherhoods and had a charitable purpose. In Kharkov in 1685 there were, for example, five different artisans' guilds.

The peasants came into Slobidska Ukraine at the same time as the Cossacks. They settled as freemen and had to pay certain taxes for the land to the Muscovite treasury. Most of them, however, settled on lands belonging to Cossack Officers and avoided taking land independently, because it entailed military duties. Cossack military service was very hard and peasants who emigrated in search of peace were unwilling to exchange the plough for the sword.

152. Landowner­ship.

The owner­ship of land in Slobidska Ukraine, as in the rest of Ukraine was the basis of all economic life. Here there were unlimited areas of excellent arable land. It belonged theoretically to the Tsar. In giving a grant to a Cossack Regiment the Tsar never indicated boundaries: the land was never measured and new settlers were entitled to appropriate as much as they could till. It became their private property. The subdivision within the Regiment was regulated in such a way that every new settler received as much arable land as he could till and also tracts of forest and meadow. Later, the settlers obtained charters from the Muscovite authorities or from the Tsar securing to them the possession of this land.

There was, however, still so much free land that even after the settlement of colonists great empty areas remained as a Cossack land fund at the disposal of the  p477 Colonels and Cossack Officers. These having ample means, servants and cattle, occupied greater areas of land, and settled peasants on them on condition of securing their labor. Thus great landed properties in Slobidska Ukraine immediately came into existence and the peasant labor, which at first was only conditional, later led to the development of serfdom. Tsar Peter made great use of grants of free lands here not only to those Cossack Officers who remained on his side in the Swedish war, but also to Russians. Thus in all Ukraine already at the beginning of the Seventeenth century the great landed properties were not exclusively in Ukrainian hands.

What was then the position of the peasants and their duties towards their landlords? At the outset, in the second half of the Seventeenth century, these duties were not heavy: the peasants, in return for the use of land, helped to plough the lands of the landlord and to gather his harvest. Thus their duties were seasonal only. But as time advanced the duties increased. Muscovite land­owners brought their serfs from Muscovy and settled them on lands granted to them by the Tsar. Muscovite serfdom was very advanced and the serfs' duties very heavy. This could not but influence the position of the Ukrainian peasants and the tendency was for them to become enslaved to their nobles. But generally speaking, serfdom in Slobidska Ukraine was never very hard, even if compared with that in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, and far easier than in Russia. The fertility of the land, of course, had its influence: there was no need of intensified cultivation since the ordinary methods did not require great effort. Thus the peasants' duties in Slobidska Ukraine were only slowly evolving towards serfdom in a severe form, such as prevailed in Muscovy, and which was also rapidly developing in the Ukraine of the Hetmans.

153. Military Service.

The Cossacks of the Slobidska Ukraine besides performing  p478 the permanent and very hard border service against the Tatars, took part in a great number of campaigns outside their territory. The Muscovite government, for instance, sent them to fight against Hetman Vyhovsky in 1659, against Brukhovetsky and against Orlik in 1711. They took part in campaigns against Chihirin in 1677‑1678. During Tsar Peter's Azov campaign they were all mobilized. They had to protect the Muscovite frontier against the Swedes during Charles XII's stay in Ukraine. They took part in the war against Persia in 1724, in the Polish campaign of 1733 and in the Turkish war of Münnich 1736‑1739. They took part in the war for the Austrian succession and finally in the Seven Years War 1756‑1762. Their military activity, as we see, was very intensive and their military qualities were very much appreciated by the Russian government.

But the Russian government demanded from them not only military service on the border and in numerous wars and campaigns, but also other duties that were harder for them than military service. Thus in 1697 Tsar Peter sent them to build the fortress of Kizikermen on the Lower Dnieper and in 1719 they were set the terrible task of digging the canals in North Russia. From every seven homesteads one Cossack had to go. The mortality among them during the canal digging was fearful. In 1728 they were sent to build a fortress on the Persian frontier. In the thirties of the Eighteenth century they took part in building the fortification line against the Tatars. From every ten homesteads one Cossack and one cart with a team of oxen was sent, and in addition every fifty men had to provide one plough with a team of oxen. They had also to provide food for themselves and fodder for their cattle. In the Turkish war of Münnich the Slobidska Cossacks had to furnish 12,000 carts with oxen and a part of the Russian army was quartered on them. These duties were far heavier than military service which was their constant additional burden. These duties, in fact, exhausted them and destroyed their prosperity.

 p479  Not the Cossacks only but also the urban population of Slobidska Ukraine was militarized to a great extent. The burgesses had to keep in order the fortifications of their towns; they had to provide the army with tar, hemp, carts, wheels, collars for horses, saddles and such like and to furnish carts and horses for the transport of food and munitions. The artisans among them, smiths, tailors and cobblers were pressed into service, each in his capacity for the army. Thus most of the population of Slobidska Ukraine was enrolled in military service which was natural enough considering the frontier character of the country and the permanent menace of the Tatars.

In spite of constant threats war and the burden of campaigns, the country was rich: the fertility of the land, its excellent, healthy and mild climate and its natural wealth and abundance made agriculture very flourishing. Besides agriculture and cattle breeding, the country was rich in orchards, vineyards, tobacco plantations, cultivation of silkworm, beekeeping, brewing and flour mills. Different crafts also flourished. The tanners of Slobidska Ukraine supplied products not only for their own region but for other Ukrainian territories, even for the Right Bank of the Dnieper. Weaving and especially carpet weaving was also wide spread. Trade in the country was very active. Slobidska Ukraine was famous for the fair where trading transactions were concentrated. The chief fair took place in Kharkov four times a year, and in Sumy there were three fairs during the year. Foreign merchants came here, especially from Silesia, Danzig, Leipzig, Crimea, Muscovy and Galicia. The foreign goods imported were mostly wrought metal goods, textiles and household goods.

Slobidska Ukraine had almost no political history, no strifes nor political troubles with the exception of the campaigns outside the country itself and the Tatar inroads. These were a real scourge and caused heavy losses to the country. Especially terrible devastation took place in the last decades of the Seventeenth century when  p480 thousands upon thousands of the population were carried off into slavery and hundreds of villages burnt to the ground by the half-savage nomads. Small inroads were an everyday event and continued as late as the end of the Eighteenth century until the conquest of Crimea. These sorts of danger kept the population, especially on the border, constantly on the alert and caused them great strain. The country was protected from unexpected attacks by a line of forts built along the frontier with outposts or wooden watch towers advancing far into the steppe. The construction and upkeep of these fortifications entailed much work and expense. But in spite of all efforts and constant vigilance the nomads often succeeded in eluding the watch and slipping across the fortified line.

Until the end of the Seventeenth century the Muscovite government did not interfere with the autonomy of the Slobidska Cossacks. They were well content to have secured a valuable population for this empty and up to now useless or even dangerous territory. Tsar Peter, as we have seen, drained the resources and wealth of the population in Slobidska Ukraine as much as possible, but this was in keeping with Peter's usual methods. It was his way to extract the maximum effort from all his provinces, and more especially the Ukraine.

154. Russian Reforms in the Eighteenth Century.

It was not until the reign of Empress Anna that changes began to be introduced which ultimately led to the abolition of local autonomy. A census of the population undertaken in 1732 revealed the hard economic state of the population overburdened with duties during Tsar Peter's reign. In order to improve the welfare of the Slobidska Cossacks, a Captain was nominated by Empress Anna with Prince Shakhovskoy, president of the "Little Russian Board", at the head. He transferred his residence to the town of Sumy to preside over the Commission which was composed of Russians only. The reforms proposed by the Commission consisted chiefly  p481 in cancelling the right of Cossack Officers to distribute free lands; those, however, who had already received land were entitled to keep them. The number of Cossacks who had to do active military service in peace time was settled at 4,500 men; the rest had to pay a tax for being exempt. Several minor curtailments of Cossack privileges were made. The five Slobidska Regiments were put under the power of one man, Colonel Lessevitzky, a protege of Prince Shakhovskoy.

The reforms of the Commission were, of course, very unpopular and evidently made no improvement in the position of the population. Empress Elizabeth received a delegation from the Slobidska Cossacks on her coronation, accepted their petition and cancelled those short-lived reforms. Slobidska Cossacks received back their rights and privileges. The Rolls of active service were raised to 7,500 men. But at the same time four Russian regiments were quartered on Slobidska Ukraine. Very soon, however, new restrictions were imposed. Slobidska Cossacks were forbidden not only to settle in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, but to change from one regiment to another, thus being made practically prisoners on their estates. Parallel to Cossack Regiments, Hussar regiments were created from among volunteers of the local population and were openly preferred to the Cossacks. The accession of Catherine II to the throne also brought fundamental changes here. As in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, the reforms were preceded by an investigation into the so‑called mismanagement of the Cossack Officers; and in order to "protect the population against them" reforms were decided upon. According to the new plan carried out in 1765 the Cossack organization was entirely abolished. Five Hussar regiments enrolled from volunteers took the place of the former five Cossack regiments. The Cossack population remained personally free and had to pay taxes instead of the former military service. The peasants were attached to the land and given into the power of the landlords. Cossack Officers were made equal in rank with the Russian army  p482 and obtained the rights and privileges of the Russian nobles.

During the elections of the Legislative Commission of 1767 the discontent of the population with the reform found vent in several instructions the electors gave to their delegates. The Russian administration interfered with the elections and as in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, arrested and imprisoned electors and their delegates, showing a complete misapprehension, ignorance, or contempt, of free elections. Perusing the instructions brought by the delegation of Slobidska Ukraine to the short-lived Legislative Commission in Moscow, we can see that the Cossacks especially regretted the abolition of the old regime and of their self-government. The Cossack Officers, now Russian nobles, mostly desired the introduction of complete serfdom. Their desire for a University is an exception among their purely material and frankly selfish wishes.

155. Cultural Conditions.

Though the population of the Slobidska Ukraine had neither the political experience nor the historic traditions which distinguished Ukraine of the Hetmans, their attachment to national culture and to the Ukrainian language and their love for and understanding of the necessity of education were very evident. These aspects of patriotism played an important part at the beginning of the Ukrainian national revival early in the Nineteenth century to which the Slobidska Ukraine contributed in considerable measure.

With regard to the culture of the Slobidska Ukraine, there is nothing astonishing in the fact that it was identical with that of the Ukraine of the Hetmans. The two territories were intimately connected and lived a common cultural life, the political frontier that separated them being hardly noticed. Sons of Cossack Officers and even of Common Cossacks from Slobidska Ukraine went to schools in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, especially to the Kievan Academy. Books printed in Kiev, Novgorod- p483 Sieversk and Chernigov, even in Volynia and Galicia, were widely spread among the population of the Slobidska Ukraine. At the beginning of the Eighteenth century an extension College of the Kievan Academy was founded first in Bilhorod and later transferred to Kharkov. Former pupils of the Kievan Academy taught in this College which itself was arranged according to the plan of the Peter Mohyla Academy. Elementary schools were as numerous as in the Ukraine of the Hetmans, every village having one or several schools. The type of the "itinerant teacher" (mandrovany diak)​a was also very usual here. The activity of the philosopher Skovoroda (1732‑1794), who belonged equally to the Ukraine of the Hetmans and to the Slobidska Ukraine, might serve as an example of the unity of cultural life and interests. The same is true of the arts, especially architecture and painting. Ukrainian baroque in church building was very common here and several churches in Kharkov, Okhtyrka and Boromlia, are perfect examples of that style. The influence of Western artists in painting also was much felt: in a very secluded village church in the Slobidska Ukraine very good copies of Murillo were recently found. The houses and interiors of Cossack Officers here show the same taste; the same sample of furniture and household objects are to be met with; while the presence of objects of foreign industry speak also of lively economic and artistic relations with Western Europe. Nowhere, perhaps, did the profound unity of national life manifest itself more than in the sphere of folklore, popular songs, fairy tales, legends, traditions, customs and beliefs, being fully developed in the Slobidska Ukraine and preserved even to the present day. The first description of a popular Ukrainian wedding with all the ritual songs, usages and ceremonies belonging to it was noted down in the Slobidska Ukraine and published in 1777, thus initiating the study of Ukrainian folklore. Nowhere in the Ukraine are the "bandurists" or "kobzars", blind troubadours who sing epics and religious and popular songs to the accompaniment of the  p484 "bandura" or "kobza", to be met with to this day in such numbers as in the Slobidska Ukraine. This wealth of popular oral tradition served as a source of material to the founder of modern Ukrainian prose fiction of the Romantic period, Gregory Kvitka, native of Kharkov. Though not enriching Ukrainian political history to any important extent, the Slobidska Ukraine contributed valuable elements to the common treasury of Ukrainian national culture.

Thayer's Note:

a P467 f.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 29 May 22