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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
New York,

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!


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Chapter 8

 p87  Chapter Seven

The Revolt of Mazepa

The seventeenth century, which saw the settlement of the English in America, witnessed a shift in the balance of power in Eastern Europe and no one had contributed more to this than had Khmelnitsky and the success­ful revolt of the Kozak Host. The sudden awakening of the Ukrainians politically to a sense of their importance was an event of more than usual significance, and they undoubtedly hoped to play the role of a neutral state between Poland and Moscow. To both contestants they presented an entirely new situation.

The Poland of the beginning of the century was mortally wounded by the Kozak revolt. At the beginning of the century, the King of Poland had dared to dream of establishing himself in the Kremlin, and while he failed, the results were not disastrous. The lack of success in the Polish Kozak policy was disastrous, for the great revolt had not only torn away from Poland along part of its eastern lands but had encouraged the Swedish wars which wrecked the country still further. The damage was done at Pereyaslav, for an honest acceptance of the demands of Khmelnitsky up to that moment might easily have permitted the restoration of the Republic under a different form and have allowed it to continue strong and power­ful.

The magnates and the Polish Catholic authorities would not hear of any settlement. They were neither ready nor able to support the thoroughly militant idea of Wisniowiecki which would have laid upon them a heavy and continuous burden, perhaps beyond the power of the state,  p88 but which would have provided a consistent policy, the success or failure of which might be calculated in advance. They would not accept a policy of compromise, even when Khmelnitsky offered it, lest it injure their dignity. Thus again Polish wavering promised nothing but ill to the state as it had when the Kozak question was still a purely internal problem.

Moscow welcomed the control over the Host. The defeat of the Golden Horde in the sixteenth century had in a way freed the hands of the Tsars. The submission of Khmelnitsky advanced their boundaries to the Dnyeper. Yet there was a definite fly in the ointment. The Kozaks were liberty-loving people, they were accustomed to personal rights, and they formed a serious menace to the monolithic structure in which the Tsar and the Tsar alone possessed absolute rights. If Moscow was to triumph over its old enemy to the west, it was necessary to hold the Kozak Host and if it was to continue its policy, it was necessary to break its influence.

Thus Moscow could not rest satisfied with the conditions produced at Pereyaslav. Almost at once it commenced to infringe upon the rights of the Kozaks and to seek to turn them into typical Russian serfs. It knew that its acceptance of the Host would speedily involve it in war with Poland and that there would be a clash in which the loyalty of the Kozaks would be the decisive factor.

This left the Host and the Ukrainians in a relatively advantageous position. Besides that, there was still the Sultan of Turkey who could play a hand in the game, for we must not never forget that at this moment the Turkish tide was still running strongly. It was still twenty years before it would reach its height outside the walls of Vienna and all of Europe would be terrorized at the thought that a victorious Islam might push its way further into the heart of the continent.

 p89  Everything depended upon the successor of Khmelnitsky. Would he be able to continue the task of welding the Host and the Ukrainian population into a strong whole which would be able to speak unhesitatingly and firmly to both friend and foe? Would he be able to heal the rifts that were already evident in the organization, which had been evident for a century and which awaited only a strong and continued effort to mend, or would he allow them to increase and destroy what had been already accomplished?

Unfortunately disorder and blind passion were destined to be the guiding forces of the next half century. None of the successors of Khmelnitsky possessed his political acumen or the ability to control the unruly bands of Kozaks and to continue his work of turning a purely military order of fighters into a modern state. All the disruptive tendencies which had existed from the beginning appeared again with renewed force now that the Kozak question was pitched on international lines and formed a part of the European struggle for power.

The Kozak officers were a body by themselves. Wherever the old landlords were driven away, the officers sought to secure their estates. They no longer considered themselves elective servants of the Host but they saw themselves as a new nobility. They demanded that they receive as their own the abandoned estates and that required the control over the former serf population, if the lands were to be run properly and profitably. They saw the Polish and Muscovite nobles ruling autocratically over large tracts of territory and being the masters of many villages. They realized that the old hit and miss elective system was not suited to the administration of large areas of territory and the maintenance of a consistent foreign policy and they could not visualize reform in any other way than by assimilating themselves to the prevailing mode of life in Eastern Europe. Their object was either the formation of an aristocratic  p90 republic like Poland or unrestrained overlord­ship like Moscow. They resented the rights of the lesser Kozaks and once they had secured estates, they were determined not to allow their serfs and peasants to join the Kozak body and thus escape the more burdensome obligations. Quite the reverse. Just as the Poles, they sought to force the Kozaks into servile labor. Their demands were mild at first but with each year they became more oppressive and galling. As a result they began to hire mercenary guards for their persons and property and this marked an overwhelming change in the constitution of the Host. The early Kozaks who had dared to raid the outskirts of Constantinople would have been aghast at this development, at this denial of the fundamental quality of the members of the Host, but the process went on inexorably.

The ordinary Kozaks deeply resented this transformation of their corps of officers into something like the hated landlords and tried in every way to thwart and hinder the movement. They swung like a pendulum from one group of officers to another and allowed themselves to become the prey of all kinds of intrigues. Nevertheless very few of them thought seriously of the situation and even when they did succeed in electing a hetman from their own class, they did not support him and he in turn adapted his manners to those of the other officers. Thus the mass of the Kozaks in their search for their old freedom maintained only their old turbulence and their wild and unreasoning attachment to Orthodoxy and this prevented them from exerting the full force of their influence in a constructive way. At the same time, the Kozaks, even when they were almost reduced to serfs, still maintained their superiority to all other classes of the population.

A new cause of discord arose over the Zaporozhian Sich. The Kozaks of the Sich, still in a sense the real frontiersmen, argued that the choice of hetmans should be conducted  p91 there and they developed an open hostility toward the officers and the Kozaks of the permanent regimental and territorial organizations that existed in the more settled part of the country. It only added more unpleasantness, for the Kozaks of the Sich did not realize that it required a consistent policy if the Host was to maintain itself under the new conditions.

At the same time the international pot continued to boil. Both Moscow and Poland, busily engaged in fighting one another, angled for the support of the Kozaks. Both sides in cases of necessity made liberal promises. The Poles were only too willing to give the Kozaks anything for which they asked when they were driving back the Muscovites; the Muscovites were willing to extend political and financial assistance whenever the Kozaks were needed to turn back the Poles. As soon as discord raised its head in the Kozak ranks, the favorable offers were withdrawn, the Polish magnates renewed their claims to Ukrainian land and the Muscovites began to abrogate the Kozak privileges granted at the Treaty of Pereyaslav. At times the Turks and the Crimean Tatars, their vassals, took a hand in the game but they likewise did not carry out any consistent policy and did not try to fulfil the promises which they had made a short time before to the Kozak leaders.

Under such conditions everybody suffered, but the Ukrainian population, which might have profited by the duel between Poland and Moscow, fared the worst. The land was terribly devastated and there came the period graphically called by the Ukrainians of this and later periods the Ruin. The helpless population, Kozak and non‑Kozak alike, wandered from the right bank of the Dnyeper to the left bank. They went on into the land of free communes which was outside the Hetman state and then discovered that Moscow would not confirm their privileges there, since it was regarded as purely Muscovite territory.  p92 Then with a slight change or rumors of change in the west, the trend of wandering reversed its course and the settlers streamed back to the right bank, only to be again disillusioned and resume their melancholy travels.

Under such conditions it is idle to seek for a coherent history. It is impossible even to speak of Polish and Muscovite parties among the Kozaks, for regiments and companies swung from side to side with appalling rapidity, handicapped their more able hetmans and either killed them or discredited them so thoroughly that they received little hearing at either Warsaw or Moscow.

To cite but a few cases. Shortly after the death of Khmelnitsky, his secretary, Ivan Vyhovsky, almost unified the Host as a new hetman succeeding the weak Yury Khmelnitsky. Vyhovsky and his friends realized that with a weakened Poland, it might be possible for the Kozaks to force upon the King a recognition of their rights. He drew up the Union of Hadiach in 1658 and this more than fulfilled the dreams of Khmelnitsky, for it made the Kozak Host and Rus′ a third member of the Polish state along with Poland and Lithuania. It again gave the Orthodox Metropolitan the right to sit in the Polish Senate and conferred upon the Academy of Kiev the same rights that were given to the Polish Universities of Krakow and Wilno. It was all in vain. The blind hate of the Polish clergy and aristocratic landowners and Muscovite intrigues destroyed the plains of Vyhovsky and the Poles speedily withdrew their promises.

Ten years later Peter Doroshenko, more hostile to the Poles, manipulated his power so skilfully that he was able to win complete independence from Poland and became the master of the right bank. Through an alliance with Mnohohrishny, the hetman of the left bank, he bade fair to unite again the whole of Ukraine with the hope of securing a definite autonomy from the Tsar. It was of no use.  p93 The officers overthrew Mnohohrishny because he was the son of a peasant and then they appealed to Moscow against Doroshenko. Of course the Tsar heard them for he welcomed the opportunity to deprive the Host of its rights to deal with foreign policy, and executed Mnohohrishny. Doroshenko tried in vain to secure Turkish help but this was not forthcoming and the hatred of the Kozaks for Islam brought about his downfall. When he had to surrender to Moscow, he received a long term in Siberia.

Then came the turn of Ivan Samoylovich, who was as sympathetic and obedient to Moscow as the others had been critical and independent. He won a certain amount for the Host at the price of taking part in Muscovite plans against Turkey. Yet when an expedition under Prince Golitsyn met with failure against the Crimea, because of disregard of his advice, the other officers accused him to the Tsar of betraying the Russians. Samoylovich was deposed and imprisoned and his son was executed.

Thus while the Host was relapsing into discord, it gave both Tsar and King the power to do with the Ukrainian lands as they would. In 1667, by the Treaty of Andrusivo, the two divided Ukraine at the Dnyeper, with Poland holding the right bank and Moscow the left and the city of Kiev on the right bank. This last was nominally for two years, but Moscow never returned the prize and used the occupation for still greater demands.

The chief of these lay in the elimination of the autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This was still nominally under the control of the Patriarch of Constantinople but Moscow wanted it under the Patriarch of Moscow to cement its own power. Diplomatic pressure on the Sultan led him to force the Patriarch of Constantinople to consent to this and then the ever obedient Samoylovich appointed a relative Metropolitan of Kiev and the thing was done. Moscow had been able to lay its hand upon the last strong  p94 factor of Ukrainian independence and the rest was easy.​a

It was in the midst of this chaos that Ivan Mazepa became hetman after the arrest of Samoylovich. He was the last of the hetmans who possessed any real strength of character and assurance of his position. Perhaps he misjudged his situation. Perhaps it was an unkind fate that drove him along the path of destruction and with him the Kozak Host and all Ukraine. Yet he played a striking role, albeit an unsuccess­ful one, in the events of the day and achieved lasting fame or ill‑repute among his fellow countrymen and their oppressors.

Mazepa was born about 1640 in Bila Tserkva on the right bank and received an excellent education. For a while he was at the court of the King of Poland and conducted various diplomatic negotiations with Ukraine for the King. Then he suddenly vanished, perhaps because of an unconventional love affair as described by Byron, and he turned up in the Hetman state. He attracted the attention of Samoylovich who made him the Inspector General of the Host. This brought him into prominence both with the Ukrainians and the Muscovites and when Samoylovich was arrested in 1687, Mazepa offered Prince Golitsyn ten thousand rubles for the post of hetman and Golitsyn saw to it that he was the sole candidate for the position.

The world had changed since the time of Khmelnitsky and it would be impossible to recognize the traditional type of hetman in Mazepa. The gulf between the early Kozak hetmans, who acquired their power merely to conduct a raid against Constantinople, and Khmelnitsky was not so great as that between Khmelnitsky and Mazepa. The latter had become hetman only of the left bank. He might indeed possess some nominal control over the Kozaks of Paly in Poland but it was utterly ineffective and he had no power to bring them as organized units under his control. There were Muscovite garrisons in all of the important cities and  p95 the maintenance of his power depended upon his retention of the confidence of the Tsar. Still less than Khmelnitsky could he think of the welfare of the people. Still less than Khmelnitsky did he have the power to organize armies and use them for purposes of his own or of the Officers' Council. He was bound hand and foot by the Tsar and this Tsar was Peter the Great.

Mazepa had been hetman for only two years, when Peter succeeded in forcing his half-sister Sophia out of power, making her take refuge in a convent. He immediately removed Prince Golitsyn from all of his important posts, that same man who had been the patron of Mazepa and had placed him in the hetman­ship. Then Peter began his policy of reforms. This is not the place to describe his transformation of old Moscow into the modern Russia, but it can well be seen that Ukraine and the Kozak Host, already stripped of most of the rights guaranteed by Tsar Alexis, would not escape his centralizing tendencies.

Mazepa, although he was closely associated with Golitsyn, profited by the latter's downfall. He succeeded in winning and holding the confidence of Peter, who willingly took from the Golitsyn estates and returned to Mazepa the money that he had paid Golitsyn for his election, and the generous Tsar gave him a good slice of the Golitsyn fortune as a mark of favor.

This fortune together with the income of the Kozak Host allowed the new hetman to start an unparalleled period of monumental building in Ukraine. Thus, for example, he remodelled in Baroque architecture the old Church of St. Sophia in Kiev. He constructed the Cathedral of St. Nicholas and the Church of the Epiphany. He surrounded the Monastery of the Caves with an elaborate wall. In everything that he touched Mazepa showed the influence of the contemporary art of the West and his hetman­ship marked the flowering of Ukrainian Baroque architecture.

 p96  He had many motives for this. In the first place, he could feel the desire of Peter for the elimination of the old forms of Muscovite art and life. His liberal expenditure of funds for a westernizing purpose could not fail to increase the certainty of the Tsar that he was not interested in the maintenance of the old form of life. It appealed to large elements of the Ukrainian population, and Mazepa used his liberal support of the Orthodox Church to prove that he had no Polonizing tendencies and that he was not, as his enemies charged again and again, a mere servant of the Poles, for this was the favorite charge against the hetmans and could rouse against him both the suspicions of the Tsar and the ill will of the Ukrainian population, Kozak and non‑Kozak alike.

On the other hand, Mazepa was a true hetman of the later type. He was not in general on good terms with the leaders of the Zaporozhian Sich, who claimed to speak for common Kozaks, and emphasized in their turbulent way the last elements of that democracy that had characterized the entire Host of a century earlier. Mazepa found his chief elements of support in the officers of the Kozak Host and he relied upon the gifts of the Tsar to these men to maintain their loyalty to him. For his protection he trusted chiefly to his mercenary forces, on whose continued loyalty he could count for financial reasons. His ambition was to be recognized as the master of Ukraine, perhaps the King of a subservient state, and his ambitions perhaps went no further than to hold the same position toward Moscow as the princes of Georgia and other bordering vassal states. His role was far different from that of the older hetmans who had felt themselves owing no responsibility except to God and the assembly of the Host. He himself owed supreme allegiance to the Tsar and he demanded the same loyalty to himself.

The policy of Mazepa naturally did not make him  p97 friends among the ordinary Kozaks who bitterly denounced him and his officers for their high-handed actions. Yet when Petryk tried to secure the aid of the Zaporozhian Sich against him and also secured recognition from the Turks and Tatars, very few joined him and Mazepa was able to weather the storm without difficulty.

Yet Mazepa was something more than a mere supporter of the Tsar. His friend Kochubey denounced him to Peter for writing a poem glorifying the independence of Ukraine and visualizing the hetman as an autocratic and independent monarch. Peter laughed at the accusations and merely condemned Kochubey to death when he added other insinuations against the loyalty of the hetman. Kochubey was probably right. Mazepa ardently desired to see Ukraine free but he was too well aware of the abuses of the past to risk a struggle under the old manners and customs of the hetmanate. He apparently had convinced himself and his friends that Ukraine could only recover its liberty under an absolute monarch and he intended to be that man.

In the meanwhile the Northern War had broken out, and this radically changed the situation. Charles XII, a man of superb military talent and a ruthless desire to employ it, had inherited the Swedish army at a time when Sweden, as a result of the Thirty Years War, was one of the great powers of Europe. In 1700 he attacked Russia and badly defeated Peter at the battle of Narva. Then he wasted the next years in trying to depose August II, King of Poland, and replace him with Stanislas Leszczynski, a move in which he had the support of all the anti-Russian factions of Poland. This alliance of the King of Sweden and one faction of the Poles against the Tsar of Russia a and the King of Poland opened new vistas to the Kozaks, who had not forgotten the negotiations between Khmelnitsky and the Swedes during the great Kozak revolt of a half century earlier.

 p98  Intermittent hostilities between the forces of King August and the Kozaks of Paly, the leader of the Kozaks in Poland, led Paly to appeal for aid to Mazepa, but at the moment Peter was interested in maintaining relations with the King and he forbade Mazepa to interfere. Instead of that he offered himself to help in the suppression of Paly. This of course displeased Mazepa for he had hopes of bringing Western Ukraine under his control, but again he was compelled to wait.

Finally in 1704 Peter ordered Mazepa to enter Western Ukraine to subdue the Polish nobles friendly to Charles. Mazepa obeyed in his own special way to aid the Kozaks. However, he distrusted the influence of Paly, who represented more democratic traditions, arrested him and reported to Peter what was probably the truth: that Paly was in touch with the Swedes. He replaced him with one of his own relatives, a Colonel Omelchenko, and finally this man was accepted by the Kozaks of the west and still more warmly by the population of the various towns. However, in 1707 Peter ordered him to restore Western Ukraine to Polish rule. This Mazepa was unwilling to do, although instead of open disobedience to the Tsar's order, he made all kinds of excuses and promises, and evaded action.

Mazepa had apparently already made up his mind to strike for the independence of Ukraine, if Charles showed any sign of success. The war was dragging on and Charles, true to his character, was dashing hither and yon through Europe, wasting his troops, winning victory after victory but not concentrating on any definite policy. The Kozak hetman therefore opened some sort of negotiations with Stanislas Leszczynski, and through him he could of course reach Charles. Yet he was so overcautious that he kept even his closest friends from knowing of his plans and continued to strengthen his bonds with Peter.

This policy could not fail to overreach itself. On the one  p99 hand the Kozaks knew only of his apparent devotion to the cause of the Tsar and those officers and men who were most hostile to Peter steadily lost confidence in him. On the other hand he could not rally any wide classes to his standards nor could he take the most elementary steps for moving his own troops into advantageous positions for the coming struggle. Perhaps he believed that he had only to give the order and all the Kozaks would spring to arms in his behalf. If so, he was badly mistaken, for his whole policy had alienated a large part of the Kozak forces and he could not appeal to them as easily as could the older hetmans who had tried to keep in close contact with the masses of the Host.

The sequence of events is still uncertain, but after a year of this double play, Charles suddenly turned his attention back to Russia and attacked Peter from Lithuania, not far from the Ukrainian border. His original plan seems to have been to seize Smolensk and march on Moscow, while General Loewenhaupt attacked from Livonia. Suddenly, as winter was coming on, Charles turned south into Ukraine.

Mazepa now could realize the evils of his excessive caution. Peter, at the first attack, had ordered a large part of the Kozak regiments moved into Lithuania and had sent a Russian army into Ukraine to protect Mazepa and his officers from the hatred of the Ukrainians, something for which Mazepa had previously begged. This left him in an impossible position and did not strengthen Charles, for the very troops that might have swelled the size of the Swedish army were where they could not be easily reached and the Russians were in the very heart of Mazepa's territory.

Still it was now or never. There was the one chance that Charles might defeat the Russian army in the first encounter. If he did, Mazepa would have won his game of freeing Ukraine from both Russia and Poland, for Sweden  p100 was willing to promise them complete independence and Leszczynski and the Polish magnates were not in a position to oppose this. If Charles failed for lack of Ukrainian help, the fate of Ukraine was sealed. Mazepa could remain loyal to Peter but he would have to resign all thought of liberating his country and becoming an independent ruler.

It hardly seems possible that Mazepa invited Charles to spend the winter in Ukraine, before he threw off the mask of allegiance to Peter. If he did, it certainly reflects upon his understanding of the military situation and it was a poor move on the part of Charles, although he might hope that he could receive more supplies and have better winter quarters in Ukraine than further to the north.

Mazepa took the chance. He secretly set what troops he had in motion and led them to the camp of Charles before any of them were aware that a revolt was going on. Peter took immediate action and sent a Russian force to burn Baturyn, the capital of Mazepa, massacred the garrison and destroyed a large part of his supplies. This made it very difficult for the hetman to rally to his standards large numbers of the Kozaks and to spread the revolt far and wide through the Ukrainian lands.

During the winter both Peter and Mazepa engaged in large scale propaganda. The former denounced Mazepa as Pole and a Catholic and ordered the Kozak officers to meet at Hlukhiv and elect another hetman. This time he designated Ivan Skoropadsky. He also won back several of the officers who had gone with Mazepa to the Swedish camp. For his part, Mazepa sent word through the whole of Ukraine that he was now determined to free Ukraine once and for all from Muscovite domination and he urged all Ukrainian patriots to rally to his cause.

The Tsar further ordered the authorities of the Orthodox Church to utter anathemas against Mazepa and the  p101 Church willingly complied, although Mazepa had been their most munificent donor during his entire period as hetman. Mazepa's estates were confiscated and the townspeople humbly assured Peter of their fidelity. In a word it was very difficult to stir up effective revolt, so carefully had Mazepa covered his steps and negotiations in advance of his declaration of rebellion.

His main success lay in winning over the Kozaks of the Zaporozhian Sich. These doughty fighters for the old rights of the Host had long been opposed to Mazepa and to his policy of favoring the Tsar. They had been opposed also to the introduction of serfdom or practical serfdom in the country. Nevertheless, when they saw that the hetman had taken the final step, the Sich began to swing toward the side of Mazepa and Charles, and soldiers soon began to arrive in the Swedish camp. Yet their aid was not as important as it would have been a century earlier, for the Sich too had lost much of its original glory and prowess. There were no longer the abundant supplies of arms and artillery that had been there in the days when the Kozaks gathered and prepared their expedition against whoever seemed the most profitable foe.

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The Zaporozhian Kozaks writing a letter to the Sultan

(Ilya Repin)​b

Charles moved southward toward the Sich but he was held up at Poltava, which refused to surrender to him. In the meanwhile the Russian armies in Ukraine had attacked and captured the Sich by treachery and then, in defiance of the terms of surrender, massacred and tortured a large part of the garrison. The rest escaped into Tatar territory and set up a Sich near the mouth of the Dnyeper.

The final battle took place at Poltava on July 8, 1709. It was a crushing defeat for Charles, whose troops had been worn down by years of fighting and by lack of proper winter quarters. The Swedish and Kozak forces were cut to  p102 pieces and only a handful, including Charles and Mazepa, succeeded in escaping into Turkey. Here they were practically imprisoned by the Turks, while the Sultan deliberated whether or not to accept Russian offers of a handsome ransom to have the fugitives turned over to them. Charles was finally released and obliged to quit Turkey. Mazepa lived only a few months and then died.

The officers with him still did not lose hope. They elected Philip Orlyk to be the new hetman and made plans to draw up a formal constitution for the Host. This was far more in accordance with Western standards than had been the old informal system of administration, for it provided for a regular governmental body to be composed of the officers, delegates elected by the ordinary Kozaks and still others selected by the Sich. The measure also provided those limitations on the power of the hetman that experience in the Western countries had found useful. Thus the hetman was no longer to control all the finances of the Host but would have his own source of income, and the treasurer would handle the general funds, subject only to the general assembly or staff. Of course this remained only a paper constitution, for Orlyk and his friends were never allowed to return home.

They continued to hope, however, that relations between Russia, Turkey and Sweden would develop in such a way that Ukraine would regain its independence. The Swedes promised to treat Ukraine as an independent country, but their own strength had been exhausted. Turkey seemed more promising, especially after Peter and his forces were surrounded by the Turks near the Pruth. Once again bribery saved the day and the Turks, who had Peter definitely in their power, released him and signed a treaty that appeared to satisfy Ukrainian aspirations but which in reality gave increased power to Russia.

 p103  The battle of Poltava and the fall of Mazepa definitely crushed the hopes of Ukraine and established the supremacy of Moscow, which now formally and officially accepted Russia as its new name. It was the last great attempt of the Ukrainians under the Russian Empire to attain their freedom and it had failed disastrously. Perhaps it hastened the destruction of the Kozak rights, but these had already been so whittled away by amendments to the Treaty of Pereyaslav carried through by imperial edict that the end could not have been long in coming.

More important than that, the Russian government held Mazepa up as an outstanding example of a traitor. The Russians could carefully edit the career of Khmelnitsky and give him certain praise for his signing of the fatal treaty. In Mazepa they had a clear opportunity to vilify the unfortunate leader and to label all Ukrainians who henceforth sought freedom for their country as Mazepintsy, followers of Mazepa, with the definite implication that he was false to the great destiny of the Ukrainians: to be submerged in the great mass of the Empire and to abandon all their traditions and ideals.

It is small wonder that the tradition of the hetman has lived on among the Ukrainians, and that they are willing to glorify him. Mazepa represented a last phase in Ukrainian development. Unfortunately, he was unable to solve the problem. The general trend of the seventeenth century had drawn a constantly wider gulf between the officers and the masses of the Kozaks and the civilians. Mazepa knew no way of organizing the country after the disastrous experiences of his predecessors except by adopting an anti-democratic attitude and setting himself up as almost an absolute ruler. His environment and his training had taught him to act by devious paths and he dallied too long before he took the final step. Had he acted earlier and  p104 more firmly in connection with the Swedes, he might have achieved his goal.

Yet in another sense his doom was necessary. It was not until the constitution drawn up by Orlyk in exile that there emerged a clear idea in the minds of the Kozak leaders as to their relation­ship with the masses of the Ukrainians. Too long had the Sich and the hetmans sought to remain purely a military body without political implications. The need for organizing a Ukrainian state had seemed to them less immediate than the defending of the military rights of the Kozaks. In their political inexperience, they had neglected again and again opportunities that were really priceless. It was not until it was too late that they grasped the responsibilities of their position and freed themselves from their narrow political outlook.

If Khmelnitsky was really the architect of Ukrainian conscious independence, then it was Mazepa and his followers who definitely cast away all hope of continuing the old ambiguous situation. It would have been one thing to have done this in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was quite different to undertake it in the eighteenth against such a Tsar as Peter. Mazepa's only hope was to lay a broad foundation for his movement, to prepare a real basis for a national revolt. This was not in the spirit of the man; it was not practical in the face of the agents of Peter and of the murmuring and dissensions that still lingered on among many of the Kozaks. As a result, Mazepa became a really romantic figure, risking everything on what was almost certainly a lost cause, which only a miracle could have turned into victory. Yet that miracle was near at many moments and it was another tragedy of the Ukrainian people that they were not able to grasp the right moment, make the right moves and bring themselves to final independence.

The fall of Mazepa marks the end of the Kozak wars and  p105 of the political significance of the Kozak Host. It marks within the Russian Empire the ending of a phase of history, turbulent but romantic and heroic to last degree. It marks also the passing of the Ukrainian movement from a purely military enterprise to the modern political and economic struggle that it was to be in the future. At the same time the followers of Mazepa began to raise the Ukrainian question in the chancelleries and thought of Western Europe.

Thayer's Notes:

a The Patriarch of Constantinople's ruling transferring his jurisdiction over the Kievan Orthodox Church to Moscow was in 1686. The Patriarchate of Constantinople reversed the ruling in 2019, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is now once again autocephalous.

[decorative delimiter]

b For the relatively poor-quality black-and‑white illustration actually found in the printed book I've substituted a color reproduction of the painting, public domain.

The painting refers to a (purported) incident not mentioned anywhere by our author: in 1676, the Ottoman Sultan is supposed to have sent the Kozaks an ultimatum, not something likely to be happily viewed by the Kozaks, who, it is said, sat down as a sort of committee to draft with relish a reply as grossly insulting as it was gleefully puerile. The scene was painted two hundred years later, and is a work of genius in the sense that Repin — a very good painter reminiscent at times of Ingres, at others of Corot or even Turner — abandoned his usual style and produced a garish piece of kitsch splendiferously suited to the event it records.

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Page updated: 25 Apr 22