Citation metadata

Editor: Jonathan Dewald
Date: 2004
Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Country overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 5)

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 89


UKRAINE. Ukraine entered the fifteenth century with no independent state of its own, as the formerly powerful principalities of Galicia and Volhynia—heirs of the once mighty Kievan Rus'—succumbed to the rule of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. While the Rus' elites of the Galicia and Kholm regions, annexed by Poland in 1387, played little if any role in the political life of the Polish state, their counterparts in the rest of the Ruthenian (Ukrainian and Belarusian) territories, which were taken over by the Lithuanian princes in the course of the fourteenth century, became the most influential political force in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Their political clout was translated into cultural dominance, which was reflected in the status of the Ruthenian as the official language of the realm and in the conversion of numerous members of the Lithuanian ruling dynasty to Orthodoxy. The political, economic, and cultural dominance of the Ruthenian elites in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was, nevertheless, short-lived, as Lithuania, threatened by its northern and eastern neighbors, strengthened its ties with the Kingdom of Poland.

A number of agreements proclaiming the union of the two states opened the door to growing Polish political, religious, and cultural influences in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Union of Lublin (1569) concluded the process of the amalgamation of the two polities into one state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The union was opposed by the Ruthenian princes, as it significantly curtailed their traditional powers in the region. It was supported nevertheless by the nobility, which as a result of the union received same political status as the Polish nobility (szlachta). After the conclusion of union, the Kingdom of Poland effectively took control of most of Ukraine, adding to its earlier Ukrainian possessions the Podlasia, Volhynia, Kiev, and Bratslav regions. All of the Belarusian lands remained within the boundaries of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The border between the new Commonwealth partners, in the Pripet River basin, laid the foundations for the modern Ukrainian-Belarusian border. One of the consequences of the union in the cultural sphere was the gradual replacement of Ruthenian as the official language of the area by Latin and Polish. The Union of Lublin increased the Polish presence in Ukraine, as kings granted large latifundia there to Polish nobles. It also helped to initiate a mass migration of the Jewish population into central and eastern Ukraine.

From the late sixteenth century, the union of the Orthodox and Catholic Christians of the Commonwealth became the leitmotif of a controversial government policy. The union was proclaimed at the church council of Brest in 1596, and it provoked a strong negative reaction on the part of Ruthenian princes, Orthodox brotherhoods, and the majority of the monastic clergy. These groups had, in the decades leading to the Union of Brest, worked hard for the revival of Orthodox religious tradition and culture. The leading role in promotion of Orthodox learning was played by Prince Kostiantyn Ostrozky, who founded the Ostrih Academy (c. 1576) and Page 90  |  Top of Article
Ukraine sponsored the publication of the Church Slavonic Bible in 1580–1581. The Union of Brest provoked the rise of religious polemics in Ukraine. The writings of Catholic authors, among whom Piotr Skarga was most prominent, and Uniate writers, led by Metropolitan Ipatii Potii, were countered by Orthodox polemicists, who included the author of the first Church Slavonic grammar, Meletii Smotrytsky. In 1620 the Orthodox managed to restore their church hierarchy, and by 1633 they assured its recognition by the authorities. Peter Mohyla, the first "legitimate" Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev since the proclamation of the Union of Brest, played a leading role in the reform of Orthodox Christianity. He helped establish the Kiev College to raise the educational level of the clergy, standardized liturgical practices, and sponsored the composition of the Orthodox confession of faith, which was approved by the eastern patriarchs in 1643. The Kievan metropolitanate under Mohyla led the entire Orthodox Church along the way to confessionalization.


An important role in the Uniate-Orthodox conflicts of the first half of the seventeenth century was played by the Ukrainian Cossacks, whose military clout assured the restoration of the Orthodox hierarchy in 1620. The Cossacks, whose existence is first recorded in historical sources at the end of the fifteenth century, grew by the mid-seventeenth century into an influential military and political force, which often raised the banner of Orthodoxy in its fight against the authorities. The growth of Cossackdom was closely associated with the colonization of the steppe areas of Ukraine, the construction of border castles and towns, and the advance of the magnates' latifundia, which resulted in the gradual enserfment of the peasantry. The transformation of Ukrainian Cossackdom from bands of fishermen, Page 91  |  Top of Article hunters, and freebooters to military formations in the service of Polish kings and a new social group striving for recognition on a par with the nobility was marked by a number of violent conflicts with the authorities. The latter tried to limit the number of Cossacks in the royal register and thus to curb the access of burghers and peasants to this socially and economically privileged group. Another reason for the authorities' desire to curb the growth of Cossackdom was constant Cossack interference in international affairs. The Cossacks' seagoing expeditions to the Ottoman possessions of the Black Sea littoral, their raids into the Crimea, and their interference into the internal affairs of Moldavia put the Commonwealth on a collision course with the High Porte and forced the Polish authorities to take a hard line against the Cossacks.

Between 1591 and 1638 there were five major Cossack uprisings against the Commonwealth and a number of smaller conflicts. By far the largest Cossack uprising started in the spring of 1648 under the leadership of the Cossack officer Bohdan Khmelnytsky. As with many earlier revolts, this one began at the Zaporozhian Sich—the Cossack headquarters in the lower Dnieper area. In a surprising move, the Cossacks united their forces with their traditional adversaries the Crimean Tatars and in the course of 1648 and 1649 scored a number of impressive victories over the armed forces of the Commonwealth. The Cossack military successes were accompanied by the massacre and expulsion of the Polish and Jewish population from the Cossack-controlled territories, as both groups were viewed by the rebels as close associates of the oppressive regime in Ukraine. In August 1649, after a successful battle against Commonwealth forces at Zboriv, the Cossacks made an agreement that recognized their control over three eastern palatinates of the Commonwealth and led to the foundations of a Cossack state known as the Hetmanate. Khmelnytsky's search for allies in his struggle with the Commonwealth led him first to the formal acceptance of Ottoman suzerainty in 1651. When the sultan failed to deliver the expected military assistance, Khmelnytsky turned to a Muscovite protectorate in 1654. He also sought other allies in his war against the Commonwealth, establishing especially close links with Sweden.

Khmelnytsky's policy of conducting an independent foreign policy irrespective of the wishes of Muscovy culminated during the tenure of his successor as hetman, former General Chancellor Ivan Vyhovsky. Disappointed with Muscovite policy, Vyhovsky turned to the Commonwealth, signing an agreement in September 1658 at Hadiach. This "union" would introduce the Ruthenian nation as a third partner in the Commonwealth, along with the Poles and Lithuanians. It expressed the strivings of the Ukrainian nobility but did not sit well with the Cossack rank and file. And the Polish side was not ready to accept the rebellious Ruthenians as equals. Both factors led to the collapse of the Hadiach agreement and the loss of power by Vyhovsky in 1659.


The new hetman, Bohdan Khmelnytsky's son Iurii, initially sided with Muscovy, but in 1660 switched allegiance to the Commonwealth, thereby creating a split within the Cossack officer stratum. Some, led by Colonel Iakiv Somko, denounced the younger Khmelnytsky and remained loyal to the tsar. What followed was the period which in Ukrainian historiography is known as the "ruin." Muscovy fought Polish-Lithuanian and Ottoman armies, each side assisted by competing Cossack factions led by their own hetmans. The signing of Andrusovo agreement (1667) between Muscovy and the Commonwealth effectively divided Ukraine into two parts: territories on the left bank of the Dnieper together with Kiev (first temporarily and then permanently) went to Muscovy, while the rest of Ukraine remained under Polish control. An attempt to reestablish Cossack control over both parts of Ukraine was led by Hetman Peter Doroshenko, who relied on Ottoman help to achieve this goal. His attempt ended in failure in 1676 when Doroshenko was forced to abandon his office and surrender to the pro-Muscovite hetman of Left Bank Ukraine. The decades of continuous war brought devastation to Ukraine. The Right Bank, which was turned into a battleground between the competing Ottoman, Polish, and Cossack armies, suffered especially. Between 1672 and 1699 Podillia and parts of Right Bank Ukraine were ruled by the Ottomans, but they then returned to Polish control.

Page 92  |  Top of Article

Cossack statehood and autonomy survived only in Muscovite-controlled Left Bank Ukraine. The relative security and stability of the region attracted numerous immigrants from Right Bank Ukraine. Among these was the Cossack officer Ivan Mazepa, who became hetman in 1687. Mazepa's name is linked to the Hetmanate's last attempt to play an independent role in international politics. Unhappy with the policies of Peter I of Russia, which aimed to further limit the Hetmanate's autonomy, in 1708 Mazepa joined the invading army of Charles XII of Sweden. Only part of the Cossack officers followed their hetman, and the defeat of Charles XII and Mazepa's forces at the hands of the Russian army in the battle of Poltava in 8 July (27 June O.S.) 1709 firmly reestablished Russian control over Left Bank Ukraine. Mazepa's "treason" was used by Peter to launch a decisive attack on the remnants of the Hetmanate's autonomy. The capital of the Hetmanate was moved closer to the border with Russia, the tsar took over the right to appoint Cossack colonels, his representative took up permanent residence at the hetman's court, and eventually the office of the hetman itself was abolished and replaced in 1722 by the rule of the Little Russian Collegium.


In the course of the eighteenth century the Left Bank Cossack officer stratum developed a new identity, defined by loyalty to the "Little Russian" nation. That identity was deeply rooted in the loyalty to the Hetmanate's political traditions and institutions. It stressed cultural differences between Russia and Ukraine, but in most cases complemented the all-Russian identity of the Hetmanate's elite. The sons of Little Russia were among the architects of the all-Russian identity through most of the eighteenth century, and although they resented the abolition of their autonomy, after Mazepa they were reluctant to rebel against the tsar. Taking advantage of the change of rulers in St. Petersburg, the Cossack officers managed to restore the hetman's office twice, in 1727–1734 and 1750–1764. Nevertheless, these temporary successes in preserving the symbol of Cossack statehood could not reverse the slowly but evenly advancing process of the imperial absorption of the Hetmanate. This process culminated under Catherine II, who in the 1760s–1780s permanently abolished the hetman's office; liquidated the Zaporozhian Sich, an autonomous Cossack Host in Lower Dnieper; and finally liquidated the Hetmanate altogether.

The successful wars with the Ottomans in the second half of the eighteenth century and the annexation of the Crimea by the Russian Empire in 1783 opened the steppes of southern Ukraine to further colonization and brought numerous settlers of Russian, Serbian, German, and Mennonite extraction into the region, apart from Ukrainian Cossacks and peasantry. The partitions of Poland (1772–1795) brought under Russian control most ethnic Ukrainian territories, with the exception of Galicia, Bukovina, and Transcarpathia, which were ruled by the Habsburgs. The Russian Empire took over territories settled mostly by Ukrainian and Belarusian peasants, the majority of whom adhered by that time to the Uniate church and were ruled by Polish, or heavily Polonized, Roman Catholic nobility.


Frick, David A. Meletij Smotryc'kyj. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.

Gordon, Linda. Cossack Rebellions: Social Turmoil in the Sixteenth-Century Ukraine. Albany, N.Y, 1983.

Gudziak, Borys A. Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Hrushevsky, Mykhailo. History of Ukraine-Rus'. Edited by Andrzej Poppe and Frank E. Sysyn. Translated by Marta Skorupsky. Edmonton, 1997–. See especially vols. 7 and 8.

Kaminski, Andrzej Sulima. Republic vs. Autocracy: Poland-Lithuania and Russia, 1686–1697. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.

Kohut, Zenon E. Russian Centralism and Ukrainian Autonomy: Imperial Absorption of the Hetmanate, 1760s–1830s. Cambridge, Mass., 1988.

Pelenski, Jaroslaw. The Contest for the Legacy of Kievan Rus'. Boulder, Colo., and New York, 1998.

Page 93  |  Top of Article

Plokhy, Serhii. The Cossacks and Religion in Early Modern Ukraine. New York, 2001.

——. Tsars and Cossacks: A Study in Iconography. Cambridge, Mass., 2002.

Polonska-Vasylenko, Natalia. The Settlement of the Southern Ukraine, 1750–1775. New York, 1955.

Sevcenko, Ihor. Ukraine Between East and West: Essays on Cultural History to the Early Eighteenth Century. Edmonton, 1996.

Subtelny, Orest. The Mazepists: Ukrainian Separatism in the Early Eighteenth Century. Boulder, Colo., and New York, 1981.

Sysyn, Frank E. Between Poland and the Ukraine: The Dilemma of Adam Kysil, 1600–1653. Cambridge, Mass., 1985.


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3404901145