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Khmelnytsky Bohdan (Zynovii) Mykhailovych
(ca. 1595Ч1657)

Khmelnytsky Bohdan (Zynovii) Mykhailovych (ca. 1595Ч1657)

Bohdan Khmelnytsky was a hetman of the Zaporozhian Cossack Hetmanate of Ukraine. He led the uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth magnates (1648 Ц 1654) with the goal of creating an independent Cossack state. In 1654 he concluded the Treaty of Pereyaslav with the Tsardom of Russia, which led to the eventual loss of Ukrainian independence first in the Russian Empire and later in the Soviet Union.

Although there is no definite proof of the date of his birth, it has been suggested by Ukrainian historian Mykhaylo Maksymovych that his date of birth was likely 27 December 1595 (St. Theodurus day). As it was the custom in the Orthodox Church, he was baptised with one of his middle names - Theodor, transformed into Ukrainian as Bohdan. Khmelnytsky was probably born in the village of Subotiv, near Chyhyryn in Ukraine at the estate of his father Mykhailo Khmelnytsky. Even though his father, Mykhailo Khmelnytsky, a courtier of Great Crown Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, was of noble birth himself, and belonged to the Clan Massalski, Abdank or Syrokomla, there was and is still controversy as to whether Bohdan belonged to the szlachta himself. This however didn't prevent Khmelnytsky from considering himself a noble and his father's status as a deputy Starosta (elder) of Chyhyryn helped him to be considered as such by others. Later on, however, during the Uprising he would stress his mother's Cossack roots and his father's exploits with the Cossacks of the Sich.

There is also no concrete evidence in regards to Khmelnytsky's early education. Several historians believe he received his elementary schooling from a church clerk until he was sent to one of Kyiv's Orthodox fraternity schools. He continued his education in Polish at a Jesuit college, possibly in Jaroslaw, but more likely in Lviv, in the school founded by hetman Żółkiewski. He completed his schooling by 1620 and acquired a broad knowledge of world history and learned Polish and Latin. Later in addition to these languages he learned Turkish, Tatar, and French. Unlike many of the other Jesuit students, he did not embrace Roman Catholicism but remained Greek Orthodox.

Upon completion of his studies in 1617, Bohdan entered into service with the Cossacks. As early as 1619 he was sent along with his father to Moldavia, as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth entered into war with the Ottoman Empire. His first military engagement was a tragic one. During the battle of Cecora (Ţuţora) on 17 September 1620, his father was killed, and young Khmelnytsky among many others, including future hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, was captured by the Turks. He spent the next two years in captivity in Constantinople, as a prisoner of a Turkish Pasha.

While there is no concrete evidence as to how he returned to Ukraine, most historians believe he either escaped or his ransom was paid. Sources vary as to by whom Ч his mother, friends, the Polish king Ч but perhaps by Krzysztof Zbaraski, ambassador of the Rzeczpospolita to the Ottomans, who in 1622 paid 30,000 tlars in ransom for all prisoners of war captured at the Battle of Cecora. Upon return to Subotiv, Khmelnytsky took over the running of his father's estate and became a registered Cossack in the Chyhyryn Regiment. In the meantime, his widowed mother married again, to Belarusian noble Vasyl Stavetsky, and moved to his estate, leaving Bohdan in charge of Subotiv. In a year she had another son, Hryhoriy, who curiously enough later preferred to take his mother's name and was known as Hryhoriy Khmelnytsky. For a short time he also served as a koniuszy to hetman Mikołaj Potocki, but relatively quickly they parted their ways after a personal conflict. Bohdan Khmelnytsky later married Hanna Somkivna, a daughter of a rich Pereyaslavl Cossack and they settled in Subotiv. By the second half of the 1620s they already had three daughters: Stepanida, Olena, and Kateryna. His first son Tymish (Tymofiy) was born in 1632, and another son Yuriy was born in 1640.

During this time Bohdan Khmelnytsky was running his estate and advanced in his service in the Regiment. He first became a sotnyk and later advanced to the rank of a regiment scribe. He certainly had significant negotiation skills and commanded respect of his fellow Cossacks as on 30 August 1637 he was included in a delegation to Warsaw to plead the Cossacks' case before the Polish King Władysław IV. Serving in the army of a Polish magnate and great commander, hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, he participated in a rather successful campaign as the Commonwealth army, part of which was Bohdan's regiment, scored a decisive victory over the Tatars in 1644. During this time, as some archival documents show, he also had a meeting in Warsaw with the French ambassador Count De Bregie, during which he discussed the possibility of Cossack participation in war in France. Sources vary as to whether in April of 1645 he traveled to France (to Fontainebleau) to discuss further details of Cossack service in France; this claim is supported by Ukrainian historiography but disputed by Polish scholarship. In October 1644 around two thousand Cossacks went to France by sea via Gdansk and Calais, where they participated in the siege and capture of Dunkerque. However, no records show that Bohdan Khmelnytsky was among them.

In the meantime another trouble was brewing at home. Upon the death of magnate Stanisław Koncepolski, advocate of fair treatment of Cossacks, his successor Aleksander redrew the maps of his possessions and laid claim to Khmelnytsky's estate, which he claimed was his. In his attempt to find protection from the powerful magnate, Khmelnytsky wrote numerous appeals and letters to different representatives of the Polish crown Ч but to no avail. At the end of 1645 the Chyhyryn starost (elder) Daniel Czapliński officially received authority from Koniecpolski to seize the Subotiv estate. In summer of 1646 Khmelnytsky, using his favorable standing at the Polish court, arranged an audience with King Władysław IV to plead his case. Władysław, who wanted Cossacks on his side in the wars he planned, gave him a royal charter, which protected his rights to the estate. However, such was the structure of the Commonwealth at that time, and the lawlessness of its eastern realms, that even the King was not able to avert the confrontation with the local magnates. In the beginning of 1647 Daniel Czapliński openly started to harass Khmelnytsky in an attempt to force him off the land. On two occasions Subotiv was raided: considerable property damage was done and Khmelnytsky's son Yuriy was badly beaten. Finally in April 1647, Czapliński completely forced Khmelnytsky off the land and made him move with his large family to a relative's house in Chyhyryn.

In May of 1647 Khmelnytsky arranged a second audience with the King to plead his case, but found the King unwilling to go into an open confrontation with a powerful magnate. In addition to the loss of the estate, his first wife Hanna died, leaving him alone with the children. While he promptly remarried to Motrona, his second wife, he was still unsuccessful in all of his attempts to find justice in regards to his estate. During this time, he met several higher Polish officials to discuss the Cossacks' issue of the war with the Tatars and used this occasion again to plead his case with Czapliński, still unsuccessfully.
When he found no support from the Polish officials, he found it in his Cossack friends and subordinates. The case of a Cossack being unfairly treated by the Poles found a lot of support not only in his Chyhyryn regiment, but also with others including the Sich. All through the autumn of 1647 Khmelnytsky traveled from one regiment to another, and had numerous consultations with Cossack leaders throughout Ukraine. His activity raised suspicion among the Polish authorities already used to Cossack revolts; he was promptly arrested. Koniecpolski even issued an order for his execution but the Chyhyryn Cossack polkovnyk who held Khmelnytsky was persuaded to release him. Not willing to tempt fate any further, Khmelnytsky headed for the Zaporozhian Sich with a group of his supporters.
While it might appear that the Czapliński Affair caused the Uprising, it was only an impetus that brought a successful and talented Cossack to the forefront of popular discontent among the people of Ukraine. While the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth remained a union of two nations: of Poland and Lithuania, a sizeable population of Orthodox Ruthenians remained ignored. That left them oppressed by the Polish magnates and their wrath was directed at the Poles' Jewish traders, who often ran their estates for them. The advent of the Counter-Reformation further worsened the relationship between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Many of the Orthodox Ukrainians saw the Union of Brest as a threat to their Orthodox faith, and coupled with the frequent abuse of the Orthodox clergy this added the religious dimension to the conflict. This could have been one of the many other frequent Cossack revolts that had been put down by the authorities, but the stature, the skill and the respect of the seasoned 50-year-old negotiator and warrior Khmelnytsky made all the difference.

At the end of the year Khmelnytsky finally made his way to the south, to the estuary of the Dnieper river. On 25 January 1648 his small (300Ц500-man) detachment, with the help of registered Cossacks who went to his side, disarmed the small Polish detachment guarding the area and took over the Zaporozhian Sich Ч much to the jubilation of many of the Cossacks. An attempt to retake the Sich by the Poles was decisively fought off as more registered Cossacks joined his forces. At the end of January 1648 a Cossack Rada was called and Khmelnytsky was unanimously elected a hetman. A feverish activity followed. Cossacks were sent with hetman's letters to many regions of Ukraine calling on Cossacks and Orthodox peasants to join the rebellion, the defence of Khortytsia was improved, arrangements were made to acquire and make weapons and anmunition, and emissaries were sent to the Khan of Crimea, İslâm III Giray.

Initially, Polish authorities took the news of Khmelnytsky's arrival at the Sich and reports about the rebellion quite lightly. The two sides exchanged lists of demands: the Poles asked for Cossacks to surrender the mutinous leader and disband, while Khmelnytsky and the Rada demanded that the Commonwealth restore the Cossacks' ancient rights, stop the advance of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, yield the right to appoint Orthodox leaders of the Sich and of the Registered Cossack regiments, and remove the Commonwealth troops from Ukraine. These demands of Khmelnytsky were taken as an affront by the Polish magnates and an army headed by Stefan Potocki moved in the direction of the Sich. Had the Cossacks stayed at Khortytsia they might have been defeated as in many other rebellions. But this time, instead of waiting for the Poles, Khmelnytsky marched against them. The two armies met on 16 May 1648 at Zhovti Vody, where, aided by the Tatars of Tugay Bey, the Cossacks inflicted their first crushing defeat on the Commonwealth. This was repeated soon after, with the same success, at the Battle of Korsuń on 26 May 1648. What made these Cossack successess different was the diplomatic and military skill of Khmelnytsky: under his leadership, the Cossack army moved to battle positions following his plans, Cossacks were proactive and decisive in their maneuver and attacks, and most importantly, he not only managed to persuade large contingents of registered Cossacks to switch to his side, but also got the support of the Crimean Khan Ч his crucial ally for the many battles to come.

On Christmas of 1648, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kyiv, where he was hailed as "the Moses, savior, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity ... the illustrious ruler of Rus." In February 1649, during negotiations in Pereiaslav with a Polish delegation headed by senator Adam Kysil, Khmelnytsky declared that he was "the sole autocrat of Rus" and that he had "enough power in Ukraine, Podilia, and Volhynia ... in his land and principality stretching as far as Lviv, Chełm, and Halych." It became clear to the Polish envoys that Khmelnytsky had positioned himself not just as a leader of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, but of Ukraine, and stated his claims to the heritage of the Rus. A Vilnius panegyric in Khmelnytsky's honor (1650Ц1651) explained it this way: "While in Poland it is King Jan II Casimir Vasa, in Rus it is Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky."

After the period of initial military successes the state-building process began. His leadership was demonstrated in all areas of state-building: in the military, administration, finance, economics, and culture. With political acumen he made the Zaporozhian Host under the leadership of its hetman the supreme power in the new Ukrainian state, and unified all the spheres of Ukrainian society under his authority. Khmelnytsky built a new government system and developed military and civilian administration.

During this time a new generation of statesmen and military leaders came to the forefront: Ivan Vyhovsky, Pavlo Teteria, Danylo Nechai and Ivan Nechai, Ivan Bohun, Hryhoriy Hulyanytsky. From Cossack polkovnyks, officers, and military commanders, a new elite within the Cossack Hetman state was born. Throughout the years, this elite preserved and maintained the autonomy of the Cossack Hetmanate in the face of Muscovy's attempt to curb it. But it was also instrumental in the onset of the period of Ruin that followed and eventually destroyed most of the achievements of the Khmelnytsky era.

Khmelnytsky's initial successes were followed by a series of setbacks as neither Khmelnytsky nor the Commonwealth had had enough strength to stabilize the situation or to inflict a defeat on the enemy. What followed was the period of intermittent warfare and several peace treaties, which neither side put much faith in or cared to abide by. From the spring of 1649 on, the situation turned for the worse for the Cossacks, as the frequency of Polish attacks increased and they were becoming more and more successful. The resulting Treaty of Zboriv on August 18, 1649 was unfavourable for the Cossacks. This was followed by another defeat at the battle of Berestechko on June 18, 1651, where the Tatars betrayed him again and even held the hetman captive. The result was not only a crushing defeat and a high number of casualties (estimated to be around 30,000 Cossacks), but also the unfavourable Treaty of Bila Tserkva. That treaty was soon violated, and in the years that followed the two sides were almost in the perpetual state of warfare. In this situation the Crimean Tatars played a decisive role Ч not allowing either side to prevail. It was in their interests to keep both Ukraine and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from getting too strong and becoming an effective power in the region.

Under the circumstances, Khmelnytsky started looking for another foreign ally. Even though the Cossacks established their de facto independence from Poland, the new state needed legitimacy that was essential in 17th century Europe, and this legitimacy could be provided by a foreign monarch. In search of a protectorate, Khmelnytsky approached the Ottoman sultan in 1651 and formal embassies were exchanged. The Turks offered vassalship similar to their other arrangements with contemporary Crimea, Moldavia and Walachia. However, the idea of a union with the Muslim monarch didn't rest well with the general populace and the Cossacks from whom Khmelnytsky drew his support.

The other possible ally was Orthodox Muscovy. They, however, remained quite cautious and stayed away from the hostilities in Ukraine. In spite of numerous envoys and calls for help from Khmelnytsky in the name of the shared Orthodox faith, the Tsar preferred to wait until the threat of a Cossack-Ottoman union in 1653 finally forced him to action. The idea that the Tsar might be favourable to taking Ukraine under his hand was communicated to the hetman and the diplomatic activity intensified.

After a series of negotiations, it was agreed that Ukraine would accept the tsar's overlordship. To finalize the treaty, a Russian embassy led by boyar Vasili Buturlin came to Pereyaslav, where on January 18, 1653 the Cossack Rada was called and the treaty concluded. There is still no unanimity among historians as to the true intentions of both Muscovy and Khmelnytsky in signing this agreement. For Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the treaty legitimized Moscow's claims to the territory of Rus and strengthened his influence in the region. For Khmelnytsky the Treaty of Pereyaslav offered first and foremost a legitimate monarch's protection and support from a friendly Orthodox power. There have been a number of conflicting opinions as to what kind of union Khmelnytsky had in mind, whether it was to be a military union, a suzerainty or a complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Tsardom of Russia.

That both sides had somewhat different idea of the treaty and the union, is exemplified by an incident during the oath of allegiance to the Tsar: the treaty was almost broken when the Moscow envoy refused to reciprocate with an oath from the ruler to his subjects as was the custom with the Polish king. At one point Khmelnytsky even stormed out of the church and threatened to cancel the entire treaty. It was only after some consideration that this demand on the part of the Cossacks was rescinded and the treaty stayed. Both sides, however, had different ends in mind and in the case of Ukraine as whole, whatever liberties were allowed to Khmelnytsky due to his stature, they were denied to his successors. That in the end led to the eventual complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Tsardom of Russia and later into the Russian Empire.

As a result of the Treaty of Pereyaslav the geopolitical map of the region had changed Ч a new player, Muscovite Russia entered the scene and the Cossacks' former allies, the Tatars, went to the Polish side. That intensified the conflict, as the Tatars were now unrestrained in their warfare against Khmelnytsky. Tatar raids depopulated whole areas of Ukraine. Cossacks aided by the Tsar's army took revenge on Polish possessions in Belarus and in the spring of 1654 drove them from much of the country. To complicate the situation even further, another power entered the scene Ч Sweden. They were the old adversaries of both Poland and Muscovy, and at the initial stages they concentrated most of their attacks against the Commonwealth. That put Khmelnytsky into a delicate situation in regards to the Tsar, as he had been negotiating with the Swedes for some time, coordinating their attacks on the Commonwealth. In 1656 with the Commonwealth on the brink of collapse, the ruler of Transylvania, George II Rákóczi, also joined in. Under blows from all sides the Commonwealth only survived by a miracle.

Not satisfied with their spoils in Poland and Lithuania, the Swedes turned against their old enemy Muscovy. This complicated matters even further for Khmelnytsky, as his ally was now fighting his overlord. In addition to diplomatic tensions between the Tsar and Khmelnytsky, a number of other disagreements between the two surfaced, notably in regards to Muscovite officials' interference in the finances of the Hetmanate and in the newly liberated Belarus. One thing that infuriated the hetman the most was the separate treaty the Tsar concluded with the Poles in Vilnius in 1656. The Hetman's emissaries were not even allowed to attend the negotiations. That prompted Khmelnytsky to write an irate letter to the Tsar accusing him of breaking the Pereyaslav agreement. Another interesting point in the letter was that in his anger Khmelnytsky compared Swedes to the Tsar, claiming that the former were more honourable and trustworthy than the latter.

In addition to diplomatic tensions with Muscovy, the Cossack army with their Transylvanian allies in Poland suffered a number of setbacks. As a result Khmelnytsky even had to deal with Cossack rebellion at home. Troubling news also came from Crimea as Tatars in alliance with Poland were preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine. Though already ill, Khmelnytsky continued to conduct diplomatic activity, at one point even receiving the Tsar's envoys in his bed. On July 22 he suffered cerebral hemorrhage, became paralyzed, and died at 5 A.M. on July 27, 1654. His funeral was held on August 23, and his body was taken from his capital Chyhyryn to his estate at Subotiv for burial in his ancestral church. In 1664 a Polish noble Stefan Czarniecki captured Subotiv and ordered the bodies of the hetman and his son Tymish to be exhumed and desecrated.


Ukraine, 1919, Bogdan Khmelnitsky

Ukraine, 1995, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1997, Order of Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1998, Coin with Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1998, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 2003, Khmelnytsky monument in Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 2004, Official Symbols

Ukraine, 2007, Bogdan Khmelnitsky and Cossaks

Ukraine, 2007, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 2010, Stamp with Khmelnitsky

Ukraine, 2012, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1945, Order of Bogdan Khmelnytsky

USSR, 1945/1949, Order of Bogdan Khmelnytsky

USSR, 1954, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1954, Pereyaslavskaya Rada

USSR, 1963, Soldier, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1967, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1980, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1982, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1989, Khmelnytsky monument in Kiev

Ukraine, Chigirin. Museum of Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1995.09.23, Kuli. Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1995.12.27, Chigirin. Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1998.05.26, Korsun-Shevchenkovsky. Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 2008.07.07, Kiev. Bogdan Khmelnytsky

USSR, 1960.05.31, Kiev. Khmelnitsky monument

USSR, 1967.11.07, Kiev. Khmelnitsky monument

USSR, 1979.01.18, Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky. Khmelnitsky monument

USSR, 1980.07.19/08.03, Kiev. Khmelnitsky monument

Ukraine, 1995, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 2004, Khmelnitsky monument in Krivoy Rog

Ukraine, 2008, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

USSR, 1954, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1954, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1955, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1956, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1958, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1960, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1961, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1962, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1967, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1967, Khmelnitsky monument in Chernigov

USSR, 1969, Bogdan Khmelnitsky

USSR, 1975, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1975, Hotel ЂKievї, Khmelnitsky monument

USSR, 1975, Khmelnitsky monument in Khmelnitsky

USSR, 1979, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1981, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1985, Monument to union Ukraina and Russia

USSR, 1987, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1988, Monument to union Ukraina and Russia

USSR, 1954, Rada in Pereyaslavl

USSR, 1965.06.18, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1970.04.27, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1970.11.02, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1971.07.20, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1971.12.28, Khmelnitsky monument in Krivoy Rog

USSR, 1974.03.12, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1975.01.08, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1976.01.16, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1979.04.05, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1979.04.12, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1980.06.27, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1981.03.31, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1981.12.02, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1982, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1983.04.12, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1985.04.09, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1985.11.22, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1986.04.28, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1986.04.28, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1987.06.87, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1988.01.22, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1988.05.31, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1990.03.27, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

USSR, 1990.06.19, Khmelnitsky monument in Khmelnitski

USSR, 1990.11.01, Khmelnitsky monument in Kiev

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