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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Hlukhiv, a city of resounding glory

7 July, 2009 - 00:00

At present there are four penal facilities and a detention facility in Sumy oblast. Nearly 4,000 inmates are serving their sentences there. However, not many people know that some buildings on their territory have long history and witnessed the events of the Great Northern War 300 years ago. The first penitentiary institutions in our country were built back at that time; they are linked to the contemporary prisons in Sumy oblast.

Hlukhiv will be mentioned at celebration of the 300th anniversary of the events connected with fight for Ukraine’s independence.

Hlukhiv is a small city in northern Ukraine that lies almost on the border with Russia today, but in the past it was a great capital of the Hetman State under hetmans Ivan Skoropadsky, Danylo Apostol, and Kyrylo Rozumovsky. Back in 1702, amazed by the architecture of the city, Russian traveler Leontiy Lukianov wrote: “The architecture in the city of Hlukhiv is all earthwork; oak log houses are very strong, and many wealthy people live there. There is also a house with splendid ornamentation and very nice front rooms — this is where Colonel Myklashevsky of Starodub lives. There are many rows (of shops), stone churches, and a beautiful nunnery. Those Ukrainians are so fanciful when it comes to building mansions. You would not find a town in Little Russia with better architecture than in Kyiv.”

The city of Hlukhiv became the capital of the Hetman State after the city of Baturyn, Ivan Mazepa’s residence, was destroyed.

In order to destroy even the memory of Baturyn and its defenders, Peter I ordered to level the city with the ground, which Menshikov’s dragoons did. With time the place grew over with grass, the ramparts eroded, and moats grew shallow. People from the nearby villages were taking apart piece by piece what had left of palaces and starshyna’s (officers’) houses. There was nothing left of the greatness of the Hetman State capital; only strong earth ramparts and deep moats of Mazepa’s country residence in Honcharivka are reminders of its former grandeur.

On Nov. 6, 1706, on the main square in Hlukhiv, between the Saint Nicholas Church and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the ceremony of electing a new hetman was launched. The whole procedure took a few days. The most important events took place in the Saint Nicholas stone church that has survived until our day. The tradition was that the hetman had to be elected by a “free voting.” The Cossacks in the crowd shouted that the mace should be given to Colonel Ivan Skoropadsky of Starodub. According to the same tradition, he refused to accept it several times. Among the candidates for hetmanship was also Chernihiv Colonel Pavlo Polubotok, who was eventually appointed an acting hetman and later killed for his views and attempts to restore the Cossack liberties in a vault of St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress. Peter I said about Polubotko: “He is very cunning fellow and can be match for Mazepa.” He rejected him as a candidature in the hetman elections in Hlukhiv, and Skoropadsky became hetman instead.

After a few days, on November 9, the ceremony of anathematizing Mazepa took place on the same square, in the Saint Nicholas Church. The event was attended by the tsar himself, officials, and a great number of ordinary people, who were brought to the place to watch the ceremony of an anathema being declared on Mazepa and his comrades-in-arms. All the clergy was dressed in black and held black candles in their hands. They tore off all the decorations (orders) from Mazepa’s sack dummy, the head bishop hit the dummy with a rod saying, “Anaphema!” and then threw it to the hangman, who dragged it along the streets and then finally hanged it.

All this while the people who were to be the last actors in the dreadful performance were kept in the Hlukhiv Prison Castle. On November 10 Baturyn defenders, who had been taken prisoners during the storming of the city, were led out and put before all Hlukhiv citizens and the citizens of many other Ukrainian cities and villages. Among them was seriously wounded Colonel Dmytro Chechel. After severe tortures all the colonels and officers were dismembered into five pieces, according to a contemporary. First, they would cut off one hand, then the other, then both legs, and finally, after relishing the spectacle and sufferings, they would cut off the head. The cut-off body parts were sent to the major Ukrainian cities and nailed to poles in the main squares, while the heads were put on stakes and also put on display to instill fear in the public.

Although Baturyn was completely destroyed, some architectural works in Hlukhiv, silent witnesses of the rough years of our state building, have survived until our day. There still remain the ruins of the Hlukhiv Prison Castle in which the heroic defenders of Baturyn were kept before they were tortured. This building was first mentioned in the late 17th century as a jail for criminals. The first Prison Castle was a paled wooden building. Later it was rebuilt, and the walls were fortified. On 17th-century maps of Hlukhiv one can clearly see several buildings within the square fence in the north-east corner of the fortress.

Not far from the ruins of the Prison Castle the foundation of an older construction was discovered. The foundation was almost three meters deep, and it was impossible to dig under it. Later, in 19th century, the prison in Hlukhiv was rebuilt according to a new design. A mention of the design dated 1837 was found in the Sumy State Archive.

In its long history the walls of the Hlukhiv Prison Castle have seen the suffering and death of Baturyn defenders (some of them were broken on the wheel and put to death here in the castle), arrests of Pavlo Polubotko’s comrades-in-arms and Semen Harkusha’s insurgents. Later, hundreds of political prisoners were sent there by the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire and the Soviet Empire. The prison was used for its intended purpose until the Second World War. Later it was used first as a brewery and then as a storehouse. After a major fire in the early 1990s the building was in a dangerous condition. The situation gets worse with each year. A historical monument that bears the sign of our national tragedy is falling apart before our very eyes.

The architectural complex of the Prison Castle is situated on the territory of the State Historic and Cultural Preserve. It consists of two stone constructions — the main building and a wing. It appeared on the place of the Hlukhiv Prison, which was built back in late 17th century. At first the Prison Castle was a two-storied square building in the middle of the yard, surrounded by a brick wall in style of late Classicism. It is the only 17th-century district prison complex that has survived until our day in Ukraine. There was a wing with an entrance gate adjoining the wall on the west side. After 1854 additional buildings were attached on the south and north sides of the wing, extending it for the entire length of the yard. Under the Soviets, until the Second World War the Prison Castle was used as a prison by the Soviet punitive bodies — Cheka, GPU, and NKVD. In 1994 the citizens of Hlukhiv installed a memorial cross in front of the Prison Castle in honor of all the victims tortured to death there.

The architectural complex of the Prison Castle (district prison) in Hlukhiv is a unique object and has a great historic and architectural value. It was included in Code of Ukraine’s Historical and Cultural Monuments (in volume Sumy Oblast) in 1984, and in 1998 it was registered on the state level as an architectural monument of local importance.

Stanislav Lukash is head of the State Department for Execution of Punishment in Sumy oblast.

By Stanislav LUKASH