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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

An “unlucky Hetman”

“From Bohdan to Ivan there was no Hetman?” Not quite. There was Doroshenko…
18 October, 2011 - 00:00

“From Bohdan to Ivan there was no Hetman [in between].” This Ukrainian saying, suggesting that all leaders of Ukrainian state during the Ruin (1657-76) be simply “left out,” so after Bohdan Khmelnytsky no one is worthy of attention until Ivan Mazepa, is not quite right. This scheme leaves no room for Hetman Petro Doroshenko. Meanwhile, the realization of his contribution to Ukraine’s history, his breathtaking victories and the tragic final defeat, and his personal drama are all key factors for grasping the essence of this period, fatal for the future of Ukraine.

Why did Doroshenko’s long struggle for the national liberation of Ukrainian lands from the yoke of Muscovy, Rzeczpospolita, and the Tatars eventually fail? What lessons can present-day Ukrainians learn from his life? These are the questions posed by Valerii SMOLII, member of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and history professor Valerii STEPANKOV, Ph.D., a regular contributor to The Day, authors of Petro Doroshenko. Politychnyi portret (Petro Doroshenko. A Political Portrait), Tempora publishers. The Day asked Valerii STEPANKOV to answer several questions.

Why do you think Petro Doroshenko is in a sense “unlucky” with the Ukrainians’ historical memory? Virtually each of our fellow Ukrainians has read, heard, or learned something (or at least they think so) about Bohdan Khmelnytsky or Ivan Mazepa, while Doroshenko remains an obscure figure. Is this fair?

“In my opinion, there were several factors which shaped this sort of attitude to the figure and deeds of Doroshenko. First of all, Doroshenko’s career coincided with the period of inner political strife within Cossack Ukraine, which was accompanied by mass reprisals against opponents. Rank and file Ukrainians became hostage in the competition between Mykhailo Khanenko and Petro Sukhovii, or between Doroshenko and the Left Bank Hetman. Obviously this could not have failed to leave an impression on the historical memory of the local population.

“Secondly, in his struggle for the preservation and unification of Ukrainian state (the problem of unity of Left Bank Hetmanate and Right Bank Ukraine had existed since 1663) he had to resort to external powers for political and military aid. First it was the Tatars, later, after 1669, the Turks. The Tatars actually were our allies, but the specificity of contemporary Ukraine was that Doroshenko was considered to be in charge of the borderline territories, while the lands outside Cossack Ukraine’s borders were under Polish control, i.e., they were considered enemy’s land. Thus the population of that part of Ukraine was a constant target for Tatar raids. Tatars constituted part of Doroshenko’s troops during his campaigns into Western Ukrainian lands, therefore the local population tended to blame their tragedies on him. There were cases when people supported Poland in the fight against the Tatars.

“Speaking of Doroshenko’s political drama, one must remember about these things. For instance, when the Hetman strove to do what Khmelnytsky had failed to, i.e., unite Right Bank Hetmanate and Western Ukraine, the local population took the side of the Polish King John Sobieski. Besides, we often forget that the Ukrainians of that time lived in a different system of concept, values, and myths, they had their own world outlook and evidently a different opinion of the things we are now discussing. For an 18th century Ukrainian the Tatars and Turks were Muslims from the East who inevitably meant trouble. That was the time dominated by the opposition of Christians and infidels. Naturally, the latter would always cut a bad figure in the former’s eyes, which is why Doroshenko’s involvement with the Ottoman Empire was rejected by the vast majority of the population. The elite might have supported him, but the popular masses took his policies with animosity, or with indifference at best.

“Besides, historians tend to forget that the population of Right Bank Hetmanate suffered heavy losses. I made calculations of the loss of life in the Ukrai-nian population during the revolutionary events of 1648-76, and the results coincided with those made by Polish historian Dariusz Kolodziejczyk. At the end of The Day, I got a figure of over 90 percent! Therefore one might say that there simply was no one to store the memories of Doroshenko’s policies. The Cossack leaders started to move to the Left Bank after 1674. To put it simply, there were virtually no memory carriers left. This is how I see the main factors making Hetman Doroshenko such an obscure figure for Ukrainians.

“In historiography, memories of Doroshenko start to spring back to life since roughly the second half of the 19th century. Meanwhile, Ukrainians will know only of Doroshenko what they were taught by the Soviet historiography: there was a certain traitor Petro Doroshenko, who sold Ukraine’s interests to the Turks, etc. Most fundamental historical works on Doroshenko remain unknown to us. There is a book by Dmytro Doroshenko, published in the US in the late 1980s, and a work by Polish historian Jan Perdenia, known to a narrow circle of scholars, while ordinary people will only know that there was such a hetman.”

In Dmytro Doroshenko’s opinion, 1668 was a fatal year in the fate of Ukraine and Hetman Doroshenko’s life in particular. The Hetman seemed to have almost reached his goal, the unification of both banks of the Dnipro. Hetman Ivan Briukhovetsky had been already removed – and suddenly, everything went to hell in a handbasket. Do you also share this view?

“No, I differ from Dmytro Doroshenko here. There are certain myths in historiography. In my opinion, such myths date back to the Litopys Samovydtsia (Chronicle of an Eyewitness). It goes approximately like the following: when Doroshenko was elected Hetman of Ukraine at a joint Cossack council, the news arrived of his wife having betrayed him. Then the Eyewitness writes that Doroshenko just abandoned everything and went home to settle his family business.

“Speaking of historiography, we must remember of the concept of ‘selectivity.’ For some reason, until today we are not interested in the truth. Instead, we will always examine the others’ dirty linen. This is the aspect on which Oles Buzyna speculates, for instance. The same happened to Doroshenko: he looks like a statesman who abandoned state matters for the sake of a banal adultery committed by his wife. Since there were no fundamental research works on the Hetman, the story of his wife became the corner stone for history.

“This opinion was at a certain point in time refuted by a genius of Ukrainian history (in my view) Mykola Petrovsky, who subjected the Chronicle of an Eyewitness to a deep analysis in his Outline of Ukrainian History from 17th to the early 18th Centuries (Experiments on the Cronicle of an Eyewitness). He was able to find documents in the Polish archives to prove fact that Doroshenko’s wife had nothing to do with all that. Then, logically, a question arises, what happened actually? What actually happened was quite typical for that time. Several senior officers sent news of the Polish army going back to Bratslavshchyna [a region in Right Bank Ukraine. – Ed.], ready for offense. Since Doroshenko’s main forces had been moved to the Left Bank, there was a danger that the Polish troops might reach as far as Chyhyryn unopposed. It was quite clear that he had to send a part of his troop back and find out how bad the situation was. Indeed, he wound up his offense against the Russians and came back to the Right Bank. There he saw that there had been no assault on the part of Poland, just an ordinary frontier sortie. At the same time, the officers he had left in charge on the Left Bank, did not live up to the Hetman’s expectations and would not defend Ukrainian interests in the confrontation with Muscovy. Together with chief officers, the Left Bank Orthodox clergy also defected to the Muscovites. Apparently, the Hetman’s private life had no influence on the unfolding political drama.

“I would not call 1668 a decisive year which entailed a catastrophe. The real catastrophe began after 1672, when the Buchach Peace Treaty between Rzeczpospolita and the Ottoman Empire was signed. The Treaty did not envisage what Doroshenko had been hoping for, i.e., the unification of Western Ukraine and Right Bank Hetmanate.”

Could you give some more details about the conception of the book?

“Me and my co-author Valerii Smolii found out that modern historiography is full of myths as far as the so-called period of the Ruin goes. The term was introduced by Mykola Kostomarov, but today is it used without reference to its original meaning. Following Kostomarov’s example, the vast majority of historians keep using the term Ruin. Various researchers have various ideas of the phenomenon. For one, Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva, a Russian historian, believes that the Ruin started following Khmelnytsky’s death. The Ruin is interpreted as a process which brought nothing positive for Ukraine, a period of total mess and chaos, discord and feud and devastation. Can you ima-gine parents just throwing away a sick baby? We have somehow forgotten that in that time Ukrainians displayed examples of fight for independence perhaps unseen in whole Europe. But we went and put a period in the story of Ukrainians’ liberation movement. No historian will say that a liberation war is never accompanied with rape, violence, and destruction of entire cities. Therefore Mr. Smolii and I realized that the study of such a painful subject as the Ruin was utterly inevitable for the understanding of what Ukraine experienced in the 17th century.

“We needed new sources, since the available texts failed to answer the main question, and so our work took us almost 10 years, since 2001. Besides, a book on Doroshenko had long been published abroad [Jan Perdenia, Hetman Piotr Doroszenko a Polska (Hetman Petro Doroshenko and Poland). – Ed.], while in Ukraine people hardly ever know anything about the man who, in my opinion, did way more for Ukraine’s statehood than Mazepa.

“Doroshenko, who at 18 fled to the Sich, devoted his entire life to Ukraine, he fought for its independence, both internal and external. It is noteworthy that he never served Muscovy and was its constant opponent, but how significant is the end of his life and of those his comrades in arms who had tried to make a deal with the Russians. ‘On advice from Ivan Sirko, who had arrived in Chyhyryn, Doroshenko said he was ready to denounce his post and surrender his powers to Zaporizhia. But another year passed, and Doroshenko would still not give up hetmanhood. Not until Samiilovych with the Muscovy host came to the walls of Chyhyryn for a second time, did Doroshenko hand in to him the government and the symbols of Hetman’s power. This happened in September, 1676.

‘From Chyhyryn, Doroshenko moved to the Left Bank and settled in Sosnytsia. The tsar soon ordered that he be sent to Moscow; Samiilovych, who had promised personal security to Doroshenko, refused for a long time, but had eventually to give in to the tsar’s orders. In Moscow, the Hetman was received with great honors, granted a high salary, and a big house for residence; in 1683-91 Doroshenko served as the Viatka voivode; at the end of his life he lived in the village of Yaropolchi, Volokolamsk uyezd, which was granted to him by the tsar. That is where he died on November 19, 1698, aged 70; the gravestone of this great hetman, also nicknamed ‘the Sun of the Ruin,’ survived in the local church until the early 19 th century.’ (Quoted after The Great History of Ukraine // Compiled by Mykola Holubets, Foreword by Ivan Krypiakevych. Published in Lviv in 1935, reprinted in 1993 by Globus publishers.).”