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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

Mazepa’s spirit soars over the Tighina Fortress, Odesa, and… Russia

National memory and promotion of foreign ideas
4 December, 2012 - 00:00
Photo from the website FACEBOOK.COM

Not so long ago, I visited the famous (currently ill-famed) historic fortress in Bendery, now part of the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Moldavian Republic, which belongs to the State of Moldova.

I was happy to make the trip with my colleagues, acknowledged historians Olena Bachynska, Serhii Lepiavko, Yaroslav Fedoruk, Oleksandr Kukharuk, et al., as part of the conference “Southern Ukraine: Cossack and Post-Cossack Epochs” (organized by Odesa’s Mechnikov National University, in collaboration with the National Academy’s Institute of History in Kyiv). The Odesa-Bendery-Varnita itinerary was exciting.

What makes the Bendery Fortress famous? Probably the fact that it was founded by Moldovan princes in the early 15th century. Apparently human settlements must have existed long before Bendery – also known historically as Tighina – and that Ukrainians must have exerted a great deal of influence on the history of that city and fortress. The latter was built after the Ottoman Empire had seized Tighina, later repeatedly attacked and conquered by Cossack troops in the 16th-18th cc. Ivan Kotliarevsky, the founding father of Ukrainian literature (who had taken part in the lifting of the siege as a Russian Army major), spent some time on the premises in 1806.

Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Munchhausen (generally known as Baron Munchhausen, the famous German aristocratic recounter of tall tales), who took part in Russia’s campaign against Turkey [e.g., the Russo-Turkish War of 1686-1700. – Ed.], holding the rank of kornet (second lieutenant), wrote in his diary, in 1737, that he had flown over the Bendery Fortress, riding a cannonball.

In 1710, Hetman Pylyp Orlyk of the Zaporozhian Host, together with other noted Mazepa adherents, executed the well-known Pacta et Constitutiones Legum Libertatumque Exercitus Zaporoviensis (Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporozhian Host).

I could add a lot more to the glory of the Bendery Fortress, listing the names of its prominent visitors, except for its role in Ukrainian history. Thousands of Ukrainians died to get the fortress back from the Turks during various periods in history, yet the death of Hetman Ivan Mazepa on the night of September 22, 1709, can get any genuine researcher interested, considering that Hetman Mazepa of All Ukraine, recipient of numerous [Russian] government awards and combat decorations, was a dying man when he had reached Bendery.

Charles XII’s historian Georg Nordberg would later write in his diary that the king and all retinue attended the funeral, that ahead of the procession marched royal trumpeters, and that the coffin, upholstered in red velvet with wide gold lace, was on a special cart driven by six white horses, with Cossacks marching on both sides, their sword held bare, with a Cossack general bearing the Hetman’s Mace with its pearls and precious stones sparkling in the sun. The cart with the coffin was followed by a crowd of Ukrainian women who wept and lamented, in accordance with tradition. Behind them rode their horses two main contestants for Mazepa’s post: Pylyp Orlyk, Mazepa’s general chancellor, and the late hetman’s nephew, Andrii Voinarovsky. They were followed by the starshyna senior Cossack officers and their Swedish counterparts. The Cossacks held their standards and swords half-mast. After the coffin was carried into the church in the village of Varnita, in the vicinity of Tighina, the Cossacks fired a musket salvo.

Of course, a modern historian can only enjoy visiting the Bendery Fortress. I reminded myself of the chronicles and rumors about Hetman Mazepa, that the man did not die and was not buried in faraway Moldova, that the funeral was fake, staged to allow the disgraced politician to reach Kyiv; that he became a monk at the Kyiv Cave Monastery. Oleksa Martos, one of the earliest Ukrainian historians (I re-read his memoirs after returning from Bendery), visited Galati, rather its St. George’s Cathedral in 1810 (currently in Romania) where Mazepa’s remains had been transferred from Varnita. Later, he wrote: “Mazepa died far away from his Fatherland whose independence he defended; he was a champion of freedom and he deserves respect from the descendants. After he had to leave Little Russia, its residents lost their rights which Mazepa held sacred and defended with a true patriot’s dedication and zeal. Then he died and the name of Little Russia and its brave Cossacks were removed from the list of peoples that were small but were known for their constitutions. At present, Little Russia consists of two or three gubernias.” This informative quote belongs to a member of a noble Cossack family and it has remained topical since the early 19th century.

Together with my colleagues I walked around the fortress, professionally appraising its condition. The administration of the local museum deserves every praise for preserving the place and restoring a large section of the fortress. There is a picture and a bust of Mazepa. I wondered if he could have opposed the great Russian emperor alone. Never! He did so together with representatives of the contemporary national elite, among them General Quartermaster Lomykovsky, Generals Fedir Myrovych and Hryhorii Hertsyk, Judge Advocate General Dovhopoly, general officers and regiment commanders Maksymovych, Horlenko, Nakhymovsky, Hertsyk, and many other Cossacks and members of their families. Some of them died at the fortress, others went to Sweden, other European countries, and to the Ottoman Empire. Not so long ago, Swedish historian Hakan Henriksson delivered an interesting lecture at the Institute of Ukrainian History. He said that about a thousand Cossacks worked in Sweden in 1710-40, that they learned Swedish, and that some of them married beautiful Swedish ladies and left excellent posterity.

Walking by the walls of this magnificent historical site, I asked myself: Why shouldn’t there be a monument to Ivan Mazepa beside the one to Ivan Kotliarevsky and the memorial sign dedicated to Pylyp Orlyk’s constitution (the monument and the sign are outside the fortress)? Mazepa died there for the Ukrainian people and their independence. There is a monument to the hetman, unveiled in his home village of Mazepyntsi (Kyiv oblast) in 1994. Our government and diplomats should consider this important national issue and make arrangements with Moldovan and Transnistrian authorities. The international conference “Southern Ukraine: Cossack and Post-Cossack Epochs” (Odesa-Tiraspol-Bendery-Varnita) heard meaningful reports by noted Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Russian scholars who substantiated the decision to erect a memorial sign dedicated to Ivan Mazepa’s stay and death at the Bendery Fortress.

Odesa Cossacks from the Black Sea Haidamaky Association promised that, if public authorities keep apart from such important project as the erection of a monument to a national hero (we remember how infamously they flubbed it in Poltava and Kyiv), they will start collecting money to perpetuate the memory of one the world’s most famous Cossacks, Ivan Mazepa, in Bendery as well as in Odesa. What did Mazepa have to do with Odesa? During the Russo-Turkish War of 1686-99 the Ukrainian hetman, as an ally of Peter I, mounted about two dozen campaigns in the Northern Black Sea and Lower Dnipro. Mazepa’s Cossacks several times attacked Hadjibay and even the well-known tract of Peresyp. Incidentally, there is a monument to Ivan Mazepa on a square in Galati, Romania.

Odesa boasts the scandalous monument to Catherine II, the destroyer of Zaporozhian Sich, tagged as the world’s major harlot by the contemporary British ambassador, and one to Alexander Suvorov, oppressor of the Polish, Greek, Armenian, Tatar Nogai and, eventually, the Ukrainian people. Apparently there is a big problem with the formation of national – and historical – memory in Ukraine against the backdrop of imposition of foreign historiography and promotion of foreign characters. It is high time we stopped bowing and scraping before empresses and military leaders from other countries. After more than two decades of independence the time has come to start erecting monuments to people who fought for this independence three hundred years ago.

I am sure that monuments to this Ukrainian hetman should be unveiled in Bendery, Odesa, Galati, Chernihiv, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Indeed, Russian scholar Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva has demonstrated that, while in office (1687-1708), Hetman Ivan Mazepa did a great deal to help develop the Russian state (Mazepa’s Ukrainians helped the Russian troops seize the Azov Fortress in 1696) and the Russian Church (Mazepa sent prominent clergymen to Russia, including Stefan Yavorsky, Feofan Prokopovych, and Hierarch Dimitri Rostovsky; also, cultural figures and scholars (among other things, he helped open the Slavic Greek-Latin Academy). In a word, his memory should be perpetuated not only in Moldova and Ukraine.

By Taras CHUKHLIB, Ph.D. (History), senior research fellow with the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of History; director of the Institute of Cossack Studies