Перейти к основному содержанию
На сайті проводяться технічні роботи. Вибачте за незручності.

Confederates from the Hetman State

The Novhorod-Siversky Group of “Autonomists” and the Revival of Ukrainian State Building
24 мая, 00:00


The ideals of freedom in the post-Soviet territories are more often than not associated with North America, although in our past we can find quite a few examples worthy of emulation. Historical documents attest that a true national-liberation struggle was also waged toward the end of the 18th century in Ukraine. Soviet historians ignored the facts indicating that there was a small group of people in the Hetman State, whose endeavors allow us today to view our history and events dating back more than 200 years from a different angle. The emergence of a group of autonomists in the Novhorod-Siversky region at a time when the Hetmanate had already been liquidated as an institution, the Zaporozhian Sich was destroyed, and the Koliyivshchyna rebellion was ruthlessly suppressed, is proof of strong anti-Russian sentiments within Ukrainian society, and what is most remarkable, also among the wealthiest and highest-ranking Ukrainian aristocrats. The struggle for independence and rights had acquired new characteristics and shifted from the military to the civil-political plane.


At the end of the 18th century Ukraine’s status as a province of Russia was established. In 1785 Catherine II decided to honor the Ukrainian aristocracy with an edict conferring on them all the rights and privileges of their Russian counterparts. The Hetman State thus lost what was left of its autonomy, which was illusory anyway, and was now fully under the Russian tsar’s control.

The Cossack leadership did not have any special problems when its aristocratic rights were officially recognized, but officers holding lower ranks found it hard to transform themselves into Russian noblemen because they constantly had to prove their new status, which caused much dissatisfaction. However, the confirmation of aristocratic rights had unexpected consequences for the government. People appeared in Left Bank Ukraine, who selflessly helped their compatriots confirm their nobiliary rights for the sake of Ukraine’s glorious past. Most of them were noblemen, aristocrats, and hereditary lords to whom the material aspect of their effort was of no consequence, for all they wanted was to assert Ukraine’s national aristocracy.

Despite the formal equality between the Russian and Ukrainian aristocracies, representatives of the latter never stopped planning the restoration of the Hetmanate and Ukrainian autonomy within the Russian empire, which had been abolished in 1764. In addition, the Ukrainian aristocracy considered its rights superior to those of their Russian counterparts, inasmuch as many Ukrainian noblemen in Left Bank Ukraine were of democratic Cossack descent. Defending these rights was thus the best way to assert national statehood.

These individuals also sought to reinstate the Cossack host. Vasyl Kapnist drafted a plan to restore Ukraine’s regimental system and form a volunteer Cossack army. The plan, which fell into Catherine II’s hands in 1788, was useful for the Russian empire in that it helped strengthen its military might. Chancellor Bezborodko, however, pointed out that it could also create an explosive situation in Ukraine, where they still remembered the Khmelnytsky period, by “sparking a new revolution” followed by resolute demands for the restoration of the Hetman State and reaffirmation of the rights and freedoms, which the Russian empire had been consistently and ruthlessly curtailing over a long period of time.

Meanwhile, the autonomist movement was gaining momentum in Ukraine. It could not be stemmed by ranks and titles lavishly conferred by the Russian government, along with generous gifts of estates with serfs, despite the fact that, as the historian Oleksandr Ohloblyn has written, most Ukrainian noblemen were descended from the common masses and were now robbing and enslaving, and building fortunes and mansions with the blood and sweat of the ordinary peasants.

There was another group of the Ukrainian aristocracy, which did not suppress or enslave the common folk but made every effort to set the people free and provide them with an education, culture, and finally a nation-state. Of course, the autonomists sought above all to establish their own rights, but they considered their efforts useful to the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people as a whole. Owing to these individuals, such notions as nation and national identity began gradually to crystallize in Ukraine. This in turn prepared the ground for the idea of national independence. The autonomists did not act on an individual basis; we know that a group of patriotic intellectuals became active in Novhorod-Siversky at the turn of the 19th century.

On January 27, 1782, Novhorod-Siversky became one of the centres of a territorial body that was instituted in place of the outlawed Hetman State. It included territories once controlled by the most celebrated and wealthiest Ukrainian regiments: Starodub and to a certain extent the Nizhyn and Chernihiv regiments. It also comprised two former hetman capitals, Hlukhiv and Baturyn, with their cultural treasures, bureaucratic apparatus, and state-building traditions. A large number of former officials of the Ukrainian Hetman government still lived and worked there. They held important posts and were connected by official, property, and family ties. The newly formed Ukrainian nobility was a true social stratum generating political ideas and serving as the cultural leader of the nation.

Most Ukrainian aristocrats offered no resistance to the Russian regime and gradually began to demonstrate their loyalty to the Russian crown. A considerably smaller part of the Ukrainian intellectual nobility took a principled stand in opposition to pro-Russian aristocratic circles and formed a patriotic group of autonomists that was active in the 1780s and 1790s. Was it an underground organization? Not likely. It was probably a rather amorphous circle of like- minded individuals who shared ideas and a desire to study history, confirm their aristocratic rights, and defend their homeland from predatory imperialistic policies.

There were secular and religious figures among the members of the autonomist group: Melkhisedek Znachko-Yavorsky, Hryhoriy Dolynsky, Arkhyp Khudorba, Andriy Hudovych, Hryhoriy Poletyka, Varlaam Shyshatsky, Tymofiy Kalynsky, Andriy Pryharda, Andriy Rachynsky, Opanas Lobysevych, Fedir Tumansky, Mykhailo Myklashevsky, and many other supporters of autonomism.


Hryhoriy Poletyka (c. 1724-84) was the preeminent ideologue among the autonomists, as well as a public figure and writer. He was descended from the Volhynian aristocrat Ivan Poletyka, who died in the Battle of Khotyn in 1673. Hryhoriy Poletyka is mostly known as a deputy of the Lubni Regiment’s aristocracy to a commission formed by the Russian empress in 1767 and tasked to develop a new code of laws. While a member of the commission, which was a parliament of sorts, Poletyka composed an historic memorandum addressed to his colleague Dmitri Natalin, which contained refutations of enactments by the Little Russian Collegium. In the memorandum most of the enactments were rejected because they served to exacerbate the socioeconomic situation in Ukraine. Hryhoriy Poletyka sharply criticized proposals concerning the political division, taxation policy, and use of Cossack troops on construction projects, etc. He stated what sounded like a direct accusation of Muscovite policy in Ukraine: “The means proposed by the Little Russian Collegium, supposedly in order to improve our condition, are all compulsory and coercive, all of them are burdensome and at variance with the actual status of our people, their upbringing, ways, and traditions. Our laws are deemed unnecessary, but they are more on the side of love of fellow humans than many others; our service is humiliated... and our people are shown in a bad light, in unpleasant terms, whereas our people, their ways and conduct are hardly inferior to others; means are proposed, which are aimed at making our burden even heavier, and I daresay at our inevitable destruction...” In addition to the above memorandum, Hryhoriy Poletyka wrote several other works in which he defended the autonomous Hetman State (e.g., “Apropos of the Bill of Noble Rights Read by the Commission,” “Memorandum on Little Russia and How It Was Ruled During the Polish Partition,” “Code of Rights and Privileges of Little Russia’s Aristocracy”).


Opanas Lobysevych (c. 1732- 1805) ranked with the most prominent Ukrainian figures of the late 18th century. After receiving a good education in Kyiv and later in St. Petersburg, in 1760, while he was still a student, he began working as a translator at the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg (Kyrylo Rozumovsky was the academy’s president at the time). He also worked for Sumarokov’s journal Trudolyubivaya pchela (The Busy Bee) where he published his translations from Latin. Acquaintances in high-ranking Russian and Ukrainian intellectual circles helped his literary and public career. However, in 1760 Mikhail Lomonosov had him and another Ukrainian, Semen Divovych, expelled from the university for failing to attend lectures. Thanks to the intercession of the academy’s president, Kyrylo Rozumovsky, the young people were able to continue their studies, but Opanas Lobysevych did not resume his work at the academy. He preferred to serve the Ukrainian hetman and did so for more than 20 years. After his retirement he settled on his wife’s estate and began actively participating in local public and political life. He worked with a commission of deputies monitoring noblemen’s rights in Left Bank Ukraine, and the commission elected him district marshal (1783) and later marshal of the gubernia (1785).

There is information about his burlesque reworking of Virgil’s Eclogues, entitled “Virgil’s Shepherds Wearing Ukrainian Top Coats,” which led researchers to describe him as Kotliarevsky’s predecessor. Regrettably, this particular work was never found. Considering Kotliarevsky’s Aeneid, one can imagine the kind of shepherds Lobysevych portrayed, what kind of language they used, and whose ideas and aspirations they expressed. Both Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Mykhailo Vozniak believed that Lobysevych, as a Ukrainian intellectual, incorporated the best traditions of the old Hetman State and the new cultural trends, and that this combination symbolized the beginning of the Ukrainian renascence at the turn of the 19th century.


The gymnasium (high school) in Novhorod-Siversky, founded in 1788, occupies a notable place in the history of Ukrainian education and culture. Among its students were giants of Ukrainian science and literature, like Mykhailo Maksymovych and Panteleymon Kulish. Its first principal was Ivan Khalansky (c. 1749-1825) whose family tree was rooted in the Ukrainian aristocracy of the Kursk general government. His life story was characteristic of a noble family’s offspring: study, civil and military service, and the practice of law. Yet his true talent revealed itself only in the pedagogical sphere. In 1789 he was appointed principal of the Main People’s College of Novhorod-Siversky and a year later he was assigned posts in the colleges of Starodub and Hlukhiv. The Novhorod-Siversky college differed from the others in that it was open to anyone who wished to study, and the teaching staff was always aware that in teaching children from poor families it was fulfilling its civic duty.

It was Khalansky’s idea to set up a university in Novhorod-Siversky. His plan was never implemented because a university had been established in Kharkiv in 1805, and a Gymnasium of Higher Sciences in Nizhyn; the competition was too severe. Yet the idea itself points to the high intellectual level of Novhorod-Siversky. Instead, a gymnasium was opened on the basis of a people’s college (1805) which quickly won acclaim among the local intelligentsia. It became a cultural venue favored by Archbishop Varlaam Shyshatsky, who was exiled to Novhorod-Siversky’s Monastery of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The gymnasium played a significant role in local cultural and educational life, as evidenced by the following quote (1828): “Most local citizens read more than people living in neighboring cities, and all but a few of them are graduates of the former people’s college or the gymnasium.”


Archbishop Varlaam Shyshatsky (1751-1820) was in the forefront of Ukrainian public and church life. Only a short period of his life, two years, was directly connected with Novhorod-Siversky. As rector of Pereyaslav College, Shyshatsky moved to Novhorod- Siversky when that institution was transferred there. He became the first rector of Novhorod-Siversky Theological Seminary, while remaining hegumen of Makoshynsky Monastery. The patriotic group in Novhorod-Siversky was indebted to him for paying a great deal of attention to church affairs. Indeed, he conceived the idea of an autocephalous Ukrainian church, without which the very concept of a Ukrainian nation-state was impossible. He was eventually appointed hegumen of Vilnius’s Monastery of the Holy Ghost and then found himself in a difficult situation after refusing to swear allegiance to the Rzeczpospolita. He was forced to return to Russia. After the dissolution of the Polish kingdom toward the end of the 18th century the Russian government set about straightening out church affairs in the former Polish territories, in Western Ukraine and Belarus. In other words, the local orthodox churches were subordinated to the Russian Synod. Varlaam Shyshatsky was appointed Father Superior of Diatlovytsky Monastery (1794) and in 1795 he was ordained Bishop of Zhytomyr. An eparchial seminary opened on May 14, 1796, largely owing to his dedicated efforts; it later became the Seminary of Volyn. Its mission was to train Eastern Orthodox parish priests for congregations that had converted from the Uniate Church to Orthodoxy. In 1805 Shyshatsky was ordained Bishop of Belarus and Mogilev, and in 1808, Archbishop of Mogilev and Vitebsk. In 1812, when Napoleon’s troops occupied Mogilev, Varlaam Shyshatsky recognized the new regime, hoping the time had come to free the Ukrainian and Belarusian churches from the Muscovite yoke. He couldn’t have acted otherwise because he was concerned with preserving the shrines, so he resigned himself to the occupier’s will. After the French retreated, the Russian authorities defrocked Varlaam Shyshatsky and exiled him ad infinitum to the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Our Savior in Novhorod-Siversky. But was this exile? Hardly so, considering that he found himself in a familiar environment, where he had his library, and the local intelligentsia held him in the highest of esteem, attracted by his rich life and public experience, as well as moral authority.


People called him the King of Truth because he was an ardent champion of Orthodoxy as hegumen of the Motronyn Monastery on the Right Bank, known for its active involvement in the Haidamak rebellion. It was Melkhisedek Znachko-Yavorsky who handed Zalizniak a golden scroll allegedly received from Catherine II, permitting the massacre of Poles and Jews. On April 23, 1768, marking the day of the monastery’s patron saint, took place the morbid ceremony of sanctifying the knives with which the Haidamaky headed out into battle. In 1781 he was ordained Archimandrite of the Monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul in Hlukhiv and a member of the Novhorod- Siversky Consistory. He must have met with the local autonomist group at that time.


Mykhailo Myklashevsky (c. 1756-1847) was a descendant of the Colonel of Starodub, Myklashevsky, who was Ivan Mazepa’s contemporary. After 20 years of military service and a brief governorship he settled on his estate in the village of Ponurivka and remained there for the rest of his life. He proved to be a capable entrepreneur, setting up a cloth factory in his village with 300 workers operating 50 looms. However, he was far more interested in political and cultural life, and turned his beautiful mansion in Ponurivka into a cultural center. Myklashevsky’s correspondence with Prince Bezborodko, P. Zavadovsky, V. Kochubei, N. G. Repnin, D. Shyrai, and other cultural figures has been preserved. His mansion boasted a library with a manuscript of Istoriya rusiv, first mentioned by von der Briggen in a letter to Ryleev, dated October 21, 1825. From Ponurivka this book found its way to the general public, thanks to the progressive landowner.

The autonomist group of Novhorod-Siversky and its activities remain an obscure entry in Ukrainian history. One thing is certain: the state-building tradition in Ukraine, the very idea of independence, did not come out of the blue, nor did it sink into oblivion. There were people who remembered their roots, knew national history, and did their best to serve the people. We believe that Istoriia rusiv, written by an anonymous author, is the most important contribution to Ukrainian culture and literature. There is little doubt that the author originated from Novhorod-Siversky and was a member of the autonomist group. The book is a manifesto of the Ukrainian aristocracy, a political pamphlet that mythologizes the Ukrainian past, condemns Moscow’s colonial policies, elevates the national and state-building idea, and forces us to see our past in a new light.

Delimiter 468x90 ad place

Подписывайтесь на свежие новости:

Газета "День"