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Bohdan Zynovii Mykhailovych Khmel'nyts'kyi (Богдан Зиновій Михайлович Хмельницький in Ukrainian, commonly transliterated as Khmelnytsky; known in Polish as Bohdan Zenobi Chmielnicki; in Russian as Bogdan Khmelnitsky) (c. 1595 – August 6, 1657) was a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth noble of Polish or Ruthenian origin, leader of the Zaporozhian Cossack Hetmanate, hetman of Ukraine, noted for his revolt against Poland (1648 – 1654) and the Treaty of Pereyaslavl which eventually led to the annexation of Ukraine by the Russian Empire.
Khmelnytsky was probably born in Chyhyryn, in Ukraine; it is unclear whether to a family of Ruthenian nobility or to Polish nobility who had immigrated to Ukraine from Masovia. Khmelnytsky was educated by the Jesuits. Unlike many of their other pupils, he did not embrace Roman Catholicism but early in life became indifferent to the faith. Later he seemed to belong to the Greek Orthodox faith, to which most of the Cossacks and the Ruthenian peasants belonged. He was deprived of his estate of Subotiv by Daniel Czapliński , the bailiff of Chyhyryn. At this time he was still in the subordinate position of a "sotski" (an officer over a sotnia, or hundred cavalrymen) of the Registered Cossacks, subject to the Polish magnate Stanisław Koniecpolski. With Koniecpolski he took part in the disaterious Battle of Cecora in 1620. Czapliński availed himself of Khmelnytsky's absence to raid the estate, during which Khmelnytsky's young son received injuries from which he ultimately died, and Khmelnytsky's second wife was carried off.
For centuries after the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Orthodox people of Ruthenia had felt oppressed by the Polish nobles, Catholic priests and Jewish traders. Although Ruthenian nobility enjoyed full rights, they were quickly polonized and therefore were alienated from the common people; the advent of the Counter-Reformation worsened the relationship between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Unwilling to attend to the details of administration themselves, Polish magnates made Jewish traders their go-betweens in transactions with the peasants of Ukraine. The magnates sold and leased certain privileges to the Jews for a lump sum and, while enjoying themselves at their courts, left it to the Jewish leaseholders and collectors to become objects of hatred to the oppressed and long-suffering peasants. Although Khmelnytsky's personal resentment influenced his decision to rid Ukraine of Polish and Ruthenian magnates and Jews, it seems that his ambition to become the ruler of Ukraine was the main motive that led him to instigate an uprising of the Ruthenian people against them, known after him as the Chmielnicki Uprising.
Main article: Chmielnicki Uprising
Khmelnytsky told the people that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews". With this as their battle-cry, the Cossacks killed a large number of Jews during the years 1648–1649. The precise number of dead may never be known, but the decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000, which also includes deaths from diseases and Tatar imprisonment.
These events also initiated a series of campaigns (which began the period in Polish history known as The Deluge) that temporarily freed Ukraine from Polish domination but in time subjected it to Russian domination. Successes at Zhovti Vody , Korsun' and Pilavtsi (respectively, in Polish, Żółte Wody, Korsuń, and Piławce) against Hetman Mikołaj Potocki led to Khmelnytsky being paid off by the Polish king and gaining numerous privileges for the Cossacks under the Treaty of Zborov . When hostilities resumed, however, Khmelnytsky's forces were betrayed by their former allies the Tatars, suffered a massive defeat in 1651 at the Battle of Beresteczko, and were forced at Bila Tserkva to accept a loser's treaty. A year later, the Cossacks had their revenge at the Battle of Batoh . Ukraine was still perilously weak, and in 1654 Khmelnytsky persuaded the Cossacks to ally with the Russian tsar in the Treaty of Pereyaslav, which eventually led to the incorporation of the Left-bank Ukraine into Russia.
Khmelnytsky in Fiction
Sholem Asch wrote about Kmelnytsky's cossack war in his book which describes the massacres of the Jews in horrific detail.
In Poland, Khmelnytsky's war was described in the 19th century by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his famous novel, With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem). This book was written with a clearly stated intent of raising the national spirit in partitioned Poland, and shows the story of Khmelnytsky and the Cossacks from the point of view of the Polish nobles (szlachta), thus glorifying the Polish side while vilifying the rebels.
Last updated: 08-28-2005 23:21:21