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A journey to the former capitals of Ukrainian hetmans


Inna Danylyuk takes the readers to the places which in the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries were the Hetman’s capitals in Ukraine.


The Land of Cherkashchyna is considered to be the very center of the Ukrainian social phenomenon which came to be known as Cossacks. It was to Cherkashchyna that runaway serfs, adventurers and those who hoped to find unlimited freedom began to come in growing numbers starting from the end of the fifteenth century. It was a hard life they faced but they were a rough and hardened lot too — they had to deal with challenges of wilderness and nomads. These “frontiersmen”, or Cossacks as they came to be called, did not apply themselves to husbandry — they hunted game, fished, collected honey and gradually established settlements. Their main occupation was war and the spoils of war were their sustenance. Their enemies were the nomads of Dyke Pole — Wild Steppe, the Tartars of the Crimea, the Turks and the Poles who occupied much of Ukraine. The Cossacks not only were engaged in beating off enemies’ incursions — they organized their own raids into the enemy territories and the geography of Cossacks raids gradually expanded to include the shores of the Black sea.

The biggest Cossack settlement was established further in the south, za Dniprovskymy porohamy — Beyond the Dnipro Rapids, and was given the name of Zaporizhska Sich. It was a sort of a Cossack republic that elected its own leaders, called Hetmans. In the mid-seventeenth century, a war of independence broke out in Ukraine and it was led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky.



The first capital of the Cossack republic was Chyhyryn. Before his election to Hetmanship, Khmelnytsky had been the local starosta (governor) in Chyhyryn, and it was but natural that he chose the town to be his capital.

Chyhyryn was founded in the sixteenth century, and rather soon after its foundation, in 1592, it was granted the Magdeburg Law. By the mid-seventeenth century, the population of Chyhyryn was about 50,000 people, whereas in Kyiv, for comparison, there lived at that time hardly more than 10,000 people. The Hetman’s residence was a sprawling complex of many houses teeming with people. It was in Chyhyryn that foreign envoys were received, and it was in Chyhyryn that Khmelnytsky issued about 300 of his decrees.

These days, Chyhyryn is a small provincial town in Cherkasy Oblast with very little left in evidence of its former glory — only ruins of fortifications at Zamkova Hora are a visual reminder of the old times. A historical and cultural preserve is to be established there and the work has already begun. It is planned to have a dozen or more replicas of the buildings that once were part of the Hetman’s residence to be built. The preserve may be opened for visitors as soon as in 2009. Posolska Vulytsya — Ambassadors Street will be lined up with replicas of the buildings that used to be residences of ambassadors who represented foreign countries that maintained relations with the Cossack Republic.

There is a monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky in Chyhyryn — it stands on top of Zamkova hora hill and can be seen from afar. I climbed all the way up to the monument and was rewarded for the exertions by a wonderful vista that opened from the top of the hill — primordial forest, canyons and distant hills formed a landscape of a great scenic beauty.

The village of Subotiv, which is situated seven kilometers from Chyhyryn, was the place where Khmelnytsky would go to stay to find some respite from the business of ruling. There was a garden, even a little zoo and an apiary to entertain the Hetman.

The Hetman’s estate in Subotiv used to belong to Khmelnytsky’s father Mykhailo who was a sort of the local governor with the power of presiding in court. Mykhailo was a military man and he died in a battle that was fought in distant Rumania. Bohdan inherited the estate in Subotiv after his father’s death.

Subotiv in the time of Khmelnytsky was a well fortified place complete with a citadel and defensive walls. From Subotiv it was possible to control the road of a strategic importance in the vicinity of the village. Access to Chyhyryn could be gained only through Subotiv. Its location made Subotiv a stronghold well protected by such geographical features as the River Tyasmyn and the hills. Under the citadel there were underground rooms and corridors dug in the ground for all sorts of contingences. The villagers had guns in their possession and could join the garrison in fighting any invading force. Neither the Tartars nor the Turks ever risked attacking either Chyhyryn or Subotiv at the time of Khmelnytsky’s Hetmanship.

The citadel in Subotiv occupied an area of about two hectares — it is practically all so far that archeological excavations have managed to discover. Future excavations will no doubt unearth a lot more. It is known that Khmelnytsky’s eldest son Tymosh had a palace in Subotiv and one hopes that archeologists will bring to light artifacts that will considerably expand our historical knowledge. Unfortunately, a lot of artifacts must have been lost when in the soviet times a collective farm was established and a road built within the territory that had once used to be a part of Khmelnytsky’s estate.

Subotiv can boast only a couple of architectural landmarks that date from Khmelnytsky’s time. The most important of them is the Illinska Church. Incidentally, the representation of this church can be seen on the 5-hryvnya bills of the Ukrainian currency. It is known that Khmelnytsky was buried in the church but what happened with his remains later is not known — according to some historical sources they were burned when the Poles occupied Subotiv; other sources say that Cossacks had removed Khmelnytsky’s remains before the Poles captured the village and re-interred them elsewhere. Most of historians are of the opinion that Khmelnytsky’s remains must have been interred somewhere in the vicinity of Subotiv.

Another remnant of Khmelnytsky’s time is the foundation of a tower with a well sitting right next to it. The well is believed to have been sunk to provide Khmelnytsky with good water. The water from the well is still good to drink.

Visitors to Subotiv can have an excellent meal at the Hetmanska korchma Restaurant whose interiors were designed to remind patrons of the Cossack times of old. In fact, Hetmanska korchma offers comfortable hotel accommodation as well. The Hetmanska korchma hospitality complex is complete with an old-style windmill, Cossack canon, and a small Cossack-theme museum.



In 1678, Chyhyryn was taken and ruined by an invading Turkish army and the Hetman’s capital was moved to Baturyn in the Land of Chernihivshchyna.

In 1708, Baturyn was razed to the ground by a Russian army which was led by Menshikov, one of the Czar Peter I’s top ministers and generals. A brief historical explanation is needed here. The thing is that the War of Independence ended inconclusively. Khmelnytsky, thinking that his forces were not enough to win the war against the Poles and Turks, signed a treaty which put Ukraine under the protection of Muscovy. In 1667, another treaty, Andrusivske peremirya, partitioned Ukraine — Pravoberezhzhya (“the lands on the right of the Dnipro”) was to be under the Polish domination, and Livoberezhzhya (“the lands to the left of the Dnipro) was to go under “Muscovy’s protection”. The “protection” led eventually to the complete subjugation of Ukraine by Russia and the total loss of its independence. When in the early seventeenth century the Swedish army led by the Swedish King Charles XII invaded Russia and marched all the way to Ukraine, the then Ukrainian Hetman Ivan Mazepa saw his chance to wring Ukraine’s independence out from Moscow’s grip. The attempt failed — the combined Swedish-Ukrainian army was defeated by the Russians at the battle of Poltava in 1709.

Enraged by Mazepa’s “betrayal,” Peter I sent troops to deal with “Ukrainian rebels.” Baturyn, being the Hetman’s capital, happened to be the focus of retaliation. The fury of the attackers spared no children, women or old people, much less the armed defenders.

Later, Kyrylo Rozumovsky, Hetman of Ukraine from 1750 to 1764, rebuilt Baturyn and once again made it the Hetman’s capital. At present, Baturyn is a small provincial town but with a lot to remind the visitors of a distinguished role it played in the past.

However, there is only one building in Baturyn that survived the massive destruction of 1708 and is still standing — it used to house the local court. When it came into possession of the Justice General Vasyl Kochubey (1640–1708), he turned it into a living house and had a large park complete with a pond laid out around it. The park is still there though the river that once flowed by has almost completely dried up. The building in it is a museum in which the visitors can see, among other exhibits, the 65-year old Hetman Mazepa’s letters to Motrya, many years his younger, whom he loved dearly (she was the daughter of Vasyl Kochubey).

Hetman Rozumovsky’s palace, which was built in the eighteenth century to the design provided by the English architect Charles Cameron (whose architectural designs were much appreciated by the Russian Empress Catherine II), is now the central feature of the National Historical and Cultural Preserve Palats Rozumovskoho; this historical complex also includes the park adjacent to the palace. The three-stored palace has 46 rooms; the ground floor was meant for official purposes; the first floor for receptions and balls, and the second floor was occupied by the bedrooms, a study and a library.

Rozumovsky was married to a relative of the Empress Elizabeth and was considered to be one of the richest men in the Russian Empire. His intention to gain more autonomy for Ukraine caused the imperial wrath and he was removed from his post of Ukraine’s Hetman (he was the last hetman of Ukraine but one — only in the twentieth century, for a short period in 1918, Ukraine had its last Hetman, Pavlo Skoropadsky). In fact, Rozumovsky was exiled and was allowed to come back only many years later. Upon his return to Ukraine, Rozumovsky lived in Baturyn to the end of his life in 1803, taking a good care of his parks and estates.

The citadel in Baturyn, which included the Hetman’s palace, a church and a treasury, was completely destroyed in 1708 on the order of the Russian Tsar Peter I. This place on a hill will be reconstructed as a historical and cultural complex, built up with replicas of buildings that once stood there. The mass grave at the place is said to contain the remains of more than 14,000 people. There is a memorial plaque at the site which was put there only after Ukraine’s independence. A historical museum, which will trace the history of Baturyn from the pre-historic times down to its destruction and revival, is planned to be opened in Baturyn some time soon.

Present-day Cossacks, descendants of the Cossacks of old, hold gatherings in Baturyn. They entertain themselves and the spectators with horse races, concerts and other shows in Kochubey Park. These events attract a growing number of tourists.



The first known written mention of Hlukhiv dates to the year 1152 and can be found in the Ipatiyivsky Chronicle. Two centuries later its population died out during a plague. The town came back to life in the seventeenth century and in the early eighteenth century a traveler from Russia, Lukyanov, wrote that “Hlukhiv is better than Kyiv as far as its architecture is concerned.”

In the early eighteenth century, during the Hetmanship of Ivan Skoropadsky the town became the capital of the Livoberezhna Ukraine. Skoropadsky was believed to be a weak, uxorious ruler whose wife held the reins of power.

In the nineteenth century, the city development of Hlukhiv was greatly boosted thanks to the efforts of the Tereshchenko family, industrialists and philanthropists. They donated money for the construction, among other things, of the Svyato-Anastasiyivsky Cathedral. The crypt of the church is the Tereshchenkos’ burial place. The interior decoration of the church is reminiscent of St Volodymyr’s interior in Kyiv. It was decorated with murals by some of the painters who were involved in creating the murals in St. Volodymyr’s in the nineteenth century.

One of the Tereshchenko family’s descendents now lives in France and he visits Hlukhiv every Easter to attend the religious service at the Svyato-Anastasiyivsky Cathedral. The marble iconostasis of the cathedral contains an icon of the Virgin Mary, a copy of the famous icon Smolenska Bozha Matir and a mosaic icon image of Christ which is said to have been brought from abroad by a dweller of Hlukhiv after the Second World war.

The nunnery in Hlukhiv was established in the seventeenth century at the spot where an earlier monastery used to stand (it must have been ruined during the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century). The nunnery’s first Mother Superior was Hetman Mazepa’s mother.

Among the architectural landmarks one should mention the Mykolayivska Church which was built at the very end of the seventeenth century. The major fire of 1784 caused a lot of damage to Hlukhiv but luckily enough what was preserved and then restored or rebuilt gives the town its authentic historical appearance. Unfortunately, the Hetman’s palace which was said to resemble the eighteenth-century Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv, burned down and only the Rozumovska brama — Rozumovsky’s Gate survived the fire — and still stands.

Hlukhiv boasts the Pedagogical Institute (teachers training college), the oldest of its kind in Ukraine. Its most famous student was Oleksandr Dovzhenko, one of the most notable Ukrainian film directors of the twentieth century.

Hlukhiv is a small town by any standards but it has preserved a charm and quiet of the times long gone.


Photos by Olena Kurshyn


At the ceremony of Cossack initiation; anybody who

wants to be thus initiated is welcome — at the

initiation you have to declare your love of God,

and swear your loyalty to Ukraine.


A memorial in the Local History and Lore Museum

in Hlukhiv dedicated to those who died in the

outbreak of plague in 1352.


The Petropavlivska Church on Zamkova Hora Hill

in Chyhyryn.


A seventeenth-century map of Ukraine created

by a German cartographer.


The Illinska Church, at which Hetman Bohdan

Khmelnytsky worshipped in the seventeenth

century and in which he was buried.


The reconstruction drawing which shows the Illinska

Church and a fortress in Subotiv the way it could

have looked in the seventeenth century.


Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s Coat of Arms.


The oak in Kholodny Yar that stands not far from the

highway that connects Cherkasy and Chyhyryn, is

believed to be over 1,100 years old; it is probably

the biggest and oldest tree in Ukraine. It is known

that Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky and poet Taras

Shevchenko paid visits to this mighty oak.


The reconstructed bastion at Zamkova Hora Hill; the

original bastion dated to the time of Ukrainian

Hetman Petro Doroshenko.


Letters written by Hetman Ivan Mazepa to Motrya

Kochybey, the woman he loved; he was sixty five

and she was under twenty!


A Cossack church in the vicinity of Chyhyryn; it was

built, as many other similar churches were, without

a single nail being used.


Reconstruction of one of the rooms in the house of

Vasyl Kochubey, one of the Cossack leaders and the

father of Motrya Kochubey, in the Museum of Local

History and Lore in Baturyn.

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