Friday, January 8, 2010

A Cradle of Ukrainian Cossacks

The island of Khortytsya, in the Dnieper, was headquarters (sich) of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks from the 16th to 18th cent. (The word Zaporizhzhya means "beyond the rapids," i.e., of the Dnieper.) For nearly three centuries the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks served as the rallying point for Ukrainian struggles against social, national, and religious oppression. After the union of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, Ukraine came under Polish rule; but the Poles were too weak to defend it from frequent devastating Tatar raids. The need for self-defense led at the end of the 15th century to the rise of the Ukrainian Cossacks, who by the mid-16th century have formed a state, organized along republican lines and ruled by a hetman, along the lower and middle Dnieper. Although they formally recognized the sovereignty of the Polish kings, the Cossacks, for all practical purposes, enjoyed complete political independence.
In 1654, Hetman Bohdan Khmelnitsky persuaded the Cossacks to transfer their allegiance to the Russian czars. By the Treaty of Andrusov in 1667, the left bank of the Dnieper and Kiev were ceded to Russia. The Russians proceeded to encroach upon Cossack privileges much as the Poles had, thus engendering revolts in what was left of the Zaporizhzhya territory. When Hetman Ivan Mazepa joined Charles XII of Sweden against Russia in the Northern War, he shared in the Swedish defeat at Poltava (1709). Many Zaporizhzhya Cossacks fled to the khanate of Crimea, but in 1734 they were allowed to return to their old territory and to establish a new Cossack headquarters.
The Dnieper Hydroelectric Station located very close to the island of Khortytsya is the largest hydroelectric power station in Ukraine and was the largest in Europe at the time of its construction. Construction began in 1927 and the plant started to produce electricity in October 1932.
Many delegations of SMB members have visited Museum of Ukrainian Cossacks (Foto 2) and Ethnographical Museum (Foto 1) located on the island of Khortytsya and the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (Foto 3). It is a really unique place where Cossacks’ history joins with the present day Ukraine.