Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Splendor of the Cossack Era in the Historic Context of the Ukrainian-Swedish Alliance on Display for First Time in North America

The Ukrainian Museum in New York has unveiled an important and exciting exhibition: Ukraine–Sweden: At the Crossroads of History (XVII–XVIII Centuries). The exhibition originated in Kyiv, where it was chosen the best exhibition in Ukraine for 2009. King Charles XVI Gustavus of Sweden and President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine participated in the opening ceremonies.
It is presented at The Ukrainian Museum in an expanded format. Comprising the exhibit are 116 unique and historically significant items from 28 museums, library and archives in Ukraine, Sweden and the United States, as well as private collections. The exhibition explores a pivotal period of European history through the prism of the alliance between Sweden, then a preeminent European power, and Ukraine whose Cossack leaders (Hetmans) were striving to establish an independent state.
An era of treaties, shifting alliances and glorious battles whose victories and defeats had lasting consequences, comes to life in the exhibit. The viewers stand before actual Cossack flags, including the imposing flag of Hetman Ivan Mazepa, admire the armor and other fascinating artifacts and examine original historic documents written by the prominent leaders of the period.
The exhibition also conveys the achievements and splendor of the era with magnificent works of religious, cultural and political significance. Many of the items were commissioned by Hetman Mazepa and bear his coat of arms. They are testimony to his generosity and vision. His immense contribution had a powerful, lasting impact on the Ukrainian people. Works in the exhibition include Mazepa's exquisite book of Gospels, silver and gilded Royal Gates from the early 18th century iconostasis of Saints Borys and Hlib in the Cathedral in Chernihiv – a splendid example of metalwork, and the majestic eleven-foot high silver icon enframent from the Troitsko-Illinsky Monastery in Chernihiv. Regalia such as Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky's hat and Hetman Pylyp Orlyk's mace (bulava) are also on display. Every object in the exhibition has crossed the Atlantic for the first time and represent the most cherished treasures of the period.
The exhibition opened at a propitious time of key anniversaries related to the period. Dr. Yurii Savchuk, Senior Research Associate at the Institute of History of Ukraine of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and curator of Ukraine–Sweden notes that "October 2007 marked the 350th anniversary of the 1657 Treaty of Korsun in which Sweden recognized Ukraine as 'a free people, subject to no one.' March 2009 saw the 300th anniversary of a 1709 treaty that sealed their military-political union and included Sweden's agreement not to accept peace with Moscow until Ukraine was free from Russian rule. Aimed at legitimizing the newly founded Cossack state and providing it with military guarantees, the two agreements were defining moments in Ukraine's development as a modern sovereign state." Later in 1709 the allied forces of Ukraine and Sweden lost the decisive Battle of Poltava against Peter I of Russia, which changed the course of history and saw the emergence of Russia. The battle is remembered by Ukrainians as a noble and heroic act of self-determination – one that has never been forgotten. April also marks the 300th anniversary of Hetman Orlyk's constitution of 1710 – one of the most advanced legal documents where for the first time governing functions are divided into three branches. Orlyk's constitution predates the American and French revolutions by many decades.
As Ukrainians throughout the world approach the twentieth anniversary of national independence in 2011, it is fitting that we pay homage in the present exhibition to the great historical leaders who three hundred years ago had the vision and courage to fight for the right to live free. It is also important to acknowledge those who stood with them.

Click to view the slideshow (73 images):