Khmelnitsky, Bohdan

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(c. 15951657), hetman of the Zaporozhian Cossack Host (16481657) and founder of the Hetmanate (Cossack state).

Born into a family of Orthodox petty gentry, Khmelnitsky fought at the Battle of Cecora (1620) and was taken prisoner to Istanbul for two years. Enrolled as a registered Cossack, he was a military chancellor during the Cossack revolts of 1637 and 1638. In 1646 he took part in a Cossack delegation to King Wladyslaw IV, who sought to win the Cossacks over to his secret plans for a war against the Ottomans. In 1647 a magnate's servitor attacked Khmelnitsky's estate. Khmelnitsky found no redress. Arrested in November 1647, he escaped and fled to the traditional Cossack stronghold, or Sich, where he was proclaimed hetman in February 1648. He received support from the Crimean Khanate, and in May Khmelnitsky defeated the Polish armies sent against him. The king died in that month, throwing the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, an elective monarchy, into crisis.

Throughout 1648, as an uprising raged in Ukraine with attacks on landholders, Catholic clergy, and Jews, Khmelnitsky energetically organized a military force and a civil administration. Defeating what remained of the Commonwealth's forces in September, he influenced the election of Jan Kazimierz as a propeace candidate. At the end of the year, Khmelnitsky marched east, entering Kyiv to the acclamation that he was a Moses liberating his people from the "Polish bondage." He declared his intentions to rule as an autocrat as far as Western Ukrainian Lviv.

A renewed war (the Battle of Zboriv) proved inconclusive because of the desertion of the Crimean khan. From mid-1649 Khmelnitsky searched for foreign allies against the Commonwealth, but the Tatars remained his only ally. Initially the Ottoman Empire seemed the most likely supporter, but the extension of Ottoman protection in 1651 did not bring the required military assistance. Khmelnitsky sought to gain a status for Ukraine similar to the Ottoman vassal Moldavia, in part by marrying his son into its ruling family. Having been defeated by the Poles at Berestechko in June 1651, he in turn defeated them in June 1652. His Danubian intervention ended in fiasco with his son Tymish's death in September 1653. The weakened Khmelnitsky then turned more seriously to the Muscovite tsar, and after the Russian decision to take him under "tsar's high hand" in 1653, he convened a Cossack council at Pereyaslav and took an oath of loyalty to the tsar in January 1654, but failed to receive an oath from his emissaries. Retaining far greater power in Ukraine than the terms negotiated, Khmelnitsky came to be disillusioned with Muscovy, especially after the truce between Muscovy and the Commonwealth in November 1656. He joined a coalition with Sweden and Transylvania against the Commonwealth (and against Muscovite wishes), but a Transylvanian-Ukrainian invasion had failed just before his death.

Evaluations of Khmelnitsky and his policies vary greatly, with some seeing him as a great statesman and others as a destructive rebel. The nature of the Pereyaslav Agreement has been the subject of controversy; in Soviet historiography it was viewed as the "reunification" of Ukraine with Russia.

See also: cossacks; ukraine and ukrainians


Basarab, John. (1982). Pereiaslav 1654: A Historiographical Study. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.

Hrushevsky, Mykhailo. (2002). History of Ukraine-Rus", vol. 8. Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.

Stow, Kenneth, and Teller, Adam, eds. (2003). "Gezeirot Ta"h Jews, Cossacks, Poles, and Peasants in 1648 Ukraine." Jewish History 17(2).

Sysyn, Frank E. (1985). Between Poland and Ukraine: The Dilemma of Adam Kysil, 16001653. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press for HURI.

Sysyn, Frank E. (1995). "The Changing Image of the Hetman: On the 350th Anniversary of the Khmel"nyts"kyi Uprising." Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 46: 53145.

Vernadsky, George. (1941). Bohdan, Hetman of Ukraine. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Frank E. Sysyn