Bohdan Zynovii Mykhailovych Khmel'nyts'kyi (Богдан Зиновій Михайлович Хмельницький, commonly transliterated as Khmelnytsky; known in Polish as Bohdan Zenobi Chmielnicki; in Russian as Богда́н Хмельни́цкий, translit. Bogdan Khmelnitsky) (born c. 1595 — died August 6, 1657) was a hetman of the Zaporozhian Cossack Hetmanate of Ukraine. He led the uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth magnates (1648–1654) with the goal of creating an independent Ukrainian state. In 1654 he concluded the Treaty of Pereyaslav with the Tsardom of Russia, which led to the eventual loss of Ukrainian independence first in the Russian Empire and later in the Soviet Union.
Although there is no definite proof of the date of his birth, it has been suggested by Ukrainian historian Mykhaylo Maksymovych that his date of birth was likely 27 December 1595 (St. Theodore's day). As it was the custom in the Orthodox Church, he was baptized with one of his middle names - Theodor, transformed into Ukrainian as Bohdan.
The latest biography of Khmelnytsky by Smoliy and Stepankov, however, challenges the 27 December date and suggests that it is more likely that he was born on 9 November (feast day of St Zenoby, 30 October in Julian Calendar) and was baptised on 11 November (feast day of St. Theodore in the Catholic Church)
Khmelnytsky was probably born in the village of Subotiv, near Chyhyryn in Ukraine at the estate of his father Mykhailo Khmelnytsky. Even though his father, Mykhailo Khmelnytsky, a courtier of Great Crown Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, was of noble birth himself, and belonged to the Clan Massalski, Abdank or Syrokomla, there was and is still controversy as to whether Bohdan belonged to the szlachta himself. This however didn't prevent Khmelnytsky from considering himself a noble and his father's status as a deputy Starosta (elder) of Chyhyryn helped him to be considered as such by others. Later on, however, during the Uprising he would stress his mother's Cossack roots and his father's exploits with the Cossacks of the Sich. There is also no concrete evidence in regard to Khmelnytsky's early education. Several historians believe he received his elementary schooling from a church clerk until he was sent to one of Kyiv's Orthodox fraternity schools. He continued his education in Polish at a Jesuit college, possibly in Jarosław, but more likely in Lviv, in the school founded by hetman Żółkiewski. He completed his schooling by 1620 and acquired a broad knowledge of world history and learned Polish and Latin. Later in addition to these languages he learned Turkish, Tatar, and French. Unlike many of the other Jesuit students, he did not embrace Roman Catholicism but remained Greek Orthodox.
Upon completion of his studies in 1617, Bohdan entered into service with the Cossacks. As early as 1619 he was sent along with his father to Moldavia, as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth entered into war with the Ottoman Empire. His first military engagement was a tragic one. During the battle of Cecora (Ţuţora) on 17 September 1620, his father was killed, and young Khmelnytsky among many others, including future hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, was captured by the Turks. He spent the next two years in captivity in Constantinople, as a prisoner of a Turkish Pasha.
While there is no concrete evidence as to how he returned to Ukraine, most historians believe he either escaped or his ransom was paid. Sources vary as to by whom — his mother, friends, the Polish king — but perhaps by Krzysztof Zbaraski, ambassador of the Rzeczpospolita to the Ottomans, who in 1622 paid 30,000 thalers in ransom for all prisoners of war captured at the Battle of Cecora. Upon return to Subotiv, Khmelnytsky took over the running of his father's estate and became a registered Cossack in the Chyhyryn Regiment. In the meantime, his widowed mother married again, to Belarusian noble Vasyl Stavetsky, and moved to his estate, leaving Bohdan in charge of Subotiv. In a year she had another son, Hryhoriy, who curiously enough later preferred to take his mother's name and was known as Hryhoriy Khmelnytsky. For a short time he also served as a koniuszy to hetman Mikołaj Potocki, but relatively quickly they parted their ways after a personal conflict. Bohdan Khmelnytsky later married Hanna Somkivna, a daughter of a rich Pereyaslavl Cossack and they settled in Subotiv. By the second half of the 1620s they already had three daughters: Stepanida, Olena, and Kateryna. His first son Tymish (Tymofiy) was born in 1632, and another son Yuriy was born in 1640.
During this time Bohdan Khmelnytsky was running his estate and advanced in his service in the Regiment. He first became a sotnyk and later advanced to the rank of a regiment scribe. He certainly had significant negotiation skills and commanded respect of his fellow Cossacks as on 30 August, 1637 he was included in a delegation to Warsaw to plead the Cossacks' case before the Polish King Władysław IV. Serving in the army of a Polish magnate and great commander, hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, he participated in a rather successful campaign as the Commonwealth army, part of which was Bohdan's regiment, scored a decisive victory over the Tatars in 1644. During this time, as some archival documents show, he also had a meeting in Warsaw with the French ambassador Count De Bregie, during which he discussed the possibility of Cossack participation in war in France. Sources vary as to whether in April 1645 he traveled to France (to Fontainebleau) to discuss further details of Cossack service in France; this claim is supported by Ukrainian historiography but disputed by Polish scholarship. In October 1644 around two thousand Polish infantry soldiers (some scholars think they were Cossacks, but the French sources do not actually name them as such) went to France by sea via Gdańsk and Calais, where they participated in the siege and capture of Dunkerque. However, no records show that Bohdan Khmelnytsky was among them.
In May 1647 Khmelnytsky arranged a second audience with the King to plead his case, but found the King unwilling to go into an open confrontation with a powerful magnate. In addition to the loss of the estate, his first wife Hanna died, leaving him alone with the children. While he promptly remarried to Motrona, his second wife, he was still unsuccessful in all of his attempts to find justice in regard to his estate. During this time, he met several higher Polish officials to discuss the Cossacks' issue of the war with the Tatars and used this occasion again to plead his case with Czapliński, still unsuccessfully.
While Khmelnytsky found no support from the Polish officials, he found it in his Cossack friends and subordinates. The case of a Cossack being unfairly treated by the Poles found a lot of support not only in his Chyhyryn regiment, but also with others including the Sich. All through the autumn of 1647 Khmelnytsky traveled from one regiment to another, and had numerous consultations with Cossack leaders throughout Ukraine. His activity raised suspicion among the Polish authorities already used to Cossack revolts; he was promptly arrested. Koniecpolski issued an order for his execution, but the Chyhyryn Cossack polkovnyk who held Khmelnytsky was persuaded to release him. Not willing to tempt fate any further, Khmelnytsky headed for the Zaporozhian Sich with a group of his supporters.
While it might appear that the Czapliński Affair was the immediate cause of the Uprising, it was only an impetus that brought a successful and talented Cossack to the forefront of popular discontent among the people of what is now Ukraine. Religion, ethnicity, and economics factored into this discontent. While the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth remained a union of two nations: of Poland and Lithuania, a sizable population of Orthodox Ruthenians remained ignored. That left them oppressed by the Polish magnates and their wrath was directed at the Poles' Jewish traders, who often ran their estates for them. The advent of the Counter-Reformation further worsened relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Many Orthodox Ukrainians saw the Union of Brest as a threat to their Orthodox faith, and coupled with the frequent abuse of the Orthodox clergy this added a religious dimension to the conflict. This could have been one of the many other frequent Cossack revolts that had been put down by the authorities, but the stature and skill of, and respect for, the seasoned 50-year-old negotiator and warrior Khmelnytsky perhaps made all the difference.
At the end of the year Khmelnytsky finally made his way to the south, to the estuary of the Dnieper river. On 25 January 1648 his small (300–500-man) detachment, with the help of registered Cossacks who went to his side, disarmed the small Polish detachment guarding the area and took over the Zaporozhian Sich — much to the jubilation of many of the Cossacks. An attempt to retake the Sich by the Poles was decisively fought off as more registered Cossacks joined his forces. At the end of January 1648 a Cossack Rada was called and Khmelnytsky was unanimously elected a hetman. A feverish activity followed. Cossacks were sent with hetman's letters to many regions of Ukraine calling on Cossacks and Orthodox peasants to join the rebellion, the defence of Khortytsia was improved, arrangements were made to acquire and make weapons and anmunition, and emissaries were sent to the Khan of Crimea, İslâm III Giray.
Initially, Polish authorities took the news of Khmelnytsky's arrival at the Sich and reports about the rebellion quite lightly. The two sides exchanged lists of demands: the Poles asked for Cossacks to surrender the mutinous leader and disband, while Khmelnytsky and the Rada demanded that the Commonwealth restore the Cossacks' ancient rights, stop the advance of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, yield the right to appoint Orthodox leaders of the Sich and of the Registered Cossack regiments, and remove the Commonwealth troops from Ukraine. These demands of Khmelnytsky were taken as an affront by the Polish magnates and an army headed by Stefan Potocki moved in the direction of the Sich. Had the Cossacks stayed at Khortytsia they might have been defeated as in many other rebellions. But this time, instead of waiting for the Poles, Khmelnytsky marched against them. The two armies met on 16 May 1648 at Zhovti Vody, where, aided by the Tatars of Tugay Bey, the Cossacks inflicted their first crushing defeat on the Commonwealth. This was repeated soon after, with the same success, at the Battle of Korsuń on 26 May 1648. What made these Cossack successess different was the diplomatic and military skill of Khmelnytsky: under his leadership, the Cossack army moved to battle positions following his plans, Cossacks were proactive and decisive in their maneuver and attacks, and most importantly, he not only managed to persuade large contingents of registered Cossacks to switch to his side, but also got the support of the Crimean Khan — his crucial ally for the many battles to come.
At Christmas 1648, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kyiv, where he was hailed as "the Moses, savior, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity ... the illustrious ruler of Rus." In February 1649, during negotiations in Pereiaslav with a Polish delegation headed by senator Adam Kysil, Khmelnytsky declared that he was "the sole autocrat of Rus" and that he had "enough power in Ukraine, Podilia, and Volhynia ... in his land and principality stretching as far as Lviv, Chełm, and Halych. It became clear to the Polish envoys that Khmelnytsky had positioned himself not just as a leader of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, but of Ukraine, and stated his claims to the heritage of the Rus. A Vilnius panegyric in Khmelnytsky's honor (1650–1651) explained it this way: "While in Poland it is King Jan II Casimir Vasa, in Rus it is Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
After the period of initial military successes the state-building process began. His leadership was demonstrated in all areas of state-building: in the military, administration, finance, economics, and culture. With political acumen he made the Zaporozhian Host under the leadership of its hetman the supreme power in the new Ukrainian state, and unified all the spheres of Ukrainian society under his authority. Khmelnytsky built a new government system and developed military and civilian administration.
During this time a new generation of statesmen and military leaders came to the forefront: Ivan Vyhovsky, Pavlo Teteria, Danylo Nechai and Ivan Nechai, Ivan Bohun, Hryhoriy Hulyanytsky. From Cossack polkovnyks, officers, and military commanders, a new elite within the Cossack Hetman state was born. Throughout the years, this elite preserved and maintained the autonomy of the Cossack Hetmanate in the face of Russia's attempt to curb it. But it was also instrumental in the onset of the period of Ruin that followed and eventually destroyed most of the achievements of the Khmelnytsky era.
Under the circumstances, Khmelnytsky started looking for another foreign ally. Even though the Cossacks established their de facto independence from Poland, the new state needed legitimacy that was essential in 17th century Europe, and this legitimacy could be provided by a foreign monarch. In search of a protectorate, Khmelnytsky approached the Ottoman sultan in 1651 and formal embassies were exchanged. The Turks offered vassalship similar to their other arrangements with contemporary Crimea, Moldavia and Walachia. However, the idea of a union with the Muslim monarch didn't rest well with the general populace and the Cossacks from whom Khmelnytsky drew his support.
The other possible ally was Orthodox Russia. They, however, remained quite cautious and stayed away from the hostilities in Ukraine. In spite of numerous envoys and calls for help from Khmelnytsky in the name of the shared Orthodox faith, the Tsar preferred to wait until the threat of a Cossack-Ottoman union in 1653 finally forced him to action. The idea that the Tsar might be favourable to taking Ukraine under his hand was communicated to the hetman and the diplomatic activity intensified.
After a series of negotiations, it was agreed that Ukraine would accept the tsar's overlordship. To finalize the treaty, a Russian embassy led by boyar Vasili Buturlin came to Pereyaslav, where on January 18, 1653 the Cossack Rada was called and the treaty concluded. There is still no unanimity among historians as to the true intentions of both Russia and Khmelnytsky in signing this agreement. For Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the treaty legitimized Moscow's claims to the territory of Kievan Rus and strengthened his influence in the region. For Khmelnytsky the Treaty of Pereyaslav offered first and foremost a legitimate monarch's protection and support from a friendly Orthodox power. There have been a number of conflicting opinions as to what kind of union Khmelnytsky had in mind, whether it was to be a military union, a suzerainty or a complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Tsardom of Russia.
The two sides had somewhat different ideas of the treaty and the union, as exemplified by an incident during the oath of allegiance to the Tsar: the treaty was almost broken when the Moscow envoy refused to reciprocate with an oath from the ruler to his subjects, as was the custom with the Polish king. At one point, for this reason, Khmelnytsky stormed out of the church and threatened to cancel the entire treaty. It was only after some consideration that this demand on the part of the Cossacks was rescinded and the treaty stayed. Due to both sides having different goals in Ukraine, the liberties that were allowed to Khmelnytsky due to his stature were denied to his successors. That, in the end, eventually led to the complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Tsardom of Russia and later into the Russian Empire (and Soviet Union).
As a result of the Treaty of Pereyaslav the geopolitical map of the region had changed — a new player, Russia, entered the scene, and the Cossacks' former allies, the Tatars, went to the Polish side. That intensified the conflict, as the Tatars were now unrestrained in their warfare against Khmelnytsky. Tatar raids depopulated whole areas of Ukraine. Cossacks, aided by the Tsar's army, took revenge on Polish possessions in Belarus, and in the spring of 1654, the Cossacks drove the Polish from much of the country. To complicate the situation even further, another power joined the melee — Sweden. They were the old adversaries of both Poland and Russia, and at the initial stages they concentrated most of their attacks against the Commonwealth. That put Khmelnytsky into a delicate situation in regard to the Tsar, as he had been negotiating with the Swedes for some time, coordinating their attacks on the Commonwealth. In 1656 with the Commonwealth on the brink of collapse, the ruler of Transylvania, George II Rákóczi, also joined in. Under blows from all sides the Commonwealth only survived by a miracle.
Not satisfied with their spoils in Poland and Lithuania, the Swedes turned against their old enemy Russia. This complicated matters even further for Khmelnytsky, as his ally was now fighting his overlord. In addition to diplomatic tensions between the Tsar and Khmelnytsky, a number of other disagreements between the two surfaced, notably in regard to Russian officials' interference in the finances of the Hetmanate and in the newly liberated Belarus. One thing that infuriated the hetman the most was the separate treaty the Tsar concluded with the Poles in Vilnius in 1656. The Hetman's emissaries were not even allowed to attend the negotiations. That prompted Khmelnytsky to write an irate letter to the Tsar accusing him of breaking the Pereyaslav agreement. In his anger, Khmelnytsky compared Swedes to the Tsar, claiming that the former were more honourable and trustworthy than the latter.
In addition to diplomatic tensions with Russia, the Cossack army with their Transylvanian allies in Poland suffered a number of setbacks. As a result, Khmelnytsky had to deal with a Cossack rebellion on the home front. Troubling news also came from Crimea, as Tatars, in alliance with Poland, were preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine. Though already ill, Khmelnytsky continued to conduct diplomatic activity, at one point even receiving the Tsar's envoys in his bed. On July 22 he suffered cerebral hemorrhage, became paralyzed, and died at 5 A.M. on July 27, 1657. His funeral was held on August 23, and his body was taken from his capital Chyhyryn to his estate at Subotiv for burial in his ancestral church. In 1664 a Polish noble Stefan Czarniecki captured Subotiv and ordered the bodies of the hetman and his son Tymish to be exhumed and desecrated.
It is hard to overestimate Khmelnytsky's contribution and role in the history of Eastern Europe. He not only shaped the future of Ukraine but significantly changed the balance of power in Eastern Europe. As with any other prominent personality his role in the events and his actions were viewed differently by his various contemporaries, and even now different people sometimes have quite opposing views on his legacy.
In their assessment of Khmelnytsky's legacy the official Russian historiography stressed the fact that Khmelnytsky entered into union with Moscow's Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich with an expressed desire to "re-unify" Ukraine with Russia. This view corresponded with the official theory of Moscow being an heir of the Kievan Rus and thus a gatherer of its former territories.
In this light Khmelnytsky was viewed as a national hero of Russia for bringing Ukraine into the "eternal union" of all Russias — Great, Little and White Russia. As such, he was much respected and venerated in Imperial Russia. His role was presented as a model for all Ukrainians to follow — to aspire for closer ties with Great Russia. This view was expressed in a monument commissioned by the Russian nationalist Mikhail Yuzefovich, which was installed in the center of Kiev.
The original variant of the monument (created by sculptor Mikeshin) appeared too xenophobic even for the Russian authorities, as it was to depict a vanquished Pole, Jew, and a Catholic priest under the hoofs of the horse. A more moderate version was installed, but the inscription on the monument read "To Bogdan Khmelnitsky from one and indivisible Russia.
The view of Khmelnytsky as a prominent, positive figure in the Russian history is further displayed in Mikeshin's Monument to the Millennium of Russia in Novgorod, where Khmelnytsky is shown as one of Russia's prominent figures.
Soviet historiography followed in many ways the Imperial Russian theory of "re-unification" while adding the class struggle dimension to the story. Thus, Khmelnytsky was not only praised for "re-unifying" Ukraine with Russia, but also for organizing the class struggle of oppressed Ukrainian peasants against Polish and Jewish exploiters.
During the period 1648-1656, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered by the rebels, often quite brutally. Due to the lack of reliable data, an accurate figure cannot be established. However, the scale was so great that it is considered one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history prior to the Holocaust. In the years which followed, many Jews believed that it marked the time for deliverance by the Messiah. See Khmelnytsky Uprising for further information.