Berestechko, Battle of

Image - 17th-century Cossack graves at Berestechko.

Berestechko, Battle of [Битва під Берестечком; Bytva pid Berestechkom]. A great battle of the Cossack-Polish War near the town of Berestechko in Volhynia on 28–30 June 1651. Both sides had gathered huge forces: the Polish army, led by King Jan II Casimir Vasa, numbered 150,000, while the Ukrainian troops numbered almost 100,000 and their allies—the Crimean Tatars, under Khan Islam-Girei III—consisted of almost 50,000 cavalry (all figures are estimates). On the day of the decisive battle, 30 June, the Crimean Tatars unexpectedly abandoned the field of battle and seized Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. He was released a few days later for a large ransom. The leaderless Ukrainian army was encircled by the Poles. Colonels Filon Dzhalalii, Matvii Hladky, and Ivan Bohun directed the defence of the Cossack encampment for 10 days. Finally, on 8 July, Bohun successfully led the major part of the army through the swamps and out of the encirclement, but most of the artillery and supplies were lost. As a result of this defeat, Khmelnytsky was forced to sign the Treaty of Bila Tserkva. A preserve dedicated to those Cossacks who died in the battle was built in 1910–14 on Zhuravlykha Island approximately 5 km from Berestechko. In 1966 a museum was opened there and the preserve was named the Kozatski Mohyly Museum and Preserve. An account of the battle as well as the historical and archeological sources and research about it, by I. Svieshnikov, appeared in Lviv in 1993.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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