Peter I [Russian: Петр; Petr; Peter the Great], b 9 June 1672 in Moscow, d 8 February 1725 in Saint Petersburg. Muscovite tsar from 1682 and first Russian emperor from 1721; son of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. In 1696, after deposing the Muscovite regent, his half-sister, Sofiia Alekseevna, Peter conducted an aggressive, expansionist foreign policy that affected the Hetman state, Slobidska Ukraine, and the Zaporizhia throughout his reign. He exploited Ukraine economically and militarily as part of Muscovy’s participation in the Holy League against the Ottoman Empire; the expansionist Russo-Turkish wars of 1695–6 and 1710–13; the Great Northern War with Sweden (1700–21), by which Russia gained a foothold on the Baltic Sea coast; and the war with Persia (1722–3), which fortified Russia’s hold in Transcaucasia and the Caspian Sea littoral. Those wars exacted a heavy human and economic toll in Ukraine.
Peter’s internal reforms had as their goal the modernization and Europeanization of Muscovy. His cultural revolution provided a sound basis for the further expansion of Russian absolutism and imperialism. In Ukraine Peter’s policies until 1708 continued the Muscovite tradition of the gradual erosion of regional sovereignty, although the Hetman state still remain largely autonomous of Russia.
This changed dramatically after Hetman Ivan Mazepa and Otaman Kost Hordiienko sided with Charles XII of Sweden in 1708–9, particularly after the Battle of Poltava (July 1709). After defeating the Swedes and their Cossack allies, Peter initiated a reign of terror in Ukraine and instituted administrative measures to bring the Hetman state more directly under Muscovite rule. The Zaporozhian Sich and Mazepa’s capital, Baturyn, were completely destroyed, and Baturyn’s inhabitants were massacred; captured Cossacks were executed; and most of Mazepa’s senior supporters were imprisoned in the Solovets Islands. Large tracts of land confiscated from “Mazepists” were granted to loyal Russians, most notably Peter’s favorite Aleksandr Menshikov. Thereafter the Russian military and civil authorities were brutally intrusive in all aspects of Ukrainian life. The most obvious aspect of this was the degree of political contol Peter was able to exert over Ukraine. The powers of Mazepa’s successor, Ivan Skoropadsky, were strictly limited, and his actions were monitored by Peter’s resident functionary Andrei Izmailov. After Skoropadsky’s death in 1722, Peter forbade the election of a successor, and the Hetman state was controlled and virtually ruled by his Little Russian Collegium. Attempts to get the Russian authorities to restore Hetmanate, led by the acting hetman Pavlo Polubotok (1722–4), brought on further repressions. Polubotok and his General Officer Staff were imprisoned in Saint Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, where the hetman died. Peter’s policies intensified serfdom, and introduced more direct and greater taxtion, as a result of which levies on the population of Ukraine increased from 45,500 rubles in 1722 to 241,300 in 1724. Peter also forbade the publication of books in Ukrainian and ordered Ukrainian redactions of Old Church Slavonic texts to be made to correspond with Muscovite redactions. Thousands of Ukrainian conscripts died during the construction of Peter’s new capital, Saint Petersburg, and the Don-Volga and Ladoga canals.
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Diadychenko, Vadym. ‘Petro I i Ukraïna,’ UIZh, 1972, no. 6
Subtelny, Orest. “Mazepa, Peter I, and the Question of Treason,” HUS 2, no. 2 (June 1978)
———. ‘Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made,' RR, 39, no. 1 (January 1980)
Bushkovitch, Paul. Peter the Great: The Struggle for Power, 1671–1725 (Cambridge, England 2001)
[This article was updated in 2008.]