Slobidska Ukraine (Слобожанщина; Slobozhanshchyna). (Map: Slobidska Ukraine.) A historical-geographic region in northeastern Ukraine that corresponds closely to the area of the following Cossack regiments: Ostrohozk regiment, Izium regiment, Kharkiv regiment, Okhtyrka regiment, and Sumy regiment. Its name, derived from the sloboda settlements founded there, came into use in the early 17th century and continued until the early 19th century. Slobidska Ukraine bordered on the Hetman state to the west, the borderlands of the Crimean Khanate and the Zaporizhia to the south, the Don River to the east, and Muscovy to the north. It included sections of the Central Upland and the adjacent Donets Lowland as well as the southeastern section of the Dnieper Lowland and a small area of the Donets Ridge.

Pre–17th century. The oldest evidence of settlement in the territory dates from the Upper Paleolithic. The territory was subsequently settled by Siverianians. After being incorporated into the Kyivan Rus’ state in the late 9th century, it was, in succession, part of Chernihiv principality, Pereiaslav principality, and Novhorod-Siverskyi principality. After its devastation during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century it remained uninhabited. In the early 16th century it came under the control of Muscovy. At that time it was essentially an expanse of wild steppe through which Tatars passed during their raids into Muscovy—usually along the Murava Road or along the Izium Road and the Kalmiius Road. The empty steppes of the region also attracted Ukrainian ukhodnyky or dobychnyky, who engaged primarily in beekeeping, fishing, and hunting. They developed a regional salt industry (primarily in the Bakhmut region and near Tor [later Sloviansk]).

From the later 16th century there were two contending streams of colonizers in Slobidska Ukraine: from the north came Muscovite service personnel for the construction of defense lines and fortifications (against invaders from the Crimea to the south as well as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to the southwest); from the west came Ukrainian agricultural settlers. Some of the latter group were attracted specifically by the resources of the region, and others simply sought to escape the increasingly harsh conditions under Polish rule. There were also some refugees to Slobidska Ukraine and the Don region from exploitative landowners in Muscovy. The Ukrainian migration, however, was much larger than the two sources of Russian colonization.

In the late 16th century the Muscovite government established a number of advance garrisons in the wild steppe: Orel, Livny, and Voronezh (1585); Elets (1592); Belgorod, Oskol, and Kursk (1596); and Valuiky (1599). During Muscovy's Time of Trouble (1605–13) that expansion came to a halt, but Vilnyi, Khotmyzsk, Userd, and other centers were built (largely on the ruins of medieval towns) soon thereafter. In the 1630s and 1640s the so-called Belgorod Line was constructed, stretching from Okhtyrka (1653) in the west to Ostrohozk (1653) in the east. A string of other settlements was also founded, including Chuhuiv (1627) and Oboian (1649). In the late 17th century the Izium Road (from the Kolomak River to Valuiky) was constructed. In the early 18th century the Belgorod Line lost its strategic significance owing to the increasingly dense settlement of Slobidska Ukraine and the establishment of the Ukrainian Line (1731–3), which drew upon the resources of Slobidska Ukraine to its south.

17th and 18th centuries. The Ukrainian colonization of Slobidska Ukraine proceeded in a number of waves. Immigration was particularly substantial in the 1630s in the wake of unsuccessful Cossack insurrections. A contingent of about 1,000 migrants led by Hetman Yakiv Ostrianyn settled near Chuhuiv in 1638. Migration increased as a result of the Khmelnytsky uprising (see Cossack-Polish War), particularly after the Treaty of Bila Tserkva in 1651. In 1652 some 2,000 Cossacks of Chernihiv regiment and Nizhyn regiment, led by Colonel Ivan Dzykovsky, established Ostrohozk. Another detachment, led by H. Kondratiev, moved from Stavyshche, in Bila Tserkva regiment, to Sumy. A similar influx founded Kharkiv in 1654. The Ruin also resulted in a wave of colonization, primarily from Right-Bank Ukraine, in the 1670s and 1680s. Vovcha (Vovchansk) was founded in 1674, and Izium in 1681. The suppression of the rebellion led by Semen Palii prompted another wave of settlement in the early 18th century. The last major surge of colonization occurred in the 1720 and 1730s, after the restoration of Polish control in Right-Bank Ukraine, the defeat of the haidamaka uprising of 1734, and the entrenchment of the Cossack starshyna as landowners in the Hetman state. The influx of Ukrainians into Slobidska Ukraine pushed Russian colonists (as well as some Ukrainians) toward the east and southeast, in the direction of the Don River and the Volga River.

In the late 17th century the population of Slobidska Ukraine was about 120,000. The 1732 census indicated a population of 400,000, and that of 1773, over 660,000. The settling of the region added approx 100,000 sq km to Ukrainian ethnographic territory as its border moved 120–200 km eastward. In the mid-18th century Slobidska Ukraine constituted 25 percent of Ukrainian ethnographic territory and was inhabited by 10 percent of its population.

The Muscovite government initially encouraged Ukrainian immigration to Slobidska Ukraine. Moscow sought to benefit from the resulting economic development of its unpopulated frontier and from a capable military force that could defend its southern borders. The settlement of Slobidska Ukraine also helped to stem the flow of Russian serfs escaping to the Don region. Ukrainian colonists therefore were supplied with weapons and granted the right to establish sloboda settlements with title to the lands, traditional Cossack privileges, and a regimental form of administration.

In the 1650s Ostrohozk regiment, Sumy regiment, Okhtyrka regiment, and Kharkiv regiment were established, and in 1685 Izium regiment was partitioned from the Kharkiv structure. In 1734 those regiments were divided into 98 companies. The regiments and their colonels were granted official recognition in a tsar's charter. In the 18th century a more concerted effort was made to centralize the administration of the region in the hands of a higher military official. That official was usually chosen from among the local colonels or from the ranks of Russian generals. F. Shydlovsky (a colonel of Kharkiv regiment), F. Osypov (a colonel of Okhtyrka regiment), O. Lesevytsky (a colonel of Okhtyrka regiment), V. Kapnist (brigadier general), and others served in that position.

In contrast to the Hetman state, Slobidska Ukraine possessed no territorial autonomy. It was subject directly to Muscovite state authority. Initially it was under the voivode of Belgorod (who in turn was responsible to the War Office [Razriadnyi prikaz]). In 1688 it was placed under Muscovy's Foreign Office (Posolskii prikaz), and in 1708 under the military governor of Azov gubernia. In 1711 the administration of Sumy regiment and Okhtyrka regiment was placed in the jurisdiction of the Kyiv governor, and Kharkiv regiment followed suit in 1718. That same year the administration of Izium regiment and Ostrohozk regiment was transferred to the Voronezh governor. From 1726 the regiments came under the authority of the War College.

The administration of Slobidska Ukraine and the posts therein were similar, with some exceptions, to those of the regimental system of the Hetmanate. In the later 17th century the members of the general staff were elected at Cossack (officers') councils and confirmed by Muscovite officials. In the 18th century the positions became Russian appointments, the starshyna usually coming from the Cossack elite, and regimental colonels and company captains occasionally being foreigners. A number of leading Cossack families filled regimental and other positions in an almost hereditary manner. Such ‘dynasties’ included the Kondratiev family in Sumy regiment, the Perekrestov-Osypov and Lesevytsky families in Okhtyrka, the Donets-Zakharzhevskys and Danylevskys in Izium, the Shydlovsky family, the Kulykovsky family, and the Kvitka family in Kharkiv, and the Teviashovs in Ostrohozk.

Social organization and economy. Slobidska Ukraine was similar socially and economically to the Hetman state. The first Ukrainian settlers in the region were divided along social lines into Cossacks, clergymen, burghers (merchants and craftsmen), and common peasants (pospolyti). There was no nobility in the region in the 17th century. The majority of the population consisted of Cossacks, who constituted half of the region's population until the mid-18th century. The Cossacks themselves were divided into Cossack helpers, elect Cossacks, and the Cossack starshyna. In 1732 there were 23,565 elect Cossacks and 72,226 helpers in the four regiments (in 1763, there were 58,231 and 108,301 respectively). Landless peasants, mainly former Cossacks and free peasants who had lost their households and land, worked on the estates of wealthier Cossack estate owners. In 1732 there were 12,978 of them in the four regiments. The elect Cossacks gradually became a closed class of freemen, and the landless peasants, became enserfed to the starshyna landowners. The common peasants became divided into those working their own land and those on the estates of the starshyna, Russian service personnel, and monasteries. The burghers were few in number.

Russians in Slobidska Ukraine formed a separate, socially heterogeneous group. Initially they came in various official capacities, but by the 18th century they had become local landowners, small independent farmers (odnodvirtsi), or common peasants. One estimate put the number of Russians in the four regiments at 1,650, concentrated mainly in the Kharkiv region. As in the Hetmanate the Cossack starshyna amassed progressively larger estates, and the local peasantry was increasingly impoverished. By 1768, 196,336 of 381,745 male peasants in the region were virtual serfs.

The largest Cossack landowner families in Slobidska Ukraine were the Danylevsky, Donets-Zakharzhevsky, Kvitka, Kovalevsky, Kondratiev, Kulykovsky, Lesevytsky, Nadarzhynsky, Osypov, Perekrestov, Teviashov, and Shydlovsky families. The Kapnist, Myklashevsky, Myloradovych, and Polubotok families from the Hetman state also had large estates in the region. The Russian landowners included the Dunin, Gendrikov, Golitsyn, Kropotkin, and Yusupov families. Among other foreign landowners was the Moldavian Kantemir family.

The local economy was also similar to that of the Hetman state, with agriculture and animal husbandry the primary occupations. The prevalent form of farming was the rotating field system. In the late 18th century the three-field system came into use. Apart from Cossack and small peasant landholdings, large estates were also established by Cossack officeholders, the Russian aristocracy, and various monasteries. Those grew in size to approach the latifundia of Right-Bank Ukraine.

Sheepherding, beekeeping, orchard keeping, fishing, milling, distilling, and the production of various handicrafts were also significant contributors to the region's economy. Toward the end of the 18th century there were about 34,000 craftsmen in Slobidska Ukraine. The salt industry was another significant undertaking, with plants in Tor, Bakhmut, and Spivakivka; saltpeter was a particularly important product. In the 18th century, manufacturing plants were established, which concentrated on cloth and clothing manufacture as well as serving the region's agricultural economy. Of specific note was a tobacco-processing plant established in Okhtyrka, the first in Ukraine and in the Russian Empire.

The focal points of trade were the local markets, of which there were 271 in 1779. In addition there were 10 middle-sized and 2 large markets (Sumy and Kharkiv). The transit trade with Russia, the Hetman state, the Zaporizhia, Southern Ukraine, the Crimea and the Don region, Caucasia, and Iran was also important. Trade between Slobidska Ukraine and the Hetman state was particularly significant: the Hetman state exported manufactured goods (such as glass and steel products) in exchange for salt.

Political life. Slobidska Ukraine's political life was conducted within the framework of the Russian (later imperial Russian) state, although its frontier location initially offered it semiautonomy. Moreover, the region's geographic location, between Russia and the Crimean Khanate, the Hetman state, and the Don region, often placed it in the midst of controversies. Slobidska Ukraine was the object of ruinous Tatar attacks from the south that continued until the Russo-Turkish wars of 1768–74 secured its borders by the Peace Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca (1774). Slobidska Ukraine's westernmost regions (Sumy and Okhtyrka) suffered extensive damage during the Russo-Swedish conflict of 1708–9. The Russo-Turkish war of 1735–9 was also very damaging.

The marked difference in social order between Slobidska Ukraine and Russia gave rise to repeated conflicts and even open rebellion. In 1670 a revolt began in Ostrohozk regiment in support of the peasant rebellion led by S. Razin. The colonel of the regiment, Ivan Dzykovsky, led the insurgency and briefly expelled all Russian officials from the eastern reaches of the territory. The uprising was suppressed, however, and Dzykovsky was executed along with many of his supporters. The inhabitants of Slobidska Ukraine also participated in Kondratii Bulavin’s rebellion that erupted in 1707. When the Crimean khan Devlet Girei attacked the region in 1711, some of the local population (from Nova Vodolaha and Stara Vodolaha) rose to assist him. Subsequently Peter I had a tenth of the captured rebels executed and the rest exiled along with their families. The Right-Bank haidamaka uprisings also spread to Slobidska Ukraine, but these resulted only in limited local disturbances.

Relations between Slobidska Ukraine and the Hetman state were strengthened during the tenures of Hetmans Ivan Samoilovych and Ivan Mazepa. Both sought to expand their jurisdictions to the territory, where a large portion of the Right Bank's population had resettled. Petitions to that end were presented in Moscow in 1680 and 1681 by the hetman's emissaries, M. Samoilovych (colonel of Hadiach) and Mazepa (at that time a notable military fellow). They were rebuffed. Mazepa repeated the request once he became hetman, and was again refused.

A treaty concluded by Petro Petryk with the Crimean Khanate in 1692 provided for the joining of the western regiments (Sumy regiment and Okhtyrka regiment) to the Hetman state, and a transfer of population from the eastern regiments (Kharkiv regiment, Izium regiment, and Ostrohozk regiment) to Right-Bank Ukraine. The territory's starshyna was ambivalent about such plans. The upper echelons of Sumy and Okhtyrka regiments were more closely connected (even related) to their counterparts in the Hetman state and were therefore positively inclined. The leadership of the eastern regiments preferred the direct rule of the tsar, albeit with greater autonomy for the territory as a whole. Union with the Hetman state ceased to be an issue after the Battle of Poltava in 1709, when the Russian government embarked upon an intensified anti-Ukrainian policy.

That development, however, did not affect other relations between the Hetman state and Slobidska Ukraine. Apart from economic and cultural ties, there were family connections between the leading families of the starshyna. Among those in the Hetman state with kin in Slobidska Ukraine were the Apostol (see Apostol family), Charnysh, Cherniakh, Chetvertynsky, Hamaliia, Horlenko, Hrechany, Ivanenko, Kapnist, Lisnytsky, Lyzohub, Maksymovych, Markovych, Myklashevsky, Myloradovych, Polubotok, Rodzianko, Savych, Samoilovych, Skoropadsky, Sulyma, Zabila, Zarudny, and Zhurakovsky families. Highly placed people usually did not sever their connections when moving from one territory to another. Conversely, leaders from Slobidska Ukraine often played a part in the political affairs of the Hetman state. Slobidska Ukraine also offered a refuge for Hetmanate officials and their families during political or military crises (particularly during 1708–9).

Church relations also served to bring the two territories together. Although the church hierarchy of Slobidska Ukraine was directly tied to the Moscow patriarchate (later to the Russian Synod), religious life in the region had a distinctly Ukrainian character. The main institution was the Belgorod eparchy, whose bishops (particularly in the 18th century) tended to come from the Hetman state and were graduates of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy or Chernihiv College. Ostrohozk regiment belonged to the Voronezh eparchy, whose hierarchy and clergy also included many Ukrainians educated in Kyiv, Chernihiv, or (later) Kharkiv College.

The more notable bishops of Belgorod were Yepyfanii Tykhorsky (1722–31), who founded Kharkiv College; Yoasaf Horlenko (1748–54); Y. Mytkevych (1758–63); Samuil Myslavsky (1769–75), a scholar, former rector of the Kyivan Mohyla Academy, and future metropolitan of Kyiv; and Teoktyst Mochulsky (1787–99), a member of the Russian Academy. In 1799 Slobidska Ukraine's religious center moved to the Kharkiv eparchy, whose first bishop (1799–1813) was Khrystofor Sulyma, a member of a notable family of Cossack leaders.

Kharkiv College became the main institution of higher learning in Slobidska Ukraine in the 18th century. It was modeled on the Kyivan Mohyla Academy, and its curriculum was mostly theological. Its professors included scholars educated at the Kyivan Academy, Chernihiv college and Pereiaslav college, as well as some who studied at German universities. The college's students were not only local but from the whole of Left-Bank Ukraine and neighboring districts of Russia. Another major educational center in Slobidska Ukraine was a Latin-Slavic school in Ostrohozk (est 1733, moved to Voronezh in 1737, and then returned to Ostrohozk in 1742). It also had a complement of Ukrainian instructors educated in the Hetman state, Galicia, and Germany. Hryhorii Skovoroda taught at the colleges in Pereiaslav and Kharkiv. His activities and writings were closely tied to Slobidska Ukraine.

Loss of autonomy. Beginning with the reign of Peter I the imperial Russian government intervened increasingly in the internal affairs of Slobidska Ukraine's regiments. Under the empress Anna Ivanovna the territory's autonomy was abolished outright in 1732, but it was renewed by Elizabeth I in 1743. Finally, on 8 August (28 July OS) 1765, Empress Catherine II issued a decree abolishing the Cossack order and the regimental system in Slobidska Ukraine. The Slobidska Ukraine military formations were transformed into the Kharkiv uhlan and the Sumy, Okhtyrka, Izium, and Ostrohozk hussar regiments. The rank-and-file Cossacks and Cossack helpers were ranked at a status comparable to that of state peasants, and the officer class was absorbed into the Russian nobility. The territory itself was governed as Slobidska Ukraine gubernia, with its capital in Kharkiv.

The abolition of the regimental system caused dissatisfaction among the Cossack starshyna of Slobidska Ukraine. F. Krasnokutsky, the colonel of Izium regiment, together with members of Kharkiv regiment's starshyna, protested openly. This action resulted in a series of arrests and the institution of measures designed to curb a wider movement. Krasnokutsky was divested of his holdings and titles and exiled to the Kuban. Others were sentenced to flogging. Further protests were made during the election of representatives to the Legislative Commission of 1767–8, including a call for the restoration of the regimental system from the Sumy region. But the Russian government managed to suppress the dissent.

In 1835, after a number of administrative changes, the gubernia itself was dissolved. Most of it (the southern section) was reorganized as Kharkiv gubernia, and the rest was assigned to Voronezh and Kursk gubernias. That pattern was continued during the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Northern Slobidska Ukraine became part of the Russian Soviet Federated Soviet Republic, and the southern section, of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

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Volodymyr Kubijovyč, Oleksander Ohloblyn

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

Encyclopedia of Ukraine