Voivode (Ukrainian: voievoda; Polish: wojewoda; Russian: voevoda). An ancient Slavic term for the leader of voï (‘warriors’). He was elected by the tribal assembly in times of war. In Kyivan Rus’ the term referred initially to the commander of a prince's Varangian guard and then to the commander of his army in times of war or to his vicegerent and garrison commander in a particular town. In the 13th- and 14th-century Western Ukrainian principalities it occasionally designated the joint administrator and military commander of a certain territory.
In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state a voivode was a noble appointed for life by the grand duke to be the governor and military commander of a province, called a zemlia (‘land’) or, beginning in 1413, a voivodeship (palatinate), in accordance with the Polish model; he was simultaneously a member of the Council of Lords. Towns self-governed by Magdeburg law were exempt from his powers. In the 14th- to 16th-century Polish Kingdom and, after the 1569 Union of Lublin, the Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth, a voivode was a lord appointed for life by the king to govern a voivodeship; he was simultaneously a member of the Royal Council and its successor, the Senate. His authority was weakened after the creation of starostas and noble dietines (see Dietine). The starosta assumed the role of commander of the royal army and chief justice in the voivodeship, and the voivode was responsible for leading the levy en masse among the nobility, trying Jews, regulating commercial prices, and controlling weights and measures there. The position was abolished after the partition of Poland in 1772.
In Muscovy a voivode was a regimental commander and, from the early 17th century, the tsar's chief administrator and military commander in a province or county and its capital, usually for a term of one to three years. After the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654, the term was applied to the commanders of the fortresses and Russian garrisons of Kyiv, Pereiaslav, Chernihiv, Uman, Nizhyn, and, during the hetmancy of Ivan Briukhovetsky, Hadiach, Poltava, Myrhorod, Lubny, Hlukhiv, and other towns in Ukraine. The voivodes were subordinated to the Little Russian Office and to the tsar himself. The military rank of voivode was abolished in 1708, during the reign of Peter I, but the term was retained as a designation of government rank. From 1718–20 on, a voivode was the administrator, chief of police, and chief justice (from 1722) in a gubernial subunit, the provintsiia. From 1730 he was appointed for two years, and from 1760, for five years. The position was abolished in most of Russian-ruled Ukraine in 1775 and in Slobidska Ukraine in 1780–2.
In interwar Poland, which occupied most of Western Ukraine, a voivode was the state-appointed governor of a province called a voivodeship. The position was abolished in the Polish People's Republic in 1950.
[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]
Encyclopedia of Ukraine