Left-Bank Ukraine

Left-Bank Ukraine (Лівобережжя; Livoberezhia). A territorial-administrative-geographic region consisting of the Ukrainian lands east of the Dnipro River. In the 17th and 18th centuries Left-Bank Ukraine became a major Ukrainian economic, political, and cultural center administered as 10 Cossack regimental districts (Starodub regiment, Chernihiv regiment, Nizhyn regiment, Pryluky regiment, Lubny regiment, Hadiach regiment, Kyiv regiment, Pereiaslav regiment, Myrhorod regiment, and Poltava regiment) that formed the Hetman state (see Regimental system). By extension Slobidska Ukraine, which had a comparable social and economic order, sometimes has been regarded as part of the Left-Bank realm, even though it was never linked administratively with the Hetman state and had a separate historical development. The Left-Bank lands have commonly been considered the heartland of Ukrainian ethnic territory. The former Left-Bank Ukraine now constitutes Chernihiv oblast and Poltava oblast, the left banks of Kyiv oblast and Cherkasy oblast, the city of Kyiv and its right-bank environs, northern Dnipropetrovsk oblast, and northwestern Sumy oblast. The Starodub regiment lands are now within Briansk oblast in the Russian Federation.

The Dnipro River waterway provided a specific geographic focus for the Left-Bank region as its dividing line with Right-Bank Ukraine. The formal partitioning of the two regions made the Dnipro River a frontier zone and thereby compelled the Left Bank to reorient itself politically and economically toward Moscow. The Dnipro regained importance only after 1795, when Right-Bank Ukraine had been incorporated in toto into the Russian Empire.

The establishment of the Left Bank as a distinctive geographic and political entity came as an offshoot of the Cossack-Polish War of 1648–57. Following Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky's death (1657) the Cossack polity was racked by dissension between officers and rank-and-file Cossacks, and between pro- and anti-Polish political orientations. The dissention produced a split in Cossack ranks that acquired a specific geographical dimension when the Left-Bank regiments refused to follow the acting hetman, Yurii Khmelnytsky, who supported the Poles against Moscow at the Battle of Chudniv (1660), and elected Yakym Somko as their leader. Khmelnytsky remained hetman of Right-Bank Ukraine, thereby initiating the division of Ukraine into Left and Right banks. The division soon acquired additional significance in international affairs as a result of the Treaty of Andrusovo (1667), which established the Dnipro River as the dividing line between Russian and Polish zones of influence.

In 1668 the Right-Bank Ukraine hetman, Petro Doroshenko, successfully united the Cossack regiments on both banks of the Dnipro River under his leadership. Internal Right-Bank conflicts and external threats from Poland and Turkey, however, forced his return to the Right Bank. In the interim the acting Left-Bank hetman, Demian Mnohohrishny, was forced by circumstance to break with Doroshenko and swear allegiance to Moscow. Thenceforth the Left Bank remained continuously under Russian influence.

In 1676 Hetman Ivan Samoilovych invaded Right-Bank Ukraine, defeated Petro Doroshenko, and proclaimed himself hetman of both banks. In 1678, while retreating before a Turkish advance, Samoilovych forcefully attempted to remove the population of Right-Bank Ukraine to the Left Bank and Slobidska Ukraine.

The Eternal Peace of 1686 between Russia and Poland cemented the previous Treaty of Andrusovo and confirmed Poland's claim to Right-Bank Ukraine. Russia obtained undisputed control over Left-Bank Ukraine, consisting of the Hetman state and a portion of the Zaporizhia. In 1703 Hetman Ivan Mazepa occupied Right-Bank Ukraine and was briefly hetman of both banks.

In the 18th century the autonomy of Left-Bank Ukraine was steadily eroded until the Hetman state was abolished in 1782. From 1796 to 1802 the Left Bank was reconstituted as an administrative territory in Little Russia gubernia.

Although the Left Bank had ceased to function as an administrative unit, certain features continued to distinguish it as unique for the remainder of the imperial period. The Left-Bank gentry, the former Cossack starshyna and its descendants, contributed disproportionately to the formation of a conscious Ukrainian intelligentsia from the end of the 18th to the early 20th centuries. The life of the agricultural population was also distinctive in Left-Bank Ukraine. There free peasants and state peasants, the descendants of rank-and-file Cossacks, formed a significant portion of the rural population, and landlords' serfs were fewer than in Galicia or Right-Bank Ukraine. As well, a characteristic form of peasant settlement, the khutir, or single farmstead, was found there. (See also History of Ukraine.)

Putro, A. Levoberezhnaia Ukraina v sostave Rossiiskogo gosudarstva vo vtoroi polovine XVIII veka: Nekotorye voprosy sotsial’no-ekonomicheskogo i obshchestvenno-politicheskogo razvitiia (Kyiv 1988)
Ananieva, T. (ed). Opysy livoberzhnoï Ukraïny kintsia XVIII–pochatku XIX st. (Kyiv 1997)

Andrew Beniuk

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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