Koliivshchyna rebellion

Image - Opanas Slastion: an illustration to Taras Shevchenko's poem Haidamaky. Image - Vasyl Kasiian: an illustration to Taras Shevchenko's poem Haidamaky.

Koliivshchyna rebellion. A major haidamaka rebellion (see Haidamaka uprisings) that broke out in Right-Bank Ukraine in May 1768 against social and national-religious oppression by the Polish administration and nobility. The word Koliivshchyna is probably derived from kil (pikeor lance), the weapon used by the rebels (called kolii).

The underlying causes of the rebellion were the social unrest created by the difficult conditions of serfdom in Right-Bank Ukraine and the religious oppression of the Orthodox peasants and Cossacks by the Polish Roman Catholic church and nobles. The rebellion was provoked by the Confederation of Bar and the anti-peasant and anti-Orthodox positions taken by the Polish nobles there. The center of the rebellion was Kholodnyi Yar and its leader was Maksym Zalizniak, a Zaporozhian Cossack from Medvedivka, near Chyhyryn. The haidamakas soon captured the towns of Zhabotyn, Smila, Cherkasy, Korsun, Kaniv, Bohuslav, Moshny, and Lysianka. Following these first successes, the number of haidamakas increased at the beginning of June, and separate groups dispersed in various directions, seizing centers in the Kyiv region and Bratslav region and then in Podilia and Volhynia. An important factor in the spread of the rebellion was the anti-Catholic propaganda that emanated from the Orthodox monasteries of the area. The hegumen of the Motronynskyi Trinity Monastery near Chyhyryn, Melkhysedek Znachko-Yavorsky, played a particularly influential role in fomenting the rebellion, and many rebels hid from the authorities in the monasteries.

A major achievement of the uprising was the capture of the fortified town of Uman (20–21 June 1768), an important trading center in Right-Bank Ukraine. The captain of the Uman militia under the local magnate F. Potocki, Ivan Gonta, joined the insurgency with the Cossacks under his command. A major demand of the insurgents was the restoration of the Cossack political and social order established under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, but which persisted only in Left-Bank Ukraine (the Hetman state) and in the Zaporizhia. Among the more renowned leaders of haidamaka detachments were Semen Nezhyvy, Mykyta Shvachka, Andrii Zhurba, Ivan Bondarenko, and M. Moskal. The haidamakas inflicted great losses, killing hundreds of Polish nobles, Catholic clerics, and Jewish stewards and money-lenders, and burning scores of estates.

The Koliivshchyna rebellion provoked grave concern in the Ottoman Empire, Poland's neighbor, which feared the spread of peasant unrest and was particularly angered when haidamaka detachments entered Turkish frontier towns in pursuit of their enemies. Russian policy toward the haidamakas was more ambiguous. Although Empress Catherine II clearly supported the Orthodox cause and the haidamakas believed a fictitious proclamation of her support and call to arms that circulated widely in Right-Bank Ukraine (see Golden Charter), eventually she ordered Gen Mikhail Krechetnikov to put an end to the uprising. Russian troops began to advance against the haidamaka detachments in late June 1768 and quickly routed them. During a meeting with the Russian high command, Maksym Zalizniak, Ivan Gonta, and Semen Nezhyvy were arrested and their detachments were disarmed. The Russian army was helped by the Polish army, which brutally tortured, then killed, the captured insurgents (eg, in Kodna, near Zhytomyr). Even many peasants who had not taken part in the uprising were severely repressed. Gonta was tortured to death in the village of Serby near Mohyliv-Podilskyi and Zalizniak was exiled to Siberia.

The Koliivshchyna insurgents were idealized and immortalized in folk songs and legends, and especially in the poetry of Taras Shevchenko, whose famous poem ‘Haidamaky’ is devoted to the rebellion. The rebellion was also a popular subject in Polish literature, although most Polish writers (eg, Seweryn Goszczyński, Michał Czajkowski, Juliusz Słowacki) berated the haidamakas and Cossacks as band its and religious fanatics under the influence of the Russians. Populist Ukrainian historians (eg, Volodymyr Antonovych) generally idealized the haidamakas.

Shul’gin, Ia. Ocherk Koliivshchiny po neizdannym i izdannym dokumentam 1768 i blizhaishikh godov (Kyiv 1890)
Huslystyi, K. Koliïvshchyna (Kyiv 1947)
Serczyk, W. Koliszczyzna (Warsaw 1968)
Koliïvshchyna 1768: Materialy iuvileinoï naukovoï sesiï, prysviachenoï 200-richchiu povstannia (Kyiv 1970)
Mirchuk, P. Koliïvshchyna: Haidamats’ke povstannia 1768 r. (New York 1973)

Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 2 (1989).]

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