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© Copyright

All rights reserved. Any use of the image without the permission of the author is prohibited. Copyright © 

2021, canvas, oil, 100 X 80 cm. 

Colonel Ivan Bohun


Ivan Fedorovych Bohun (d February 17, 1664) was a prominent Cossack military leader of the 1648–76 Ukrainian national liberation revolution. As a historical figure, Ivan Bohun is one of the most enigmatic characters of mid-17th century Ukraine. Historians have been unable to identify the exact date and place of his birth due to the lack of relevant sources. Nevertheless, by analyzing Bohun’s activity and his later biographical data, researchers surmise that he was born in the 1620s.


The family of origin of this key figure of the national liberation movement also remains the subject of scholarly debate. Some researchers consider Ivan Bohun to be a descendant of Fedir Bohun, a member of the Ukrainian petty gentry of the Jastrzębiec coat of arms (ergo, his alternate names — Ivan Fedorovych, Ivan Fedorenko); (V. Lukomskyi, V. Modzalevskyi). Others view him as a representative of a noble Ukrainian Orthodox family with its own coat of arms (S. Shamenkov). Whether Bohun was an educated man is not known, either; However, T. Tairova-Yakovleva asserts that Bohun’s elaborate handwriting is proof positive of his education.


The start of Ivan Bohun’s career dates to the 1640s, when he was a zahonych (chaser) in the Donets Siverskyi and the Don river region. It is not likely that he participated in the initial stage of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s uprising, as no such evidence exists. Bohun’s name is first mentioned in 1649 in the context of the Ukrainian Cossack diplomatic missions to Poland, when he was part of the starshyna (officers’ corps) of the Chyhyryn Cossack regiment. In the summer of 1649, Bohun was heavily wounded and did not take part in the Battle of Zboriv. Later on, Colonel Bohun commanded the Kalnyk (Vinnytsia), Podilia, and Pavoloch regiments.


One of the well-described exploits in Bohun’s biography concerns the defense of Vinnytsia in 1651, at which time his Cossack leadership and military prowess really shone. In particular, he is recognized for his clever tactics in luring Polish cavalry onto the frozen waters of the Southern Buh River, where they fell through ice-holes that had been cut out and covered with straw by the Cossacks. In addition, the colonel effectively disguised his Cossacks in Tatar clothing, which also contributed to his victory. Bohun’s military talent was held in high esteem even by the Poles, who called him “daring,” “a clever and able officer,” “a true knight.” Ultimately, however, after the victory at Vinnytsia misunderstandings began to emerge between Ivan Bohun and Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and for some time Bohun even found himself in opposition to the leader of the Ukrainian Cossack state—the Hetmanate.


Bohun’s most widely recognized role was in the Battle of Berestechko, when—with Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Vyhovsky, and several other Cossacks taken hostage by the Crimean Tatars—he was elected acting hetman. Having organized the defense of the Cossack encampment, then broken out of the Polish encirclement and saved a good number of men, Ivan Bohun continued to engage the enemy near Bila Tserkva. When the Cossack masses (chern’) refused to accept the conditions imposed by the Treaty of Bila Tserkva (1651) and rebelled against the Polish envoys, Bohun stood by Khmelnytsky to protect the emissaries.

Subsequently, in 1651–3 Colonel Bohun demonstrated remarkable military skills as a strategist and tactician in Cossack battles with the Polish nobility at Monastyryshche and Zhvanets, and he took part in a campaign against the Principality of Moldavia. Following the death of Hetman Khmelnytsky’s son Tymish near Suceava, it was Bohun’s task as acting hetman to bring the Cossacks home. Tairova-Yakovleva opines that as an award to Bohun for escorting Tymish’s coffin back to Chyhyryn, Khmelnytsky entrusted him with the honorary mission of welcoming Vasilii Buturlin along with a company of Muscovite emissaries who were travelling to Pereiaslav for treaty negotiations. Thus, in her view, Bohun must have been among those who in 1654 swore an oath of allegiance to the Muscovite tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich. Ukrainian historians like O. Hurzhii reason, however, that Bohun could not have done so because he was away in Podilia at the time of the negotiations in Pereiaslav. Instead, the Muscovite emissaries were met by Ivan Fedorovych, whose name Tairova-Yakovleva associates with Bohun. However, Ukrainian scholars believe that Ivan Bohun had been against union with Moscow and had warned about the possible negative outcomes of such an alliance long before the Pereiaslav
Treaty of 1654. If only for this reason, he could not have sworn an oath of allegiance to the tsar. Later on, Colonel Bohun reproached Khmelnytsky’s younger son Yurii for signing 
the Pereiaslav Articles of 1659, which differed starkly from those negotiated in 1654 by his father.


Upon Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s death, Ivan Bohun threw his support behind his successor, Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky, in efforts to extricate the Hetmanate from Muscovite protectorate. Soon, however, he joined those who launched an uprising against Vyhovsky. In 1662 Bohun was captured by the Poles and imprisoned at the Marienburg fortress. In 1663, during the preparations for an advance on Left-Bank Ukraine, the Polish King Jan II Casimir Vasa ordered Bohun’s release and even assigned him command of an army of registered Cossacks. After reaching Left-Bank Ukraine, the Poles accused Bohun of dealing with the Muscovites and the Cossack hetman of the Left Bank, Ivan Briukhovetsky, to whom he was likely passing information on the movements of the Polish army. This behavior warranted Bohun’s arrest during an audience with the Polish king in February 1664.

The circumstances around Colonel Ivan Bohun’s death remain ambiguous. Some researchers claim that he was shot to death by the Poles on 17 February, 1664 and buried at the village of Koman near Novhorod-Siverskyi. Others maintain that Bohun resisted arrest and died in ensuing clash. We know that Ivan Bohun had a wife and a son. In later times the descendants of this Cossack leader lived in Novhorod-Siverskyi. Ivan Bohun is a famous hero of Ukrainian epic songs. In Ukrainian traditional folklore he has always been pictured as a young and handsome fighter for Ukrainian independence.


History of painting the Ivan Bohun portrait

I worked on this portrait for a year before finishing it in 2021. The circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the process significantly. But as it happened, everything worked out for the best: thanks to the scheduling delays, I was able to obtain and use in my work the only extant image of Ivan Bohun, provided to me by researcher Serhii Shamenkov.


The provided etching depicts Bohun among a Cossack starshyna delegation to Sweden, headed by Anton Zhdanovych. Ivan Bohun is supposed to be the one walking behind Zhdanovych. It is difficult to confirm, however, as the etched images are very small and do not offer detailed portrait characteristics. Had I begun working on this portrait much earlier, without this historical source available to me, I would not have been able to create such an accurate likeness of Bohun.

A substantial number of 17th - century Polish historical portraits depicting persons dressed in a similar fashion and with identical hair styles has survived to date. There is also a historical detail that Ivan Bohun was captured by the Poles in the middle of the night, as they noticed his “light armor” (corselet) gleam in the moonlight. Fortunately, he was able to escape that time. The Polish King Jan II Casimir, who ordered the killing of Ivan Bohun, is also depicted wearing a similar corselet and metal arm plates.

Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Fedoriw
English language editing by Ksenia Maryniak


A delegation to the king of Sweden headed by Anton Zhdanovych (first on the right, with a beard).


Jan II Casimir Vasa, without a wig (unknown, 17th century).

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