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2014, canvas, oil, 100 X 80 cm.
(ca. 1595 – 1657)
Bohdan (Zinovii-Bohdan) Khmelnytsky, a prominent statesman, politician, and Ukrainian Cossack military leader, was descended from the family of a lesser Orthodox nobleman, Mykhailo Khmelnytsky, who married the daughter of a Cossack. Questions about the Khmelnytsky family coat of arms are still being debated. According to one version, they bore the Abdank, but according to another, it was the Syrokomla coat of arms.
Although historical sources do not unequivocally confirm the place of his birth, Bohdan was most probably born on the family estate of Subotiv (today in Chyhyryn raion, Cherkasy oblast). He received his education at an Orthodox school in Kyiv monastery and later studied at the Lviv Jesuit College. Early in his military career, he was involved in a Cossack military campaign against the Ottoman Empire and fought in the Battle of Cecora (1620), when he was captured by the Turks. Upon his return from captivity, from 1622 he joined the registered Cossacks as their military secretary. In 1630 he was part of a Cossack rebellion led by Taras Fedorovych (Triasylo). As the Zaporozhian Host’s military chancellor he participated in the Cossack council at Borovytsia in 1637.
In 1638 Bohdan Khmelnytsky travelled with a Cossack delegation to Poland petitioning the king to improve the conditions imposed on the registered Zaporozhian Cossacks by the Ordinance of 1638—endorsed by the Sejm—which severely impinged on the Cossacks’ rights and liberties. In 1646 he was also one of the Cossack emissaries negotiating with King Władysław IV Vasa. Starting the mid-1640s, relations became increasingly hostile between Khmelnytsky and the new Polish starosta of Chyhyryn, Alexander Koniecpolski, and his vice-starosta, Daniel Czapliński.
Having failed to successfully defend his rights in court or to obtain the anticipated support from the Polish king, Bohdan Khmelnytsky departed for the Zaporozhian Cossack Sich, planning to organize a revolt. In February 1648 the Cossacks elected him hetman and granted authority to negotiate the terms of a military and political alliance with representatives of the Crimean Khanate. Reinforced with the Tatar cavalry, the Cossack army crushed the Polish forces in the Battles of Zhovti Vody and Korsun in the spring of 1648.
In September of the same year the Cossacks routed the Polish army at Pyliavtsi and then laid siege to Lviv. In December Bohdan Khmelnytsky triumphantly entered Kyiv, where Patriarch Paisios of Jerusalem acknowledged him as the “Ruler of Rusˈ”. The Treaty of Zboriv (1649) was particularly significant in Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s activity, determining the borders of the Hetman state, establishing the number of registered Cossacks, and defining their relationship with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Another important agreement—the consequences of which are still felt by Ukrainians even today—was the Pereiaslav Treaty (“March Articles”) of 1654, concluded with the Muscovite tsar following negotiations in January of the same year.
Of no less importance was hetman’s decision to reconsider his alliance with Muscovy and ultimately withdraw from its protectorate. The decision came as a result of the Treaty of Vilnius (1656) that was signed by the Tsardom of Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the absence of any representation from the Hetmanate. The untimely death of Hetman Khmelnytsky in August 1657 brought all of his state building plans to a halt. The significance of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s contribution to the history of the Ukrainian nation is enormous.
He was the one, who—as early as mid-17th century— first outlined the borders of the Cossack state, demarcating its territory as similar to Ukraine’s national borders today, and who declared the necessity of defending Ukraine’s sovereignty. Bohdan Khmelnytsky died in Chyhyryn and was most likely buried in St. Elijah’s Church in Subotiv.
History of painting the Bohdan Khmelnytsky portrait.
There are several authentic extant portraits of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, representative of three
iconographic types. I have based this portrait on the classical or so-called Hondius engravings, endeavouring to provide a fresh take on a familiar image. Volodymyr Necheporenko, an actor and People’s Artist of Ukraine, helped me with portraying the character’s psychological image.
Translated from Ukrainian by Iryna Fedoriw
English language editing by Ksenia Maryniak