Brutality of the Polish landowners as the driving force for the Pereyaslav Rada in 1654

The article you are about to read continues the topic of the Pereyaslav Rada from yesterday’s article Pereyaslav Rada of 1654 – the story of Zaporozhie Cossacks joining Rus, which looked more at the events surrounding the Pereyaslav Rada, which the present article explores more of the preceding decades and reasons while Malorossia wanted to escape the Polish yoke. The introductory note about the term “Ukraine” apply equally to today’s article. A highly-recommended documentary, Project ‘Ukraine’, has a mention of these events as well.

“We wish for the ruler”. The Pereyaslav Rada united two parts of the Russian people

“Argumenty i Fakty”, 18.01.2024

Alexey Kishchenko, “Bogdan Hmelnitsky. The Ascension of Malorossia”, 1880 /

It is generally believed that the Pereyaslav Rada marked the reunification of Ukraine with Russia. However, a structure called “Ukraine” did not exist at that time.

370 years ago, on the 18th of January 1654, cries were heard in the city of Pereyaslavl-Russkij (Pereyaslavl-Russian): “We are wishing to be under the Tzar of the East, the Orthodox one! Oh, God! Approve it! Oh, God! Strengthen it! May we all be one forever!”

This is how the people who gathered at the Pereyaslav Rada reacted to the letter of Tsar Alexei Mihailovich, which confirmed that the Russian sovereign “ordered them to take them under his high hand.”

Take us in!

It is generally believed that the Pereyaslav Rada marked the reunification of Ukraine with Russia. However, in reality, there did not exist that time any structure called “Ukraine” that could reunite with Russia. There was no such country, no such state, no people with such a name. As the initiator of the convocation of the Pereyaslav Rada, Getman of the Zaporozhye army Bogdan Hmelnitsky, repeatedly said: “I will knock the entire Russian people out from Lyad (Polish) bondage!”

That January day was just a step in the struggle of the divided Russian people for the right of self-determination and reunification within the framework of a single national state. But the desire to unite the divided people in one state did not come from Russia at all. Hmelnitsky’s first letter offering allegiance, addressed to the Russian Tzar, was dated June 1648: “We want ourselves a ruler, a master in our land, like your Royal Grace, the Orthodox Christian Tzar. We humbly submit ourselves to the merciful feet of your royal Majesty.” And even earlier, in 1624, the embassy of Metropolitan Job of Kiev was sent to Alexei Mihailovich’s father, Tsar Mihail Fedorovich. The topic of the negotiations was designated as follows: “On the acceptance of Malorossia (Rus Minor) and the Zaporozhian Cossacks into patronage.” Similar petitions were submitted by Cossacks and peasants who were permanently rebelling against Polish rule. Because the Polish oppression — both social and religious — was beyond all imaginable bounds.

The Polish Yoke

Getting to know the economic realities of those years may puzzle those who like to speculate about the “poverty and disenfranchisement of peasants in Russia.” In the Russian kingdom, the “tenth money”, that is, a 10% tax, was classified as an emergency measure. And in Polish’ Malorossia it was a regular annual tax. In addition to it, a serf was obliged to pay his master a “dudok” — a tax for the birth of a child, “poemschizna” — for marriage, “stavschina” — for fishing, “suhomelschina” — for grinding grain, and even “zholudnoe” — for collecting acorns. And on top of it, a corvée, which was called there “panshina” and which reached 5-6 days of work for the Pan (landowner) per week. Compared to this, 1-2 days of corvée in the Russian Kingdom were a downright earthly paradise.

It is not surprising that every uprising of the Malorossian serfs was accompanied by a request for Russian citizenship.

  • 1625 — the uprising of Marko Zhmaylo,
  • 1630 — the uprising of Taras Fedorovich,
  • 1635 — the uprising of Ivan Sulima,
  • 1637 — the uprising of Pavlyuk,
  • 1638 — the uprising of Yakov Ostryanin and Dmitry Guni.

They were suppressed with sophisticated cruelty. Thus, after Pavlyuk’s uprising, the road from the Dnieper to Nizhyn, which is about 100 versts (106km), was lined with stakes with Malorossian peasants and Cossacks impaled on them.

The first decision to conduct a genocide

In such a situation, the only thing that one can berate Russia of, is not that it, as they say, “grabbed” Grabbed, but that only the left bank of the Dnieper eventually went to the Russian kingdom, and even this matter was delayed for many years.

They hesitated, firstly, because they did not have the strength. Only 6 years passed between the Deulin Truce of 1618, which ended the Time of Trouble that put the Russian Kingdom on the brink of disaster, and the first request of Malorossians for citizenship. If the Russian Tzar had dared to satisfy this request, there would have been a war with Rzeczpospolita (the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), whose troops plundered and burned Moscow almost the other day.

Therefore, Tzar Alexei Mihailovich, having received that letter from Hmelnitsky in 1648, was in no hurry. And to be honest, he would have continued being in no hurry. But then an event occurred, after which it became clear — now or never. In March 1653, an extraordinary Sejm (gathering) of Rzeczpospolita took place in Brest that made a decision, which Russian diplomats reported to Moscow as follows: “And at the Sejm they sentenced and printed in the constitution that the Cossacks should be demolished as a whole.” That is, to destroy the rebellious population of Malorossia. In their entirety. By and large, this was the first legal decision on genocide in European history. Moreover, the Sejm allocated money to the king for the Army of Rzeczpospolita, that is, the gentry militia of the entire state. And while it was gathering, the army of the Kievan castellan Stefan Charnetsky, 15 thousand sabres strong, captured Korostyshev, Samgorodok, Priluki and staged a massacre, purposefully killing all Russians, including the elderly and infants.

The echo of the events when we didn’t abandon our own

Could the Russian tzar have waited for the Rzeczpospolita Army to gather and raze down the whole of Malorossia to the state of a bloody desert? No!

Therefore, the news that Malorossia was seeking to join the Russian Kingdom – which meant that war with Poland was on the verge – was taken for granted in Russia. And at the Zemsky Sobor (Parliament) of 1653, a decision was made: for our Russian brothers “to fight without sparing our heads”.

Thanks to this decision, confirmed a few months later by the Pereyaslav Rada, the genocide of the population of Malorossia was prevented. Fortuitously, the war with Poland that started after that, was going well. Russian Tzar asked Hmelnitsky during the course of the war about where the border between Malorossia as part of the Russian Kingdom and Rzeczpospolita should lie. To which he replied: “As it was with the distant ancestors of your Royal Majesty, the holy memory of the Russian Knjazes (translator note: “prince” is a mistranslation of the Russian word “knjaz” – it was a different name for a ruler, like “tzar” or “king”, not someone waiting for the throne, as implied by “prince”), so let it be, so that the Russian frontier along the Vistula River lies, all the way to the Hungarian borders.” In Hmelnitsky’s view, what is now called for “Western Ukraine” is a Russian land that needs to be returned to the “high hand” of the sovereign: “The bishops of Lvov, Przemysl, Lutsk and Volodimersky and the entire Orthodox people, who are found in those bishoprics, have endured great persecution at all times and are still enduring them now. If your Royal Majesty had distanced the Orthodoxy [parishes] and the people who belong to them from Your mercy, then there would be no Orthodox person left in those parts.”

Could the reunification of the Russian people be complete? Probably. But the successors of Bogdan Hmelnitsky, who died in 1657, took the path of betrayal. Getmans Ivan Vygovsky, Yuri Hmelnitsky, Ivan Bryukhovetsky and Peter Doroshenko acted in different ways. Someone, seduced by Polish promises, went over to the side of Rzeczpospolita, some stabbed the Russians in the back. Only the left bank of the Dnieper was reunited with Russia at that time. And the population of the right bank and Western Rus continued to apply for Russian citizenship for almost 140 more years, until Catherine II returned Kiev region, Volyn and Podolie in 1793.