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The Khmelnytsky Uprising was a Cossack rebellion in Ukrainemarker in 16481657 (1654 ) which turned into a Ukrainian war of liberation from Poland. Under the command of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Zaporozhian Cossacks allied with the Crimean Tatars, and the local peasantry, fought several battles against the armies and paramilitary forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The result was an eradication of the control of the Polish szlachta and their Jewish intermediaries, and the end of ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the Latin Rite Catholics (as well as Karaites, and other arendators) over the country.

The Uprising started as the rebellion of the Cossacks, but as other Orthodox Christian classes (peasants, burghers, petty nobility) of the Ukrainian palatinates joined them, the ultimate aim became a creation of Ukrainianmarker autonomous statemarker. The Uprising succeeded in ending the Polish influence over those Cossack lands that were eventually taken by the Tsardom of Russiamarker . These events, along with internal conflicts and hostilities with Swedenmarker and Russia, resulted in severely diminished Polish power during this period (referred to in Polishmarker history as The Deluge).


With the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1569, a growing number of Ruthenian lands were gradually absorbed under the control of a powerful nobility republic - Rzecz Pospolita. In 1569, the Union of Lublin granted the southern Lithuanian-controlled lands of Ruthenia - Galicia-Volhynia, Podlachia, Podolia, and Kievmarker - to the Crown of Poland under the agreement forming the new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Although the local nobility was granted full rights within the Rzeczpospolita, their assimilation of Polish culture alienated them from the lower classes. This Szlachta, along with the actions of the upper-class Polish Magnates, oppressed the lower-class Ruthenians, with the introduction of Counter-Reformation missionary practices, and the use of Jewish arendators to manage their estates.

The local Eastern Orthodox traditions were also under siege from the assumption of ecclesiastical power by Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1448. The growing Russian power in the north sought to reunite the southern lands of Kievan Rus' with its successor state, and with the fall of Constantinople it began this process with the proclamation that its Metropolitan was now Patriarch of Moscow and All Rus'. The pressure of Catholic expansionism culminated with the Union of Brest in 1596, which attempted to retain the autonomy of the Eastern Orthodox churches in present-day Ukrainemarker, Polandmarker and Belarusmarker, by aligning themselves with the Bishop of Rome. While all of the people did not unite under one church, the concepts of autonomy were implanted into consciousness of the area, and came out in force during the military campaign of Bohdan Khmelnytsky.

Khmelnytsky's role

Bohdan Khmelnytsky was a noble-born product of a Jesuit education in Ukrainemarker. At the age of 22, he joined his father in the service of the Commonwealth, battling against the Ottoman Empire in the Moldavian Magnate Wars. After being held captive in Constantinoplemarker, he returned to life as a registered Cossack, settling in his hometown of Subotivmarker with a wife and several children. He participated in campaigns for Grand Crown Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, led delegations to the King Władysław IV Vasa in Warsawmarker, and generally was well respected within the cossack ranks. The course of his life was altered however, when Aleksander Koniecpolski, heir to Hetman Koniecpolski's magnate estate, attempted to seize Khmelnytsky's land. In 1647, Chyhyrynmarker starost (head of the local royal administration) Daniel Czapliński openly started to harass Khmelnytsky on behalf of the younger Koniecpolski in an attempt to force him off the land. On two occasions raids were made to Subotiv, during which considerable property damage was done and his son Yurii was badly beaten, until Khmelnytsky moved his family to a relative's house in Chyhyrynmarker. He twice sought assistance from the king by traveling to Warsaw, only to find him either unwilling or powerless to confront the will of a magnate.

Having received no support from the Polish officials, Khmelnytsky turned to his Cossack friends and subordinates. The case of a Cossack being unfairly treated by the Poles found a lot of support not only in his regiment, but also throughout the Sich. All through the autumn of 1647 Khmelnytsky traveled from one regiment to the other and had numerous consultations with different Cossack leaders throughout Ukraine. His activity raised suspicions of the Polish authorities already used to Cossack revolts and he was promptly arrested. Polkovnyk (colonel) Mykhailo Krychevsky assisted Khmelnytsky with his escape, and with a group of supporters, he headed for the Zaporozhian Sich.

Cossacks were already on the brink of the new rebellion as plans for the new war with the Ottoman Empire advanced by the Polish king Władysław IV Vasa were cancelled by Sejm. Cossacks were gearing to resume their traditional and lucrative attacks on the Ottoman Empire (in the first quarter of the 17th century they raided the Black Sea shores almost on the annual basis) as they greatly resented being prevented from the pirate activities by the peace treaties between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. Rumours about the emerging hostilities with "the infidels" were greeted with joy, and the news that there was to be no raiding after all was allegedly explosive in itself .

However, the Cossack rebellion might have fizzled in the same manner as the great rebellions of 1637–1638 but for the genius of Khmelnytsky. He (having taking part in the 1637 rebellion) realised that Cossacks while having an excellent infantry could not hope to match Polish cavalry which was probably the best in Europe at the time. However, combining Cossack infantry with Crimean Tatar cavalry could have provided a balanced military force and give Cossacks a chance to beat the Polish army.

Khmelnytsky managed to overcome more than a century of mutual hostility between Cossacks and Tatars. He also turned the idea of Cossack as "protector of the Christian people" on its head by agreeing to pay the Khan of Crimea with jasyr or Christian captives (initially Polish prisoners, but later the whole tracts of land in Ukraine were assigned for Tartars to capture any unfortunate soul (including Jews who moved en masse into the palatinates of Ukraine after 1569) and lead them to be sold on the slave markets of Kaffamarker)

The Uprising

On January 25, 1648, Khmelnytsky brought a contingent of 300-500 Cossacks to the Zaporizhian Sich and quickly dispatched the guards assigned by the Commonwealth to protect the entrance. Once at the Sich, his oratory and diplomatic skills quickly struck a nerve with oppressed Ruthenians. As his men repelled an attempt by Commonwealth forces to retake the Sich more recruits joined his cause. The Cossack Rada elected him Hetman by the end of the month. Khmelnytsky threw most of his resources into recruiting more fighters. He sent emissaries to Crimeamarker, enjoining the Tatars to join him in a potential assault against their mutual enemy, the Commonwealth.

By April 1648, word of an uprising had spread through the Commonwealth. Either because they underestimated the size of the uprising, or because they wanted to act quickly to prevent it from spreading, the Commonwealth's Grand Crown Hetman Mikołaj Potocki and Field Crown Hetman Marcin Kalinowski sent 3,000 soldiers under the command of Potocki's son, Stefan, towards Khmelnytsky, without waiting to gather additional forces from Prince Jeremi Wiśniowiecki. Khmelnytsky quickly marshalled his forces to meet his enemy en route at the Battle of Zhovti Vody, which saw a considerable amount of defections on the field of battle by registered cossacks who changed their allegiance from the Commonwealth to Khmelnytsky. This victory was quickly followed by rout of the Commonwealth's armies at the Battle of Korsun, which saw both the elder Potocki and Kalinowski captured and imprisoned by the Tatars.

In addition to the loss of significant forces and military leadership, King Władysław IV Vasa died in 1648, leaving the Crown of Poland leaderless and in disarray at a time of rebellion. The Szlachta was on the run from its peasants, their palaces and estates in flames. All the while, Khmelnystky's army marched westward.

Khmelnytsky stopped his forces at Bila Tserkvamarker, and issued a list of demands to the Polish Crown, including raising the number of Registered Cossacks, returning Churches taken from the Orthodox faithful, and paying the Cossacks for wages which had been withheld for 5 years.

At this point, news of the peasant uprisings troubled a noble born such as Khmelnytsky; however, after discussing information gathered across the country with his advisors, the cossack leadership soon realized the potential for autonomy was there for the taking. Although Khmelnytsky's personal resentment of the Szlachta and the Magnates influenced his transformation into a revolutionary, it was his ambition to become the ruler of a Ruthenian nation which expanded the Uprising from a simple rebellion into a national movement. Khmelnytsky had his forces join a peasant revolt at the Battle of Pyliavtsi, striking another terrible blow to weakened and depleted Polish forces.
Khmelnytsky was persuaded not to lay siege to Lviv in exchange for 200,000 red guldens. He then rested in Zamośćmarker, awaiting the election of a new Polish King. Assured that John Casimir II would not interfere with his designs on Ruthenia, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kievmarker on Christmas Day of 1648, where he was hailed as "the Moses, savior, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity ... the illustrious ruler of Rus". In February 1649 during negotiations with a Polish delegation headed by senator Adam Kysil in Pereiaslavmarker, Khmelnytsky declared that he was "the sole autocrat of Rus" and that he had "enough power in Ukraine, Podolia, and Volhynia... in his land and principality stretching as far as Lviv, Chełmmarker, and Halychmarker". It became clear to the Polish envoys that Khmelnytsky had positioned himself no longer as simply a leader of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, but that of an independent state and stated his claims to the heritage of the Rus'. A Vilniusmarker panegyric in Khmelnytsky's honor (1650–1651) explained it this way: "While in Poland, it is King Jan II Casimir Vasa, in Rus it is Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky".

Following the battle at Zbarazh and Zboriv, Khmelnytsky gained numerous privileges for the Cossacks under the Treaty of Zboriv. When hostilities resumed, however, Khmelnytsky's forces were abandoned by their former allies the Crimean Tatars, suffered a massive defeat in 1651 at the Battle of Berestechkomarker, and were forced at Bila Tserkvamarker (Biała Cerkiew) to accept a loser's treaty. A year later, the Cossacks had their revenge at the Battle of Batoh.

The aftermath

Diminished scope of Polish-Lithuanian control
Within a few months, almost all Polish nobles, officials, and priests had been wiped out or driven from the lands of present-day Ukraine. The Commonwealth population losses in the Uprising were over one million; Jews too had substantial losses because they were the most numerous and accessible representatives of the szlachta regime.The Uprising began a period in Polish history known as The Deluge (which included a Swedish invasion of the Commonwealth), that temporarily freed the Ukrainians from Polish domination but in short time subjected it to Russian domination. Weakened by wars, in 1654 Khmelnytsky persuaded the Cossacks to ally with the Russian tsar in the Treaty of Pereyaslav which led to the Russo-Polish War . Although the Commonwealth tried to regain influence over Cossacks (of note is the Treaty of Hadiach of 1658), the new Cossack subjects became even more loyal to Russia. With the Commonwealth becoming increasingly weak, the Cossacks became more and more integrated into the Russian Empiremarker, with their autonomy and privileges eroded. The remnants of these privileges were gradually abolished in the aftermath of the Great Northern War in which some of the Cossacks sided with Sweden. By the time the partitions of Poland ended the existence of the Commonwealth in 1795, many Cossacks had already left Ukraine to colonise the Kuban.


The death tolls of the Khmelnytskyi uprising, as many others from the eras analyzed by historical demography, vary, and became a subject of ongoing reinterpretation as better sources and methodology are becoming available. Population losses of the entire Commonwealth population in the years 1648-1667 (a period which includes the Uprising, but also the Polish-Russian War and the Swedish invasion) are estimated at 4 million (roughly a decrease from 11-12 million to 7-8 million).

Prior to the Uprising, magnates had sold and leased certain privileges to Jewish arendators for a percentage of an estate's revenue. and, while enjoying themselves at their courts, left it to the Jewish leaseholders and collectors to become objects of hatred to the oppressed and long-suffering peasants. Khmelnytsky told the people that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews." With this as their battle-cry, Cossacks and the peasantry massacred a large number of Polish-Lithuanian townsfolk, szlachta, and their Jewish allies during the years 1648-1649. The contemporary 17th century Eyewitness Chronicle (Yeven Mezulah) by Nathan ben Moses Hannover states:
Wherever they found the szlachta, royal officials or Jews, they [Cossacks] killed them all, sparing neither women nor children. They pillaged the estates of the Jews and nobles, burned churches and killed their priests, leaving nothing whole. It was a rare individual in those days who had not soaked his hands in blood...


The entire Jewish population of the Commonwealth in that period (1618 to 1717) has been estimated to be about 200,000. Most Jews lived outside Ukraine in the territories unaffected by the uprising, as the Jewish population of Ukraine of that period is estimated at about 50,000. However virtually all sources agree that Jewish Ukrainian communities were devastated by the uprising. It should be noted that in two decades following the uprising the Commonwealth suffered two more major wars (The Deluge and Russo-Polish War ; during that period total Jewish casualties are estimated at least 100,000.

The accounts of contemporaneous Jewish chroniclers of the events tended to emphasize large casualty figures, but they have been reevaluated downwards at the end the 20th century, when modern historiographic methods, particularly from the realm of historical demography, became more widely adopted.. According to Orest Subtelny:
Weinryb cites the calculations of S. Ettinger indicating that about 50,000 Jews lived in the area where the uprising occurred. See B. Weinryb, "The Hebrew Chronicles on Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Cossack-Polish War", Harvard Ukrainian Studies 1 (1977): 153-77. While many of them were killed, Jewish losses did not reach the hair-raising figures that are often associated with the uprising. In the words of Weinryb (The Jews of Poland, 193-4), "The fragmentary information of the period—and to a great extent information from subsequent years, including reports of recovery—clearly indicate that the catastrophe may have not been as great as has been assumed." 

Early twentieth-century estimates of Jewish deaths were based on the accounts of the Jewish chroniclers of the time, and tended to be high, ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 or more; in 1916 Simon Dubnow stated:
The losses inflicted on the Jews of Poland during the fatal decade 1648-1658 were appalling.
In the reports of the chroniclers, the number of Jewish victims varies between one hundred thousand and five hundred thousand.
But even if we accept the lower figure, the number of victims still remains colossal, even exceeding the catastrophes of the Crusades and the Black Death in Western Europe.
Some seven hundred Jewish communities in Poland had suffered massacre and pillage.
In the Ukrainian cities situated on the left banks of the Dnieper, the region populated by Cossacks... the Jewish communities had disappeared almost completely.
In the localities on the right shore of the Dneiper or in the Polish part of the Ukraine as well as those of Volhynia and Podolia, wherever Cossacks had made their appearance, only about one tenth of the Jewish population survived.

Stories about massacre victims who had been buried alive, cut to pieces, or forced to kill one another spread throughout Europe and beyond. These stories filled many with despair, and resulted in a revival of the ideas of Isaac Luria, and the identification of Sabbatai Zevi as the Messiah.

From the 1960s to the 1980s historians still considered 100,000 a reasonable estimate of the Jews killed, and, according to Edward Flannery, many considered it "a minimum". Max Dimont in Jews, God, and History, first published in 1962, writes "Perhaps as many as 100,000 Jews perished in the decade of this revolution." Edward Flannery, writing in The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, first published in 1965, also gives figures of 100,000 to 500,000, stating "Many historians consider the second figure exaggerated and the first a minimum". Martin Gilbert in his Jewish History Atlas published in 1976 states "Over 100,000 Jews were killed; many more were tortured or ill-treated, others fled..." Many other sources of the time give similar figures.

Although many modern sources still give estimates of Jews killed in the uprising at 100,000 or more, others put the numbers killed at between 40,000 and 100,000, and recent academic studies have argued fatalities were even lower.

A 2003 study by Israeli demographer Shaul Stampfer of Hebrew Universitymarker dedicated solely to the issue of Jewish casualties in the uprising concludes that 18,000-20,000 Jews were killed out of a total population of 40,000. Paul Robert Magocsi states that Jewish chroniclers of the seventeenth century "provide invariably inflated figures with respect to the loss of life among the Jewish population of Ukraine. The numbers range from 60,000-80,000 (Nathan Hannover) to 100,000 (Sabbatai Cohen), but that "[t]he Israeli scholars Shmuel Ettinger and Bernard D. Weinryb speak instead of the 'annihilation of tens of thousands of Jewish lives', and the Ukrainian-American historian Jarowlaw Pelenski narrows the number of Jewish deaths to between 6,000 and 14,000". Orest Subtelny concludes:
Between 1648 and 1656, tens of thousands of Jews—given the lack of reliable data, it is impossible to establish more accurate figures—were killed by the rebels, and to this day the Khmelnytsky uprising is considered by Jews to be one of the most traumatic events in their history.

It should also be noted that occasionally the Jewish population was spared, notably after the sack of the town Brodymarker (the population of which was 70% Jewish). The Jews of Brody were judged and "deemed as not engaged in maltreatment of the Ruthenians" and were only required to pay a tribute in "textiles and furs".


Poles were targeted by Cossacks as much as Jews; there were also many more Poles in the Commonwealth - and in Ukraine - than Jews, therefore Polish casualties were also very high.

The purported eyewitness accounts of the siege of Florianów describes a massacre in which there were only two survivors out of the total population of "40,000". While the annihilation of the town is well documented- the population of Florianow at the time was no more than 4,000.


While Ukrainian peasants and Cossacks were in many cases the perpetrators of massacres of Polish szlachta members and their collaborators, they also suffered horrendous loss of life resulting from Polish reprisals, Tatar raids, famine, plague, and general destruction due to war. At the initial stages of the uprising, armies of the magnate Jarema Wisniowiecki, on their retreat westward, inflicted terrible retribution on the civilian population, leaving behind them a trail of burned towns and villages . In addition, Khmelnytsky's allies the Tatars often continued their raids against the civilian population, in spite of protests from the Cossacks. After the Cossacks' alliance with Tsardom of Russiamarker was enacted, the Tatar raids became unrestrained; coupled with the onset of famine, the raids led to a virtual depopulation of whole areas of the country. The extent of the tragedy can be exemplified by a report of a Polish officer of the time, describing the devastation:
I estimate that the number of infants alone who were found dead along the roads and in the castles reached 10,000. I ordered them to be buried in the fields and one grave alone contained over 270 bodies... All the infants were less than a year old since the older ones were driven off into captivity. The surviving peasants wander about in groups, bewailing their misfortune .

The Tatars' role in the Rebellion

There are some unresolved questions remaining, notably the role of Crimean Khanate in the atrocities. There was a large influx of captives in the slavemarkets in Crimeamarker at the time of the Uprising, and there was a concerted ransom effort by the Ottoman Jews .


a Sources vary as to when did the uprising end. Russian and some Polish sources give the end date of the uprising as 1654, indicating that the Treaty of Pereyaslav is seen as the treaty ending the war; kozackie powstania, Encyklopedia PWN
Kozackie powstania, Encyclopedia WIEM
KOZACKIE POWSTANIA, Encyklopedia Interia Ukrainian sources give the date as Khmelnytsky's death in 1657; and few Polish sources give the date as 1655 and the battle of Jezierna.

There is some overlap between the last phase of the Uprising and the beginning of the Russo-Polish War , as Cossacks and Russian forces became allied.

See also


Further reading

  • Sysyn, Frank E. . A curse on both their houses: Catholic attitudes toward the Jews and Eastern Orthodox during the Khmel'nyts'kyi Uprising in Father Pawel Ruszel "Fawor niebieski". In: Israel and the Nations, (1987) xi-xxiv
  • Rosman, Moshe (Murray) J. . Dubno in the wake of Khmel'nyts'kyi. In: Jewish History, 17,2 (2003) 239-255
  • Yakovenko, Natalia . The events of 1648-1649 : contemporary reports and the problem of verification. In: Jewish History, 17,2 (2003) 165-178
  • Kohut, Zenon E. . The Khmelnytsky Uprising, the image of Jews, and the shaping of Ukrainian historical memory. In: Jewish History, 17,2 (2003) 141-163
  • Sysyn, Frank E. . The Khmel'nyts'kyi Uprising : a characterization of the Ukrainian revolt. In: Jewish History, 17,2 (2003) 115-139
  • Serhii Plokhi. "The Cossacks and Religion in Early Modern Ukraine" – Oxford.: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2001
  • Paul Robert Magocsi "A History of Ukraine" (784 pp) University of Washington Press, 1996, ISBN 0-295-97580-6

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