From Ukraine to The Ruin

Editor’s and Translator’s Notes:

I continue to bring you my translations of the witty and brilliant slain Ukrainian author, Oles Buzina (1969-2015). His was one of the first prominent political assassinations after the 2014 regime change in that country. This article comes from the author’s series, “Stories from Oles Buzina,” in which he mainly covers different aspects of Ukrainian history. Here, the author establishes what, in his view, is a cyclical nature of Ukrainian history, in which the territory went through periods of chaos and collapse. In some cases, the geographic division occurred along the Dnieper River and the inhabitants of its Right and Left Banks, respectively.

“The Ruin” is an accepted historical term used to describe the period of social and political unrest in the latter part of the 17th century. In the Russian and Ukrainian languages, “ruina,” ruin, rhymes with “Ukraina,” Ukraine. The author warns against returning to such a chaotic state of affairs when he discusses the rule of the pro-Western President Victor Yushchenko who was brought into power in the wake of the so-called Orange Revolution, an early 21st-century proto-Maidan. Leaving power in 2010, he was replaced by Victor Yanukovich, an imperfect, but democratically elected leader who was ousted by the violent 2014 coup d’etat. Thus, the reader may appreciate Buzina’s prescience, writing this text in 2007, in light of the current events. In particular, the geopolitical and cultural split along the Dnieper River is especially noteworthy.

Oles Buzina’s mother at his grave following her son’s 2015 assassination. Source: Rossiia TV.

The text is generally presented as is with the exception of minor contextual and/or clarifying edits or e.g. inserting the first names for clarity. The transliteration of the names comes from the Russian language, in which most of the original text was written.

«The Eyewitness wrote his chronicle in the 17th century, so there is no reason not to believe him. Starting with the brutal massacre in Poltava, Cossacks of different affiliations killed each other for another twenty years asking for help from either the Poles, the Muscovites, or even the Turks. For and against Europe.»

Oles Buzina, 2007

From Ukraine to The Ruin

by Oles Buzina


If God willing, our state will overcome the current ruin in the minds and does not fall apart into two halves, then next year we will be able to celebrate 350 years since its first “half-collapse” with a clear conscience.

In 1658, for the first time, our society was divided on the following question: where will we go? Ivan Vygovsky, like today’s Victor Yushchenko, summoned everyone to Europe. That is, under Poland’s jurisdiction. But the east of Ukraine did not listen to him. And, the said hetman, having grabbed a completely non-European Tatar horde, moved to punish the pro-Moscow Left Bank from the Right Bank of the Dnieper River: from Chigirin, his capital. He introduced, so to speak, direct presidential rule. And, as a result, he marked the beginning of a period that went down in history under the eloquent name The Ruin.

The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks [to the Turkish Sultan in 1676], Ilya Repin, 1880-91.

The first internecine war. Nowadays, this hetman is being aggressively promoted as a symbol of national consciousness. They even attribute to him the victory over the Russian Army near Konotop. Although, in reality, it was mainly the Army of the Crimean Khan that fought there, while Ivan Vygovsky’s Cossacks only supported it. And, a year earlier, the “Vygovchiks” destroyed their political opponents—Colonel Martin Pushkar and the Poltava residents who backed him.

Pushkar was a very active commander, one of Bogdan Khmelnitsky’s favorite allies. In 1658, when Vygovsky approached Poltava, the largest city on the Left Bank of the Dnieper, he did not wait for the assault but struck first. The author of the Chronicles of the Eyewitness (Letopis’ Samovitdsa) writes about it this way:

«Pushkar, without waiting for Vygovsky’s attack, with twenty thousand or more warriors as well as those from Zaporozhie, leaving the city early in the morning on the feast of the Holy Trinity, made his way into his camp and had already captured the cannons when Hetman Vygovsky, jumping on his horse, hurried to the Tatars. Finding the Horde ready, he immediately rushed with them toward the Pushkarevites, who were driven out of their camp. Not letting them through to Poltava, they killed everyone, hacking Pushkar himself to death, so that few of his troops survived, and Poltava was completely devastated by Vygovsky.»

17th-century hetman Ivan Vygovsky, anonymous 19th-century portrait.

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The Eyewitness wrote his chronicle in the 17th century, so there is no reason not to believe him. Starting with the brutal massacre in Poltava, Cossacks of different affiliations killed each other for another twenty years asking for help from either the Poles, the Muscovites, or even the Turks.

For and against Europe. Naturally, his opponents did not like Vygovsky’s savage cruelty. New leaders—Colonel Yakim Somko and Hetman Ivan Bryukhovetsky of the Zaporozhian Sich (Host) replaced the deceased Pushkar. They had one program—strike the traitor Vygovsky! And in two years they effectively brought it to life. First, they cleared the Left Bank of Tatars and “Vygovchiks,” and then they pinned down the supporter of “direct presidential rule” so much so that he threw away his mace and fled to Poland.

Hetman Ivan Bryushovetski from the 2003 Encyclopedia of Ukrainian History.

But Somko and Bryukhovetsky, too, had their weaknesses. They failed to share a single political program: which of them supports Moscow more? In 1663, Ukraine held its first fair nationwide elections, the Black Rada. The latter bears this name because everyone was allowed to participate in the electoral process, even the lower classes of society, chornyi narod (This is a reference to the lowest classes being perceived as “black,” that is, unclean). There were no ballots and no Central Election Commission yet. The hetman was elected by shouting out the contenders’ names, punching each other in the face, and even exploding grenades. The people were kind! Unlike now. They recognized Bryukhovetsky as worthy of the mace. They were so excited that they beheaded Somko, the loser of the “election races.” What can I say? The people were savages! They could not understand the advantages of a multi-party system.

Yakim Somko, late 18th-early 19th-century anonymous portrait.

All against all. Bryukhovetsky believed that he had won forever not unlike Viktor Andreyevich Yuschenko. Remember, in 2004, his associates said that they were elected for two terms at once? By the way, at first, the people truly liked Bryukhovetsky. He enjoyed chatting with the Cossacks about life, suggested that he would deal with the high-ranking Cossacks (the “oligarchs” of the past), and promised economic prosperity, but did nothing. He didn’t even raise bees. And soon everyone was so tired of all this that the Right Bank of the Dnieper got rid of him. There, Pyotr Doroshenko, also a former ally of Khmelnytsky, declared himself hetman. He was terribly cunning while brilliantly pretending to be stupid. Bryukhovetsky, who executed Somka, could not imagine that he would meet the same fate. When Doroshenko unexpectedly offered him his allegiance and started to incite him to pursue a joint campaign against Moscow, Bryukhovetsky believed him. And he also paid for his gullibility with his life—at the meeting of these two “field commanders”—the Maidan of the past (or, simply speaking, a crowd of the poor)—trampled him to death. This happened in Dikanka, popularized by Nikolai Gogol’s writing, in 1668.

Pyotr Doroshenko, 19th-century anonymous portrait.

But Doroshenko did not win either! The Left Bank immediately proposed two new worthy contenders for the mace one after another. The first one was Demyan Mnogogreshny followed by Ivan Samoylovich. Once again, everything was split in half along the great Ukrainian river.

Dnieper River. Source: Google Maps.

By then, the people were clearly growing tired. Everyone lost faith in political ideals. They began to say that politics is for the nobles, and they would rather stay home. Therefore, both the “nationalist” Doroshenko and Samoylovich—who remained under Moscow’s jurisdiction—had to fight by using mercenaries, serdyuks. No one else wanted to “go to the Maidan” for free. True, unlike the modern Maidan, in the 17th century they were slaughtered in a real way. Andrey Shkil would have been considered a humanist, and perhaps, the modern soft-bodied Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence (UNA-UNSO) would not have been accepted into the army. (This article was written in 2007 before the Maiden turned truly violent in 2014. – Ed.)

The “Turkish peacekeepers.” Neither the Left Bank nor the Right Bank heroes were strong enough. Then Doroshenko, in despair, decided to invite “peacekeepers”—the Turks. They were very happy and arrived in Ukraine led by their Sultan. They ate everything, went after the girls, and in 1672 captured Kamenets. Churches in this city were turned into mosques, and, as a symbol of the Turks now being in charge of Ukraine, they converted an eight-year-old boy, Pyotr Yastrzhemsky to Islam by performing public circumcision on him right in the presence of the Sultan. Another 800 Kaments boys were turned into the Janissary, while pretty townswomen were sent to Turkish harems.

Hetman of the Zaporozhian Sich (Host), Bogdan Khmelnitsky, mid-17th-century anonymous portrait.

Fed up with such “peacekeepers,” Doroshenko surrendered to the Moscow tsar and became a simple Russian provincial governor. In his place, the Turks quickly put the son of Bogdan Khmelnitsky—Yurii. All together they went to “pacify” Chigirin—the old capital of the hetmanate. But in 1677, the Left Bank Cossacks, led by Samoylovich, and Russian troops were there to defend it. They triumphed over the Sultan with God’s help. But Ukraine, as a result, split not into two, but into three parts all at once. Kamenets and Podolia around it became part of Turkey. The devastated remnants of the Right Bank lingered behind in Poland. And the Left Bank stayed with Russia. The glorious era of The Ruin was over. Everywhere—where quite recently people rioted at the “Maidans” in every village—there were severed heads lying around. Well-fed wolves—fattened up on human flesh—roamed about. As the young Ivan Mazepa, who participated in all this outrage, wrote self-critically:

«Through misfortune, everyone disappeared—they conquered themselves»…

Simon Petlyura’s Treacherous Blow to the Back of Pavel Skoropadsky

History truly wanders in a spiral. Everything that destroyed Ukraine during the time of the Cossacks was repeated after 1917. It turned out that Ukrainians are a nation of natural-born ideologues, incredibly gifted, and, therefore, not willing to concede to each other in anything. We can say that the people, once again, died from their superior talent. Some wanted a Communist Ukraine, others—an ultra-nationalist one. Still, others longed for the restoration of a united and indivisible Russia and went to serve in the White Army. The fourth, headed by “Father” Nestor Makhno, dreamt of global anarchy. And the fifth ones—they just wanted to loot.

Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno.

Hetman Skoropadsky turned out to be the most sensible one in this mess. The kind man was planning to reconcile everyone. He envisioned Ukraine with a firm but liberal government, with a people who speak both Ukrainian and Russian fluently, with its own army and powerful industry, but in an alliance with White Russia liberated from the Bolsheviks. He was not understood. Symon Petliura, a son of a coach driver, wanted a different Ukraine: with only one language and only with himself as its leader. In November 1918, the Petliurists initiated an uprising against the hetman and, having lured a part of his army to their side, captured Kiev a month later. Skoropadsky fled to Germany, and Petliura only managed to change the Kiev shop signs from Russian to Ukrainian, because a month and a half later he was kicked out of the capital of Ukraine by the Red Army. Many Ukrainians also fought in its ranks, but they saw the future of their country differently—only as part of an international Communist community.

Pavel Skoropadsky, Civil War-era leader in Ukraine.

Subsequently, even many participants in Petliura’s uprising against the hetman regretted doing such a bad thing. After all, their actions benefitted the Bolsheviks. It was more reasonable to unite with Skoropadsky, which he suggested more than once.

Galicians Change Sides to Support the Reds

But the Galicians were especially noteworthy during the Civil War era. They fought badly. At first, they handed Lvov over to the Poles almost without a fight. And then they did not at all want to unite their armed forces with those of Petliura’s from the central and northern Dnieper region. They preferred to serve in the UGA—Ukrainian Galician Army. In November 1919, having quarreled with the Petliurites, the Galicians went over to the side of the White Army led by General Anton Denikin. Some in modern Ukraine would rather forget this episode because it turns out that the grandfathers of the current “nationally conscious” individuals for some time fought for the restoration of the Russian Empire. But they even fought horribly for Russia. Soon, a conspiracy arose among the UGA staff officers who wanted to fight the least. The headquarters “junta” arrested the Army’s leadership and declared itself the revolutionary committee. Thus, in February 1920, the UGA suddenly became the ChUGA—the Red (Chervonnyi – Ed.) Ukrainian Galician Army. But even here the Galicians did not stay long. With the exception of one regiment of Sich (Host) Riflemen—which comprised many Communists—the ChUGA defected en masse to the Poles as soon as the Soviet-Polish War began.

Two Ukraine—Two Constitutions!

I am holding in my hands a thin pamphlet, “The Constitution of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic,” printed in Kiev in 1919. It only had 16 pages! And, at the height of the Civil War, when everything was shaking from inflation, it only cost 40 kopecks. Now this document is forgotten. Meanwhile, its legal value is no less than that of the Constitution of the Central Rada adopted in Kiev a year earlier.

Judge for yourselves: the key Bolshevik laws were formulated, so to speak, by a group of like-minded individuals without any elections and popular referenda. But Mikhail Grushevsky and his “first Ukrainian parliament” were also impostors. No one elected them! And they gave birth to the fruit of their legislative attempts only on April 29, 1918—on the very day when the Germans dispersed the Central Rada in Kiev as a debate club without any legal power. By the way, this was a meeting of the so-called Little (Malaya – Ed.) Rada—that is, its incomplete narrow composition. Furthermore, the document was not called a Constitution—as modern historians opportunistically amplify it—but a “Statute on the state system, rights, and freedoms of the Ukrainian People’s Republic.” There is an amazing phrase at the beginning of its original: “April 29, 1918. Unofficially.” It turns out that the Ukrainian People’s Republic lived with an unofficial Constitution. In fact, without one at all because a real Constitution cannot be an “unofficial” act!

Unlike this piece of paper, the Constitution of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, at least, was published with a claim to being a real document.

It was approved in Kharkov in March 1919 at the Third All-Ukrainian Congress of Soviets. That part of Ukraine that supported the Bolsheviks attempted to live according to it. Although, from a modern perspective, it was quite difficult. After all, the main “red” law deprived of electoral rights all those living “on income from enterprises,” as well as private merchants, monks, clergy, staff and agents of the former police, and “persons recognized in accordance with the established procedure as mentally ill or insane.” However, this Constitution granted the right to be elected to “foreigners belonging to the working class and the working peasantry.” If this law were applied today, then the Nigerian-Ukrainian pastor Sunday Adelaja could not be elected anywhere, and foreigners, such as his Black brothers, who sell second-hand goods at Shulyavka, could be elected only if, having abandoned their business, they got jobs as welders at a nearby “Bolshevik” factory.

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