Glory and Shame of the Ukrainian Beau Monde

Strolling in the picturesque alleys of Sofiyivka Park in Uman, you cannot avoid thinking of the man who designed this masterpiece, one of Europe’s best English parks. Ukraine once was described as a country where luxury and taste were in the very bones of its gentry.

Cultural self-destruction befell Ukrainian society as the best samples of urban planning, particularly medieval aristocratic castles near Kharkiv and further west are considered attainments of Polish culture. Ukrainian aristocratic manners and traditions or the magic world of Arcadia with its castles seemingly built of air, presently ruined or quickly decaying, are seldom discussed in Kyiv’s salons and clubs. Ukraine can be proud that Lviv has inherited a tradition of royal succession from King Danylo of Halych-Volodymyr, who linked his dynasty to its most celebrated counterparts in Europe.

You always ask yourself, what should the national idea serve. Social rift and discord or bringing together the most advanced and subtle values and virtues based on the nation’s tradition and law?

Nineteenth century German aesthete Georg Bruckner wrote that, in his eyes, a dramatic poet is also a historian, although he ranks higher. His book cannot be more moral or immoral than history, because God created history not to give young girls something to read. In dealing with social issues, one should proceed from the absolute supremacy of the law, striving to give birth to a new cultural life among the people and discard the old social values.

Does the aristocratic tradition mean anything in Ukraine? In the sphere of law, we have Mazepa’s idea of complete independence and development of an Eastern European federation outside Russia, cleansing the he- man’s doctrine of the Little Russia concept (Mazepa was for returning Ukraine’s privileges of the Sahaidachny period and propagated the idea of a Ukrainian republic). A socially harmonious society would be built, combining private ownership of the land and the peasants’ freedom with the right to change residence unimpeded. This is what distinguished the Ukrainian aristocratic tradition from that of the Russian Empire with complete serfdom and restrictions imposed on the landlords’ personal freedom. Given the moral realm, the aristocratic tradition cultivates the most progressive conservative traditions. The motto of MAN, FAMILY, STATE is a guideline of the Ukrainian aristocracy. One could spend hours and days discussing the deeds of such aristocrats. Prince Bezborodko financed a lyceum in Nizhyn. Volodymyr Borovykovsky became a world- renowned portraitist. Vladyslav Horodetsky embellished Kyiv with grand structures. Hrinchenko and Potebnia were noted Ukrainian linguists. Uzhevych was the author of the first Ukrainian grammar textbook. Ornovsky was the author of the largest number of books in the Hetmanate period. Vyacheslav Lypynsky developed political doctrines. Composer Mykola Lysenko created his immortal works. Yuri Lysiansky became a noted seafarer. Symyrenko sponsored Ukrainian periodicals. Tetiana Volkhovska and Hanna Zakrevska sponsored and financed Taras Shevchenko. Hryhory Orlyk, son of Hetman Pylyp Orlyk, was appointed French marshal and chief of the royal security service. The National Academy’s library was named for Academician Volodymyr Vernadsky. Vasyl Tarnovsky was a reputed collector of Ukrainian antiquities. This far from exhausts the list of celebrated Ukrainian aristocratic names.

Lord Byron lauded Mazepa’s determination to raise Ukrainian society in arms for national independence and cleanse the hetman idea of all half- truths. His narrative poem Mazeppa was discussed at a meeting of Kyiv’s Chaika Club.

Why did Prince Yarema Vyshnevetsky, a noted Ukrainian leader, fight Bohdan Khmelnytsky? This question provoked a long debate. An interesting idea was voiced. He fought Khmelnytsky because the hetman had decided to fight him. Today, the coat of arms of Ukraine’s wealthiest landlord of the seventeenth century has been returned to the City of Poltava which had used it until 1708 under the Magdeburg Law, when the tsar annulled municipal self-government.

Prince Jeremiah (Yarema) Wyszniewecki (Vyshnevetsky) came from a noted Ukrainian aristocratic family that sired two Ukrainian hetman. He was the grandson of Ukrainian Hetman Mykhailo Vyshnevetsky who had, for the first time in Ukrainian history, received the mace and other attributes of power as the ruler of Ukraine from the Polish king. Yarema’s father was Mykhailo Vyshnevetsky and mother Raina Mohylianka; his son Michal became king of Poland. Yarema Vyshnevetsky was Prince of Vyshneve and Lubny, Russian Voivode (1646-51) and Elder of Hadiach (1634-51). The Vyshnevetskys were known for their patronage of Ukrainian education. They also propagated local self- government. It was thanks to their efforts that the cities of Lubny, Poltava, and Pyriatyn were placed under the Magdeburg Law. After the Smolensk War (1632-33), described by historian Rembovsky, he actively organized regiments manned by registered Cossacks (e.g., those of Myrhorod and Chernihiv in the 1630s and Vinnytsia, Bratslav [Wroclaw], Hadiach, and other cities in the 1640s). One of the authors of the Ukrainian Rzeczpospolita [Commonwealth] doctrine, he presided over the Ukrainian Cossack fraction in the Warsaw Sejm. He lived mainly in Lubny Castle, ranking as Poland’s wealthiest landlord; in 1646, he had 230,000 dependents in Ukraine. Mykhailo Hrushevsky would write that the Vyshnevetsky latifundia were the largest “not only in Ukraine, but also in Poland and possibly in Europe.”

Consider but one episode from Yarema’s life. Grizelda Constance, daughter of Crown Hetman Zamojski, noticed a knight winning one tournament after the next. It was Prince Jeremiah. Shortly afterward she married him and “a great many aristocrats, the entire Ruthenian szlachta” were invited to the wedding party. Vyshnevetsky arrived in Lviv at the head of a 10,000 host manned by Cossack and szlachta mercenaries. On November 29, he left for Hrudek where his fiancee was waiting, accompanied by relatives and other aristocrats. A mass was celebrated at the local Roman Catholic cathedral and festivities started the next morning. His best men were Nicholas Potocki and Ossolinski. The wedding party lasted two weeks and a day, and cost Yarema-Jeremiah 250,000 zlotys. This trace in history was left by the richest Ukrainian landlord who received at his estate hetmans and relatives of European royal families. Returning to our main theme, it should be stressed that Vyshnevetsky, of the above-mentioned leading Ukrainian public figures of the seventeenth century, embodied the wealthy Ukrainian aristocracy and Khmelnytsky the revolutionary movement.

We will tell you about noted aristocrats who glorified Ukraine with their deeds. In the first place, Prince Kostiantyn-Vasyl of Ostroh, marshalok (marshal of the nobility) in Volyn in 1593-95; 1607-08. He was a noted aristocratic leader famous for attainments in book printing and education. Among his associates were celebrated and proud members of the Hulevych family, of whom Mykhailo (Michal) and Luka (Lucas) were elected marshaloks; Halshka Hulevych donated heavily to the foundation of the Kyiv Collegium (College) and later Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (still later, Vyshnevetsky and Mazepa would be its guardians and sponsors).

There is reason to describe Andriy-Stanislav Voinarovsky as a hetman marshalok toward the end of Mazepa’s office. Evidence of this is found in recorded discussions among the ranking officers in 1707; some even mentioned that Voinarovsky, young as he was, would inherit the hetman’s mace. He was sired by the third marriage of Mazepa’s sister Oleksandra and aristocrat Yan Voinarovsky of the Stirrup Coat of Arms (Kyiv marshalok in the 1670s); in 1703-04, he studied at the Mohyla Academy and was a special messenger in the hetman’s court. Then he emigrated, was apprehended by Muscovite resident agents in Hamburg, which was followed by exile to Yakutsk [Siberia] whence he would never return.

The modern Ukrainian reader is not likely to know much about the life of the Hetmanate aristocracy. An excellent description is offered by Mykola Sementovsky, a noted publicist of the second half of the nineteenth century. Himself originating from an old aristocratic family, he wrote, “All ranks and positions in the Zaporozhzhian Registered (Little Ukrainian) Host and that of the Don River were divided into those due the pany and pidpanky [lords and lordlings], also those of His Excellency the Hetman and the starshyna officers, including the koshovy [commandant of the kish Cossack military camp] and otaman [loosely, any Cossack chief or military leader]. In fact, the term pan applied to colonels and ranking officials attached to Cossack regiments, as well as to all stanytsia and kurin otamans [Cossack village elders and company leaders, respectively]. Junior Cossack officers were referred to as pidpanky or polupanky [half-lords]. The pany made up the hetmanate’s szlachta gentry. The titles conferred on ranking officials extended to their wives. Thus, the wife of every general officer was addressed as the velmozhna panna [Your Ladyship]; that of a wealthy or noble colonel, as znatna panna or velyka panna [lit., Noble Lady or Grand Lady]; the wives of all officials and wealthy Cossack officers were addressed as panna [Lady]. The hetman’s aristocracy led a luxurious life; just like the wealthiest Polish magnates, they lived in excellent timber homes, not village khatas [cabins, but generally applying to every rustic abode]. The banquets and other festivities seemed unending, being the aristocracy’s principal pastime, as their posts were not burdened with military duty. Polish counts, countesses, and wealthy magnates were invited to such banquets traveling all the way from Warsaw and other cities. Cossack general officers’ banquets were known in Ukraine (Little Russia), Poland, even in Russia. The aristocratic manners were refined, borrowed from the Poles. Aristocrats visited each other all the time. No settlements were made during such visits, just as there were none of the other chimeras peculiar to modern society. Often, one family would visit with another for several weeks on end and the guests would bring with them not only servants, but also an orchestra. In wartime, a visiting aristocrat would be accompanied by his troops followed by endless horse- and ox-driven carts laden with all kinds of things and goods to secure an enjoyable journey, excellent food, and other amenities. Once the Cossack troops scored a victory, the aristocrats would join festively laid tables in camp.”

Apart from such literary descriptions, there are documents relating to the hetman’s aristocracy. Of these, papers issued by the Committee of Hadiach were especially important in restoring aristocratic titles. Signed by Hetman Vyhovsky and approved by the 1659 Grand Sejm, they read, “so the [bearer] becomes one of the Knights of the Zaporozhzhian Host, as per the Register submitted by the Zaporozhzhian Hetman.”

The Ukrainian national school of heraldry and genealogy was finally asserted owing to Hetman Mazepa’s indefatigable effort. A new gentlefolk emerged on the construction site of the Ukrainian state with restored special privileges and the supreme legislative body, Sejm (the Cossack parliamentary tradition had been undergoing an active genesis, with Cossack councils transforming into the Duma to become the Sejm under Mazepa), in the capital city of Baturyn, along with the main legislative acts, the Constitutions of the Mazepa period. Of these we know only Pylyp Orlyk’s Fundamental Law.

(To be continued)


Volodymyr Sverbyhuz is an expert on aristocratic life in Ukraine and genealogy relating to the most renowned Ukrainian families; author of several books published in Ukraine and abroad including Old World Aristocracy (Warsaw, 1999) and An Aristocratic Conversation (Kyiv, 2000). Last year he held two author’s soirees and ten such meetings in various Ukrainian cities.