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The Battle of Konotop 1659

 | 
Oleg Rumyantsev
, 
Giovanna Brogi Bercoff

The battle of Konotop as recorded in Cossack chronicles

Oleg Rumyantsev

Texte intégral

  • 1 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj, Kyïv, KM Academia, 2004; Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r. (...)

1The battle of Konotop on June 28, 1659 has gained particular resonance as a historical event in the independent Ukraine since the historical narrative has begun to be re-examined and ‘reconstructed’ in a new political climate. This has been possible since the theme of historical confrontation between Ukraine and Russia became free for discussion after many centuries of taboo. Interest in the subject has grown and progress in historiography may be acknowledged thanks to several new works published in recent years: these have provided a well-grounded picture of the event, while also raising a number of questions that still need to be investigated for a correct interpretation1.

2The chronicles of the Cossack period have been constantly quoted in historiographical works up to the present time. They still have both a literary, and also a certain evidential value and allow details to be added to the historical mosaic. I will focus here on the description and evaluation of the Battle of Konotop in the chronicles of the Cossack nobility (starshyna), trying to analyze their content, the completeness of the information provided and the role they play in today’s research.

*

  • 2 Mytsyk Ju. A.-Kravchenko V. M., Istoriohrafichnyj ohljad, in: Sofonovych F., Khronika z litopystsiv (...)
  • 3 Shevchuk V., Samijlo Velychko ta joho litopys, in : idem. Litopys, vol. I, Kyïv, Dnipro, 1991: 14

3Scholars have long discussed the nature of these works and whether they actually belong to the category of chronicles or annals. At the time, the authenticity of the facts described was repeatedly confuted by other sources, to which the Cossack writers had no access. As researchers note, «the traditional term “annalist” or “chronicler” is inappropriate for defining the representatives of Ukrainian historical thought of the 17th-18th centuries; writers such as F. Sofonovych, S. Velychko or P. Symonovs’kyj say nothing of the anonymous author of the History of the People of the Rus»2. Each author tended to describe his own social vision of history and this is the main feature of almost all works of that period. For example, the authors of three fundamental works – the Eyewitness (Samovydets’), Velychko and Hrabjanka, have three different positions in their attitude towards such issues as the autonomous Hetman state, the tendencies of the nobility and their aspirations for privileges, and a more general, all-Cossack position, close to the people3. Thus, the genre we are examining includes works written by authors from the same social class, the Cossack intelligentsia, which, however, feature noticeable differences in social thought.

  • 4 Dzyha Ja., Peredmova. in: Litopys Samovydtsja. Kyïv, Naukova dumka, 1971: 20-22
  • 5 Ibid., 17-19; movement of R. Rakushka-Romanovsky in these years is descibed as follows: «1658 as Ni (...)
  • 6 Ibid., 16.

4The Eyewitness chronicle is considered an important historical source, and the military treasurer and priest Roman Rakushka-Romanovs’kyj (1622?-1703) is widely acknowledged as its author4. This chronicle describes the events of 1648-1702, yet it is truly unique in its description of the period after 1672 when the author was both a witness and a chronicler; before this date he used other sources, acting more precisely as a historian. Unfortunately, there is no information indicating whether in 1659 the Eyewitness was effectively close to Konotop where the battle took place5. However, as O. Levyts’kyj noted, it is worth remarking that in the chronicle the description of events on the left bank, in particular the siege of Konotop, is more detailed than the description of events on the right bank6.

  • 7 Lutsenko Ju., Hryhorij Hrabjanka ta joho litopys. in: Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hryhorija Hra (...)
  • 8 Predislovie, in: Letopis samovidtsa po novootkrytym spiskam, s prilozheniem trekh malorossijskikh k (...)
  • 9 Antonovich V., Predislovie, in: Sbornik letopisej, otnosjashchikhsja k istorii Juzhnoj i Zapadnoj R (...)

5Written in the early 18th century, the Chronicle by the Hadjach Colonel hryhorij Hrabjanka (?-1737?) covers the history of the Cossacks from their beginnings up to 1709. This work is a compilation and scholars consider it more as a literary than as a historical artifact7. It became popular in its own time (as testified by the existence of nearly fifty manuscript copies) and became the basis for other compilations, including the anonymous work entitled Brief description of Malorossia, which probably refers to the 1730s8. The Lyzohub Chronicle, supposedly based on the family book of the homonymous Cossack family, contains significant similarities with the two works mentioned above. The editor of the second copy of this Chronicle, V. Antonovych, refers it to the 1740s. He remarks that the events before 1662 are described in the same way as in the Lyzohub Chronicle and in the Brief description, and assumes that the author of the former took this part of the chronicle from the latter9.

  • 10 Shevchuk V., Samijlo Velychko: 12,

6The Chronicle by Samijlo Velychko (1670?-1728?), written by all evidence in the 1720s, is one of the three most prominent works in this genre along with the chronicles of the Eyewitness and Hrabjanka. Velychko’s work is a most notable literary artifact, though its historical worth has been acknowledged by some scholars, but put in serious doubt by others. The author himself was critical about his own description of events and warned about possible mistakes; at the same time, he considered some of the facts narrated in his sources as non authentic, and suggested looking at Cossack chronicles, which he considered more authentic. Velychko was not very knowledgeable about Ivan Vyhovs’kyj’s epoch, but some of his descriptions are worthy of historians’ notice10.

  • 11 Sofonovych F., Khronika z litopystsiv starodavnikh, in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/sofon/s (...)
  • 12 Mytsyk Ju. A.-Kravchenko V. M., «Krojnika» F. Sofonovycha jak istorychntj tvir, in: z litopystsiv s (...)
  • 13 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh – pamjatnik ukrainskogo letopisanija XVII v., «Letopisi i k (...)

7The Chronicle of the Polish Land (Krojnika zemli polskoj), written in the 1770s by Feodosij Sofonovych (?-1677)11, a leading figure in the Kyivan Metropolitanate, cannot be considered a Cossack chronicle. However, from several points of view, it is similar to some of them, first to the Eyewitness chronicle: some resemblance in the description of the events of 1648-1672 even allowed historians to suggest the existence of another source which has not come down to us and has remained unknown to modern historiography, but may have been used by both authors12. Another chronicle was written by a representative of the Cossack nobility, the Kyiv colonel Vasyl’Dvorets’kyj (1609-?). The Chronicle of the Dvorets’kys has much in common with the work by Sofonovych. The author was a direct participant in the conflicts that took place between 1648 and 1654, and was a staunch supporter of Russia. His work is based on the text of the Krojnika and appears to have been created in Kyiv at the same time as the latter13. It is worth adding that Rakushka-Romanovs’kyj, Sofonovych and Dvorets’kyj, unlike other known or anonymous authors, were contemporaries of the battle of Konotop in which the army of the Tsar fought the Cossacks.

*

8The Hadjach agreement, ratified on September 16, 1658, formally annulled the submission of the Cossack lands to Muscovy and put them under the authority of the Polish King as a third autonomous component to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Immediately after the treaty was signed, Vyhovs’kyj had to use force to get rid of the pro-Russian opposition within the country. The leaders of this opposition, Martyn Pushkar and Jakiv Barabash, were defeated in internecine struggles or killed soon after. The armed confrontation between the Hetmanate and Russia began in autumn 1658 when the Tsar’s Army, headed by Prince grigorij Romodanovskij, arrived to support the opposition against Vyhovs’kyj. The Tsar’s forces were joined by a number of Cossack military units: the Eyewitness mentions the Myrhorod and Poltava regiments (mistakenly including the Lubny regiment), while Velychko writes about the «brigands (dejnyky) of Pushkar», who escaped the massacre. Hrabjanka indicated that the number of soldiers in the Russian army was 20 thousand: this figure is confirmed by modern historiography. At the same time Vyhovs’kyj fought an unsuccessful campaign against Kyiv, while the main events took place in the north, where the Hetman regiments of Nizhyn, Chernihiv and Pryluky were active under the command of Hryhorij Huljanyts’kyj.

  • 14 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 46-47.
  • 15 Velychko S., Litopys, t. I, Kyïv, Dnipro, 1991: 235.
  • 16 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky, Kyïv, Znannja, 1992: 119.

9The attack by Muscovite forces was terrifying: in his letters Huljanyts’kyj testifies that the Russians turned out to be worse than the Turks14. Significantly enough, the violence and brutality of the Russians was also criticized by Velychko, Hrabjanka and other authors, who were hostile to Vyhovs’kyj, but at the same time did not spare criticism towards the deeds of the Russians and of their Cossack followers. Velychko ascribes the violence against civilians to the Cossack opposition, which he calls «nechestyvi syny dejnyky» («the offspring of godless bandits») and to the Sloboda Cossacks who, «having permission from Romodanovskij, attacked Ukrainian settlements and villages and, without any respect or charity, robbed and harassed people, often killing them, and razing everything to the ground»15. Hrabjanka too writes about punitive actions by the opposition: «All these armed men, enraged at the misdeeds of Ivan Vyhovs’kyj, behaved harshly with the people supporting him and burnt several towns, namely, Lubny, Pyrjatyn, Chornukhy and some others» (the author of Brief description adds «Horoshyn»)16.

  • 17 Velychko S., Litopys: 246-247.

10The description of this first phase of the war, when Russian and Cossack opposition forces joined and initiated actions, includes the episode where Velychko narrates in detail the killing of Ivan Iskra, a potential leader of pro-Russian Cossacks, and the destruction of his troops by the Cossacks of Skorobahat’ko. The facts happened in Lokhvytsja in January 165917. The Lyzohub Chronicle also contains information on this event, while Hrabjanka and the author of Brief description omit the fact, as does the Eyewitness.

  • 18 Litopys Samovydtsja, Kyïv, Naukova dumka, 1971: 79.
  • 19 Velychko S., Litopys: 235-236.
  • 20 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 119.
  • 21 Sokyrko S., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 12.
  • 22 Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 15.

11The defence of the Northern territory of the Hetmanate was headed by Huljanyts’kyj: after several battles with Russian troops he was forced to retire into Varva, where he remained under siege. The Eyewitness writes that Romodanovskij was repulsed from below Varva by Vyhovs’kyj after a 6-week siege18. Velychko describes these events in greater detail, recalling that here Russia strategically acknowledged Ivan Bezpalyj as a ‘friendly’, loyal Hetman. He also writes about the counter-attack by Huljanyts’kyj’s forces along with the Tatars sent by Vyhovs’kyj: the attack inflicted significant losses on Romodanovskij, who had to withdraw to Lokhvytsja19. Hrabjanka insists that after several weeks, «as winter was approaching and it was not a suitable time for the siege, the Tsar’s army moved away from Varva and went to its winter quarters. The boyar Romodanovskij spent winter in Lokhvytsja while the Hetman Ivan Bezpalyj spent the whole winter in Romny»20. It is interesting to note that modern historiographers reject the authenticity of the story of the cessation of the siege by Cossack-Tatar forces21, while the withdrawal of Romodanovskij’s forces is connected with negotiations and a temporary truce between Vyhovs’kyj and Moscow22.

  • 23 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 47.

12Early in 1659 Romodanovskij was surrounded by the troops of Colonel Jurij Nemyrych in Lokhvytsja. The Eyewitness and Velychko wrote that the attack on the town was unsuccessful, but that the city nevertheless remained under siege by the Cossacks. According to the Eyewitness, in this period Vyhovs’kyj obtained military support from «several thousands of soldiers». Velychko writes of Cossack and Tatar forces under the command of the Hetman. It should be noted that the Cossack army included Serbs, Valachians, Poles and germans, though historians think that the external military support to the Cossacks was relatively negligible23.

  • 24 Velychko S., Litopys: 248.
  • 25 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka hrabjanky: 119.
  • 26 Hetman Vyhovs’kyj letter to crown wagon trainman Andrzej Potocki, 11July 1659. in: Mytsyk Ju., Het’ (...)
  • 27 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 47.

13At the same time, Vyhovs’kyj used his united Cossack-Polish-Tatar forces to attack Zin’kiv, where the Zaporizhian opposition was concentrated. Yet the action remained unsuccessful. After this, according to Velychko, he «was very irritated and retreated from Zin’kiv, and when he saw that Vepryk, Rashavka, Ljutenka and Myrhorod did not support his treasonable position, he acted outrageously and burnt them» and returned to Chyhyryn24. The Eyewitness also mentions the failure of the attack against Zin’kiv, the devastation of numerous «Ukrainian towns» and the retreat to Chyhyryn. Hrabjanka, apparently, used other sources: when describing the siege of Zin’kiv he writes that Vyhovs’kyj was supposed to release Sylka if he surrendered the town; according to Hrabjanka, Sylka agreed with the proposed conditions, but the Hetman did not keep his promise: «[Vyhovs’kyj] seized Zin’kiv, placed Sylka in irons, and allowed the Tatars to rob the town and numerous other settlements and villages – Hadjach, Vepryk, Rashivka, Ljutenka, Sorochyntsi, Kovalivka, Baranivka, Obukhiv, Bahachka, Ustyvytsja, Jares’ky, Shyshak, Burky, Khomutor, Myrhorod, Bezpal’chynci, and others too»25. There are grounds for doubting this part of the description, since some episodes in Vyhovs’kyj’s epistolary heritage testify to the participation of Sylka in the battle of Konotop on the Russian side and his capture by the Cossacks26. Moreover, contemporary research has proved that the Hetman achieved military victories over the opposition in such towns as Hadjach, Khorol, Sorochyntsi, Hrun’, Vepryk, Rashavka. There was no battle over Myrhorod, where Vyhovs’kyj entered as a result of negotiations; the chronicles have no information about the Hetman’s victory of Perejaslav in February 165927.

*

14In late March 1659 the Russian forces, stronger than before, invaded Ukraine for the second time under the command of prince Aleksej Trubetskoj, with the participation of the voevodes Romodanovskij and Fëdor Kurakin, the princes Semën Pozharskij and Semën L’vov, and Bezpalyj.

  • 28 Konisskij h., Istorija Rusov. Kyïv, Dzvin, 1991 2: 148 (1846).
  • 29 Compar.: Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 13; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 48.

15The actual number of occupying forces is still debated: the Eyewitness writes that Trubetskoj came with «a great army totaling over one hundred thousand men», while other authors generally write of «numerous» forces, and underline that mainly cavalry was sent against Vyhovs’kyj; the anonymous author of the History of People of the Rus wrote about an army of 30 thousand men accompanying Trubetskoj28. The same doubts remain in modern Ukrainian historiography: scholars put the numbers at anything between 35/50 to 100 thousand soldiers29.

  • 30 Velychko S., Litopys: 251.

16According to Velychko, the Russian forces were able to escape the siege in Lokhvytsja thanks to the arrival of new forces. Huljanyts’kyj took position near Konotop with the regiments of Nizhyn and Chernihiv, while the colonel of Pryluky Petro Doroshenko encamped near Sribne. Pozharskij defeated Doroshenko, forced him and his Cossacks to run away and destroyed the town of Sribne: «This prince came here, captured the town of Sribne without difficulty, killed local citizens and captured some of them with all their belongings», Velychko writes30. Thus, the victory over Doroshenko’s detachment was consciously characterized by cruelty. The resonance the description of the tragedy of Sribne had in historiography as an example of Moscow’s punitive strategies is undoubtedly due to the literary talent of Velychko, the chronicler.

  • 31 Correct: June.
  • 32 Correct: June.

17The siege of Konotop started on April 21, when the Muscovite troops reached the outskirts of the town and forced the Nizhyn and Chernihiv regiments headed by Huljanyts’kyj to seek refuge in the fortress. The authors of the chronicles give no information about the date of the Russians’arrival or of their battle with the Cossacks; only Velychko writes that the troops left Lokhvytsja on April 16 and started the 9-week siege when they arrived near Konotop. According to the Eyewitness, Trubetskoj «sieged Huljanyts’kyj from the Seeing-off Sunday to Saint Peter’s day, nearly twelve weeks». Incidentally, in the description of the Battle of Konotop, for the first time the Eyewitness occasionally uses numbers and dates instead of indications from the religious calendar. Thus, Romodanovskij is said to have gone to Nizhyn on «May 8», a khan reaches Vyhovs’kyj «June 24», the Hetman starts the battle on «July31 28», the siege stops on «July32 29». The next date in this chronicle appears in the description of the events of 1662. To be sure, using dates does not, in itself, indicate any greater degree of precision or authenticity: precisely in the description of this event numerous mistakes testify as much. However, it may be presumed that the Eyewitness was able to make use of sources that other chroniclers knew nothing about. At the same time, the fortuitousness of using numbers to indicate dates in the text of the Chronicle demonstrates that the author only had sporadic access to those different sources.

18On the other hand, it has to be acknowledged that, in comparison with the other chronicles, the Eyewitness gave the most complete description of the siege: he provides information about the stratagems used by the Russians during the attacks, the astuteness of those defending the town and the losses of the Russian army. Historiography considers his records to be authentic, while the description of the siege of Konotop is almost absent in other chronicles; only Velychko briefly mentions the attacks on the town and the Muscovites’ losses. There is practically no information about the number of people inside the fortress; modern Ukrainian historiography puts the number at 4-4.5 thousand soldiers and citizens during the siege.

  • 33 Litopys Samovydtsja: 79.

19The Eyewitness is the only author who writes about the Russian campaign against the Cossacks in Borzna, which took place during the siege of Konotop. The events are described in very similar terms to the ones of Sribne: «… the Cossacks were unable to withstand the assault and escaped to Nizhyn; the prince and his army seized Borzna, they killed some of the people, captured others and burnt the town»33. After capturing Borzna, Nizhyn was besieged, yet Romodanovskij could not do much harm to the Cossacks and their allies, and retreated.

  • 34 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 19-20; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 ruku: 27-28.

20Modern scholarship has integrated and interpreted the actions carried out by the troops of the Tsar in Borzna and in the surroundings of Nizhyn: their conclusion is that Romodanovskij underestimated the importance of Nizhyn. It was near this town that the troops of Vyhovs’kyj concentrated in May 165934.

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21Again it is the Eyewitness who offers a detailed description of preparations for the final battle, when Vyhovs’kyj joined together his Cossacks and the Crimean allies to start the attack: «Vyhovs’kyj gathered all the Cossack regiments and was supported by the Nuraddin of the Sultan; he rushed to Krupych Pole, where he was joined on June 24 by the Khan himself with his numerous hordes». The Cossacks of the Hetman and the Tatars made an oath of allegiance for mutual struggle against Russia. Vyhovs’kyj moved in the direction of Konotop on Tuesday, June 27:

  • 35 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.

«At the end of the negotiations – the Eyewitness continues – they went to Konotop and created good points of access near the river Tynycja. When they were about to cross over to the village of Sosnivka, they engaged in fighting almost the whole day and caught a prisoner for interrogation, while the Russians did not manage to catch any prisoners. This crossing was a good mile away from Konotop, here they made an outpost, then they scattered away»35.

22All these events are described in the same way by contemporary historiography.

  • 36 Velychko S., Litopys: 251. The editors of the Chronicle explain that the defeated Russian patrol ha (...)

23Velychko also describes the fighting at the crossing on the day before the battle, when the Russian troops «waited [near Konotop – O. R.] for the Hetman Vyhovs’kyj, who, however, unexpectedly arrived near Konotop with a great number of Cossacks and with Tatar forces having already defeated a considerable part of the Russian army near Shapovalivka. Then he approached Konotop, left all the Tatars and some Cossacks for protection on the other side of the river Sosnivka…»36. Both the Eyewitness and Velychko write about Cossack and Tatar forces advisedly hidden near Konotop.

  • 37 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 120.
  • 38 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh: 229.
  • 39 Ibid.
  • 40 Bul’vins’kyj A. H., Dyplomatychni znosyny Ukraïny v period het’manuvannja Ivana Vyhovs’koho (serpen (...)

24Hrabjanka asserts, that «unexpectedly [to Russians – O. R.], the Tatars had already joined the Hetman. He was also joined by a numerous Polish army headed by the crown Hetman»37. Dvorets’kyj writes: «In the year thousand six hundred fifty nine, the month of June, on the ninth day, Ivan Vyhovs’kyj brought the Khan and his numerous hordes with treachery: he had reassured prince Trubetskoj about peace, then joined the Cossacks with the Khan and went to liberate Huljanyts’kyj from the siege of Konotop»38. The texts quoted show that all the authors point out that the arrival of such large numbers of troops and the maneuvers of Vyhovs’kyj were totally unexpected by the Russians. Dvorets’kyj’s judgement about the Hetman’s cunning behaviour probably reflects his hostility, caused by the offences he had suffered from Vyhovs’kyj during the siege of Kyiv, when his wife and children were captured: he only found them 18 months later39. Duplicity dominated Vyhovs’kyj’s deeds, no more than that of all the actors of the historical scene of the time. We know from epistolary documentation that, at the same time, representatives of the Hetmanate and Muscovy had several diplomatic contacts to reach a truce while continuing military operations40.

  • 41 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 48; Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 22-23; Bul’vins’kyj (...)
  • 42 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 53, 56; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 33-34.

25Recent historiographic debate concerns the number of Russian and Cossack forces. The figures given for Vyhovs’kyj’s army in modern Ukrainian research are very different, ranging from 20 to 60 thousand Cossacks (including mercenaries), who were joined by a number of Tatars ranging from 30 to 60 thousand41. The number of Russian soldiers and of the Cossacks allied with them in opposition to Vyhovs’kyj supposedly amounted to 50 thousand men, including the 15 thousand cavalry who were sent to the place of the crossing42.

26Chronicles do not help in defining the number of soldiers; they only indicate the numbers indirectly. The Eyewitness writes:

  • 43 Correct: June.
  • 44 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.

«On the second day, 28 July43, early in the morning on Wednesday, Hetman Vyhovs’kyj aligned the Cossack army and Polish troops and rushed to Sosnivka, while the Khan with his hordes moved to Pusta Torhovytsja; when approaching the crossing near Sosnivka, Vyhovs’kyj met numerous forces of the Tsar, including prince grigorij Romodanovskij, prince Pozharenyj [Pozharskij – O. R.] and other commanders belonging to both infantry and cavalry, and there was a battle near this crossing that lasted several hours»44.

27Sofonovych also describes mounted cavalry and foot soldiers while Dvorets’kyj mentions only cavalry.

28Velychko writes that Vyhovs’kyj hid in an outpost and attacked the Muscovites by surprise; the Russians did not expect the attack itself and did not know the real consistency of the Hetman’s army:

  • 45 Velychko S., Litopys: 251, footnote 909.

29«Trubetskoj and Romodanovskij with their army saw that Vyhovs’kyj’s forces, which attacked them, were ten times smaller than the Russian troops; they withstood the sudden attack but did not expect more troops from Vyhovs’kyj’s side, nor did they expect any cunning from him, so they sent against him prince Simeon Pozharskij with more than ten thousand reiters and other cavalry»45.

  • 46 Ibid.

30Pozharskij’s forces started attacking, while Vyhovs’kyj, according to Velychko, started retreating. Captive Cossacks warned the prince about the existence of great Tatar forces, yet Pozharskij «inflamed by the ardor of Mars» decided to attack. Velychko continues: «…unexpectedly Vyhovs’kyj’s numerous Cossack and Tatar forces came out from their hiding places and struck hard at the Orthodox Christians without giving them any chance to recover; they annihilated all of them covering the field and filling the river Sosnivka with dead bodies»46.

  • 47 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.
  • 48 Compar.: Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 35-36; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: (...)

31In contrast to Velychko, the Eyewitness does not write about any treacherous retreat on the part of the Cossacks, he only describes the attack by hidden Tatar forces: «The Khan with his hordes struck in the rear on the Konotop side, defeated the enemy and in the space of just one hour killed more than twenty or thirty thousand of the Tsar’s men».47 Thus, the chronicles offer different opinions about the treacherous nature of the Cossack maneuvers, and this issue divides contemporary researchers, who offer different historiographic reconstructions of this phase of the battle48.

  • 49 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 62.

32The last phase of the war around Konotop is represented by Trubetskoj’s retreat to Putyvl’: according to the Eyewitness, Velychko and some Kyivan authors, the retreat was relatively harmless for the Russians and the Cossacks headed by Bezpalyj, while Hrabjanka mistakenly writes about a defeat of the Tsar’s forces during the retreat. According to recent historians, both sides suffered heavy casualties during the retreat and the pursuit49.

  • 50 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh: 229.
  • 51 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 120.

33The Eyewitness is the only author who gives an approximate estimation of the number of Muscovites slain, suggesting a loss of about 20-30 thousand men. All chroniclers point to large numbers of victims, for example Dvorets’kyj writes: «Relying on his [Vyhovs’kyj’s – O. R.] deceptive letters, the Russians with their horses went too far away from their camp in the fields, and he [Vyhovs’kyj – O. R.] treacherously attacked them with numerous Tatars, and killed and captured a lot of Muscovites»50. Hrabjanka omits the details of military tactics, yet his description is the most tragic: «Meeting him in the field, the Russians fought for a long time but, having no support, after the withdrawal of their leader, there was no escape for any of them but death»51. Dvorets’kyj’s record is authentic while Hrabjanka describes an exaggerated variant of this event; however, if we take into account the destiny of the prisoners killed after the battle, Hrabjanka can be considered to be correct.

  • 52 Compar.: Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 42-44; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: (...)

34As far as the issue of the victims is concerned, some historians, basing themselves on the documentation given by Trubetskoj, put the exact number of the dead at 4769. However, the information given by various witnesses varies between 8 and 50 thousand deaths (including those killed after the battle). The chronicles have no information about the Cossacks, mercenaries and Tatars killed, but modern historians estimate a number of between 3 and 10 thousand52. Only the Eyewitness mentions about one and a half thousand men surviving the siege in the Konotop fortress.

  • 53 Ivan Vyhovs’kij’s letter, in: Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 68
  • 54 Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 45-46
  • 55 Velychko S., Litopys: 252.
  • 56 Konisskij h., Istorija Rusov: 148.

35The chronicles give no information about the execution of those Russian soldiers who were captured. Vyhovs’kyj wrote about the Khan’s order to kill all prisoners in a letter to Potocki53, yet many of these were hidden by the Tatars in order to demand a ransom later54. The Eyewitness and Velychko describe the execution of Pozharskij; several historians repeated Velychko’s record, where the Prince’s death and the defeat of the Muscovite army were considered to be a kind of triumph of justice: «This is how he [Pozharskij] and his troops were rewarded with devastation and blood – god allowed that – for the bloodshed of the innocent citizens of Sribne and for Pozharskij having devastated the city; indeed the soldiers would only have been able to escape to their camp near Konotop if their horses had had wings!»55. As witnessed by chronicles and confirmed by historians, there is no doubt that the real causes of the defeat can be attributed to Vyhovs’kyj’s skillful military tactics and to the Russian commanders’ lack of information. After the battle of Konotop, Vyhovs’kyj’s ‘stratagem’ remained in collective memory as a proverbial expression, as testified by the author of the History of the People of the Rus: «To outwit somebody as Vyhovs’kyj did with Russians»56.

*

36I will try to draw some conclusions. The description of the battle near Konotop in the chronicles written by representatives of the Cossack nobility continues to be interesting for historiography, also in the light of recent reconstructions of this event based on newly discovered and more authoritative documents. Historians sometimes still include descriptions from the chronicles: the latter offer interesting details and help to interpret the events correctly by putting the facts in their social context.

37Thus, the chronicles give a good idea of the real tragedy and of the social impact of the events. For example, without Velychko’s and the Eyewitness’s comments, the annihilation of Sribne and Borzna would probably have been lost in the long list of the other towns destroyed by the war. Other elements described in the chronicles offer noteworthy supplements to the description of historical events. For example, Velychko’s detailed description of Iskra’s death testifies to the importance of his potential role in Muscovite policy in Left-bank Ukraine. The tardy and somewhat lukewarm assistance given by the Russians in this situation, as described by Velychko, testifies to Moscow’s attitude to its Cossack allies.

  • 57 Velychko S., Litopys: 235.

38All the authors are highly critical of the complete lack of respect for civilians on the part of all the armies involved, and of the immense sufferings that were inflicted on a peaceful population. Nonetheless, in all the works mentioned, Vyhovs’kyj is considered responsible for the Cossack actions, while inhuman behaviour by pro-Muscovite Cossacks is criticized, but explained as a revenge for the sufferings caused by the Hetman. The chronicles tend to grant some degree of legitimacy to the actions of the Russian military elite, though only Velychko explicitly writes about Romodanovskij personally giving permission for plundering or ordering to stop it57. By all accounts, all the authors are influenced by Vyhovs’kyj’s widespread unpopularity among ordinary Cossacks and mainly by his ideas of uniting Ukraine with Poland.

39In his description of the tactics of the Russian army and of the battle itself, the Eyewitness writes only about the troops under the command of Romodanovskij: no mention is made of the Cossack troops that opposed the Hetman and fought as a separate force. Velychko mentions the Cossacks of the opposition and the appointed Hetman of Left-bank Ukraine, Ivan Bezpalyj, who was acknowledged by Romodanovskij and completely subservient to the Muscovite elite; evidently no autonomous self-sufficient Cossack alternative to Vyhovs’kyj could exist in the Hetmanate’s territory without Moscow’s support.

  • 58 Ul’janov N. I., Proiskhozhdenie ukrainskogo separatizma, Moskva, Indrik: 59; this author describes (...)

40Moreover, it is remarkable how divergent information in the chronicles still influences modern descriptions of the events connected with the battle around Konotop. As already mentioned, such issues as the various strategies adopted in the battle or the undefined number of the opponents’ military forces are still the subject of debate. Due to the lack of reliable documentation, modern historiography continues to refer to the numbers given by the chronicles – e. g. 20 thousand Russian soldiers in autumn 1658 or 100-thousand in spring 1659. The variability or lack of information in the chronicles is sometimes exploited even in our days to give biased interpretations of history: a case in point is a publication in which the Cossacks themselves, rather than Vyhovs’kyj, have been held responsible for executing prisoners after the battle, a fact that was ignored by the chronicles58.

41In comparison with the other chronicles, the Eyewitness gives a more detailed and exact description of the Cossack maneuvers against the Russians on Left-bank Ukraine, of the siege of Konotop and of Vyhovs’kyj’s preparation for battle; he also talks about the total destruction of Borzna and skirmishes near Nizhyn. Velychko, however, gives no detail about Vyhovs’kyj’s transfer from Nizhyn to Konotop; nothing is written either about the relations between Vyhovs’kyj and the Tatars before the battle. Velychko however has better information about the movements of the Russian army between Lokhvytsja and Konotop, and about the strategic decisions of the Hetman’s enemies. Moreover, the description of the events is written as if he had seen the Russian generals with his own eyes while quoting their words. The conclusions we may draw from all this are, first: that the two authors had sources of different geographical origin at their disposal and, second: in many cases the two descriptions function as complementary historical accounts. The Chronicler by Dvorets’kyj, on its part, offers other complementary information, which is not devoid of interest. Hrabjanka’s work is known to have more epic and literary importance, though certain details – such as the list of towns conquered by Vyhovs’kyj – are very important.

42Thus, the Cossack chronicles are of considerable help in reconstructing the Konotop war and the battle itself. They continue to provide unique testimony for the description of numerous episodes of this war, and the information they transmit is in many cases confirmed by other well known historical sources. Moreover, they strengthen the evidence of the weight that the Battle of Konotop had as an important victory, which contributed to the development of the Ukrainian nation’s historical memory and identity. Though it did not basically change the military and political situation of the Hetmanate, the battle remains a key event at the beginning of one of the most tragic periods in the history of the Ukrainian lands.

Notes

1 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj, Kyïv, KM Academia, 2004; Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r. Triumf v chasy Ruïny, Kyïv, Tempora («Militaria Ucrainica») 2008; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku, Kyïv («Peremohy ukraïns’koï zbroï»), 2008.

2 Mytsyk Ju. A.-Kravchenko V. M., Istoriohrafichnyj ohljad, in: Sofonovych F., Khronika z litopystsiv starodavnikh, in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/sofon/sofoi.htm (03/12) (1992).

3 Shevchuk V., Samijlo Velychko ta joho litopys, in : idem. Litopys, vol. I, Kyïv, Dnipro, 1991: 14

4 Dzyha Ja., Peredmova. in: Litopys Samovydtsja. Kyïv, Naukova dumka, 1971: 20-22

5 Ibid., 17-19; movement of R. Rakushka-Romanovsky in these years is descibed as follows: «1658 as Nizhyn sotnik he participates in renewal of union between Vyhovskyj and Crimean Khan. After this Romanovskys trace is lost, and only in 1659 he appears as regimental judge. We see him in the delegation from Nizhyn to Moscow. 1660 Rakushka-Romanovskyj is Nizhyn sotnik» (p. 21).

6 Ibid., 16.

7 Lutsenko Ju., Hryhorij Hrabjanka ta joho litopys. in: Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hryhorija Hrabjanky, Kyïv, Znannja, 1992: 3-4.

8 Predislovie, in: Letopis samovidtsa po novootkrytym spiskam, s prilozheniem trekh malorossijskikh khronik: Khmel’nitskoj, «Kratkogo opisanija Malorossii» i «Sobranija istoricheskago», in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/samovyd/sam08.htm#pred (03/12) (1878).

9 Antonovich V., Predislovie, in: Sbornik letopisej, otnosjashchikhsja k istorii Juzhnoj i Zapadnoj Rusi, izdannyj Kommissieju dlja razbora drevnikh aktov, sostojashchej pri Kievskom, Podol’skom i Volynskom General-Gubernatore, in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/sborlet/sborlet01.htm (03/12) (1888).

10 Shevchuk V., Samijlo Velychko: 12,

11 Sofonovych F., Khronika z litopystsiv starodavnikh, in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/sofon/sof.htm (03/12) (1992).

12 Mytsyk Ju. A.-Kravchenko V. M., «Krojnika» F. Sofonovycha jak istorychntj tvir, in: z litopystsiv starodavnikh, in: «Izbornyk» 2, http://litopys.org.ua/sofon/sof04.htm (03/12) (1992)

13 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh – pamjatnik ukrainskogo letopisanija XVII v., «Letopisi i khroniki», 1984, Moskva: 219-234.

14 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 46-47.

15 Velychko S., Litopys, t. I, Kyïv, Dnipro, 1991: 235.

16 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky, Kyïv, Znannja, 1992: 119.

17 Velychko S., Litopys: 246-247.

18 Litopys Samovydtsja, Kyïv, Naukova dumka, 1971: 79.

19 Velychko S., Litopys: 235-236.

20 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 119.

21 Sokyrko S., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 12.

22 Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 15.

23 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 47.

24 Velychko S., Litopys: 248.

25 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka hrabjanky: 119.

26 Hetman Vyhovs’kyj letter to crown wagon trainman Andrzej Potocki, 11July 1659. in: Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 67.

27 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 47.

28 Konisskij h., Istorija Rusov. Kyïv, Dzvin, 1991 2: 148 (1846).

29 Compar.: Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 13; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 48.

30 Velychko S., Litopys: 251.

31 Correct: June.

32 Correct: June.

33 Litopys Samovydtsja: 79.

34 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 19-20; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 ruku: 27-28.

35 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.

36 Velychko S., Litopys: 251. The editors of the Chronicle explain that the defeated Russian patrol had gone out to catch a prisoner for interrogation (footnote 906).

37 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 120.

38 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh: 229.

39 Ibid.

40 Bul’vins’kyj A. H., Dyplomatychni znosyny Ukraïny v period het’manuvannja Ivana Vyhovs’koho (serpen’ 1657 – serpen’ 1659), «Ukraïns’kyj istorychnyj zhurnal», 2005, n. 1: 131-133.

41 Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 48; Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 22-23; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 30-32.

42 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 53, 56; Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 33-34.

43 Correct: June.

44 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.

45 Velychko S., Litopys: 251, footnote 909.

46 Ibid.

47 Litopys Samovydtsja: 80.

48 Compar.: Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 35-36; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 49, 67.

49 Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 62.

50 Mytsyk Ju. A., «Litopisets» Dvoretskikh: 229.

51 Litopys hadjats’koho polkovnyka Hrabjanky: 120.

52 Compar.: Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 42-44; Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 49; Sokyrko O., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 r.: 59.

53 Ivan Vyhovs’kij’s letter, in: Mytsyk Ju., Het’man Ivan Vyhovs’kyj: 68

54 Bul’vins’kyj A., Konotops’ka bytva 1659 roku: 45-46

55 Velychko S., Litopys: 252.

56 Konisskij h., Istorija Rusov: 148.

57 Velychko S., Litopys: 235.

58 Ul’janov N. I., Proiskhozhdenie ukrainskogo separatizma, Moskva, Indrik: 59; this author describes the execution of prisoners as follows: «… Cossacks gathered 5,000 Russian prisoners in a field and slaughtered them».

Auteur

Received the PhD degree in Ukrainian and Southern Slavic history at the University of Venice, he made the problems of minorities in the Balcans the main focus of his book: La questione dell’identità nazionale di Rusyny e Ucraini della Jugoslavia. He teaches History of Eastern Europe at the University of Macerata, Italy.