The story of Bohdan Khmelnytsky is one of high drama and patriotism. Leading a charge for Ruthenian independence from Poland he was one of the most successful patriots Ukraine has known. The Zaporozhian Cossack Hetmanate was one of the first, well organized and planned attempts at true Ukrainian independence from Poland. Here is the extremely well written Wiki page text about Khmelnytsky.
Although there is no definite proof of the date of his birth, it has been suggested by Ukrainian historian Mykhaylo Maksymovych that it is likely 27 December 1595 (St. Theodore‘s day). As it was the custom in the Orthodox Church, he was baptized with one of his middle names—Theodor, translated into Ukrainian as Bohdan.
The latest biography of Khmelnytsky by Smoliy and Stepankov, however, challenges the 27 December date and suggests that it is more likely he was born on 9 November (feast day of St Zenoby, 30 October in Julian Calendar) and was baptised on 11 November (feast day of St. Theodore in the Catholic Church)
Khmelnytsky was probablyborn in the village of Subotiv, near Chyhyryn in Ukraine at the estate of his father Mykhailo Khmelnytsky. Even though his father, a courtier of Great Crown Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, was of noble birth himself and belonged to the Clan Massalski, Abdank or Syrokomla, there was and is still controversy as to whether Bohdan belonged to the szlachta himself. Some sources state that in 1590 his father Mykhailo was appointed as a sotnyk for the Korsun-Chyhyryn starosta Jan Daniłowicz, who continued to colonize the new Ukrainian lands near the Dnieper river. According to the above mentioned-source, Mykhailo established Chyhyryn and later his own family estates of Subotiv (5 miles from Chyhyryn) and Novoseltsi. This, however, didn’t prevent Khmelnytsky from considering himself a noble and his father’s status as a deputy Starosta (elder) of Chyhyryn helped him to be considered as such by others. Later on, however, during the Uprising he would stress his mother’s Cossack roots and his father’s exploits with the Cossacks of the Sich.
There is also no concrete evidence in regard to Khmelnytsky’s early education. Several historians believe he received his elementary schooling from a church clerk until he was sent to one of Kiev‘s Orthodox fraternity schools. He continued his education in Polish at a Jesuit college, possibly in Jarosław, but more likely in Lviv, in the school founded by hetman Żółkiewski. He completed his schooling by 1617 and acquired a broad knowledge of world history and learned Polish and Latin. Later he learned Turkish, Tatar and French. Unlike many of the other Jesuit students, he did not embrace Roman Catholicism but remained Greek Orthodox.
Service with the Cossacks
Upon completion of his studies in 1617, Bohdan entered into service with the Cossacks. As early as 1619 he was sent along with his father to Moldavia, as the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth entered into war with the Ottoman Empire. His first military engagement was a tragic one. During the battle of Cecora (Ţuţora) on 17 September 1620, his father was killed, and young Khmelnytsky among many others, including future hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, was captured by the Turks. He spent the next two years in captivity in Constantinople, as a prisoner of an Ottoman Kapudan Pasha (presumably Parlak Mustafa Pasha). Other sources claim that he spent his slavery in Ottoman Navy on galleys as an oarsman where he picked up a knowledge of Turkic languages.
While there is no concrete evidence as to how he returned to Ukraine, most historians believe he either escaped or his ransom was paid. Sources vary as to by whom — his mother, friends, the Polish king — but perhaps by Krzysztof Zbaraski, ambassador of the Rzeczpospolita to the Ottomans, who in 1622 paid 30,000 thalers in ransom for all prisoners of war captured at the Battle of Cecora. Upon return to Subotiv, Khmelnytsky took over the running of his father’s estate and became a registered Cossack in the Chyhyryn Regiment where he later became a pysar (a historical officer title among cossacks). Since 1625 he participated in several sea raids together with Zaporozhian Cossacks onto Constantinople. In those raids he earned his title of a sotnyk (a leader of a hundred). In the meantime, his widowed mother married again, to Belarusian noble Vasyl Stavetsky, and moved to his estate, leaving Bohdan in charge of Subotiv. In a year she had another son, Hryhoriy, who curiously enough later preferred to take his mother’s name and was known as Hryhoriy Khmelnytsky. For a short time he also served as a koniuszy to hetman Mikołaj Potocki, but relatively quickly they parted their ways after a personal conflict. Bohdan Khmelnytsky later married Hanna Somkivna, a daughter of a rich Pereyaslavl Cossack and they settled in Subotiv. By the second half of the 1620s they already had three daughters: Stepanida, Olena, and Kateryna. His first son Tymish (Tymofiy) was born in 1632, and another son Yuriy was born in 1640.
During this time Bohdan Khmelnytsky was running his estate and advanced in his service in the Regiment. He first became a sotnyk and later advanced to the rank of a regiment scribe. He certainly had significant negotiation skills and commanded respect of his fellow Cossacks as on 30 August 1637 he was included in a delegation to Warsaw to plead the Cossacks’ case before the Polish King Władysław IV. Serving in the army of a Polish magnate and great commander, hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, he participated in a rather successful campaign as the Commonwealth army, part of which was Bohdan’s regiment, scored a decisive victory over the Tatars in 1644.
During this time Bohdan Khmelnytsky was running his estate and advanced in his service in the Regiment. He first became a sotnyk and later advanced to the rank of a regiment scribe. He certainly had significant negotiation skills and commanded respect of his fellow Cossacks as on 30 August 1637 he was included in a delegation to Warsaw to plead the Cossacks’ case before the Polish King Władysław IV. Serving in the army of a Polish magnate and great commander, hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, he participated in a rather successful campaign as the Commonwealth army, part of which was Bohdan’s regiment, scored a decisive victory over the Tatars in 1644. During this time, as some archival documents show, he also had a meeting in Warsaw with the French ambassador Count De Bregie, during which he discussed the possibility of Cossack participation in war in France. Sources vary as to whether in April 1645 he traveled to France (to Fontainebleau) to discuss further details of Cossack service in France; this claim is supported by Ukrainian historiography but disputed by Polish scholarship. In October 1644 around two thousand Polish infantry soldiers (some scholars think they were Cossacks, but the French sources do not actually name them as such) went to France by sea via Gdańsk and Calais, where they participated in the siege and capture of Dunkerque.
The Czapliński Affair
In the meantime another trouble was brewing at home. Upon the death of magnate Stanisław Koniecpolski, an advocate of fair treatment of Cossacks, his successor Aleksander redrew the maps of his possessions and laid claim to Khmelnytsky’s estate, which he claimed was his. In his attempt to find protection from the powerful magnate, Khmelnytsky wrote numerous appeals and letters to different representatives of the Polish crown — but to no avail. At the end of 1645 the Chyhyryn starosta Daniel Czapliński officially received authority from Koniecpolski to seize the Subotiv estate. In summer of 1646 Khmelnytsky, using his favorable standing at the Polish court, arranged an audience with King Władysław IV to plead his case. Władysław, who wanted Cossacks on his side in the wars he planned, gave him a royal charter, which protected his rights to the estate. However, such was the structure of the Commonwealth at that time, and the lawlessness of its eastern realms, that even the King was not able to avert the confrontation with the local magnates. In the beginning of 1647 Daniel Czapliński openly started to harass Khmelnytsky in an attempt to force him off the land. On two occasions Subotiv was raided: considerable property damage was done and Khmelnytsky’s son Yuriy was badly beaten. Finally, in April 1647, Czapliński succeeded in evicting Khmelnytsky from the land, causing Khmelnytsky to move with his large family to a relative’s house in Chyhyryn.
In May 1647 Khmelnytsky arranged a second audience with the King to plead his case, but found the King unwilling to go into an open confrontation with a powerful magnate. In addition to the loss of the estate, his first wife Hanna died, leaving him alone with the children. While he promptly remarried to Motrona, his second wife, he was still unsuccessful in all of his attempts to find justice in regard to his estate. During this time, he met several higher Polish officials to discuss the Cossacks’ issue of the war with the Tatars and used this occasion again to plead his case with Czapliński, still unsuccessfully.
While Khmelnytsky found no support from the Polish officials, he found it in 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 Chyhyryn regiment, but also with others including the Sich. All through the autumn of 1647 Khmelnytsky traveled from one regiment to another, and had numerous consultations with Cossack leaders throughout Ukraine. His activity raised suspicion among the Polish authorities already used to Cossack revolts; he was promptly arrested. Koniecpolski issued an order for his execution, but the Chyhyryn Cossack polkovnyk who held Khmelnytsky was persuaded to release him. Not willing to tempt fate any further, Khmelnytsky headed for the Zaporozhian Sich with a group of his supporters.
While it might appear that the Czapliński Affair was the immediate cause of the Uprising, it was only an impetus that brought a successful and talented Cossack to the forefront of popular discontent among the people of what is now Ukraine. Religion, ethnicity, and economics factored into this discontent. While the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth remained a union of two nations: of Poland and Lithuania, a sizable population of Orthodox Ruthenians remained ignored. That left them oppressed by the Polish magnates and their wrath was directed at the Poles’ Jewish traders, who often ran their estates for them. The advent of the Counter-Reformation further worsened relations between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Many Orthodox Ukrainians saw the Union of Brest as a threat to their Orthodox faith, and coupled with the frequent abuse of the Orthodox clergy this added a religious dimension to the conflict. This could have been one of the many other frequent Cossack revolts that had been put down by the authorities, but the stature and skill of, and respect for, the seasoned 50-year-old negotiator and warrior Khmelnytsky perhaps made all the difference………
The rest of the intriguing story can be found here on Wikipedia
Here is a gallery of available images of the man and his exploits
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