This is the continuation (and conclusion) of my work-through of the essay by Vasily Stoyakin, addressing the stereotype of the “treacherous Khokhol”, or Ukrainian.
Now, some stereotypes may contain a grain of truth; but Stoyakin disputes that this is actually the case with Mazepa. Whom did he betray? Russia? Mazepa never possessed a shred of loyalty to Russia. If Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, then Mazepa surely left his in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That was where he longed to live, as a Polish Szlachta, surrounded by devoted and attractive serfs. Instead, he had to earn his crust as a Hetman, surrounded by ugly and unruly Cossacks.
Oh, for sure, Mazepa swore allegiance to Peter the Great and even kissed the cross to prove just how sincere he was. And then turned around and betrayed Peter without so much as a twitching eyebrow. Which is the main source of the Russian meme that Mazepa was a vile traitor. But in truth, Stoyakin insists, everybody was like that in those days. In all the ruling elites. Everybody schemed, everybody stabbed everybody in the back. It was like a season of Survivor, only people actually died hideous deaths.
The Battle of Poltava, which changed history in Russia’s favor (and put away the notion of Sweden ever becoming a superpower), lasted only about 30 minutes. This was no Waterloo, an epic battle that went on so long, that Victor Hugo felt he had to interrupt the important plot point involving Fantine and her illegitimate child, in order to spend the next 50 pages of his book describing Napoleon’s unsuccessful battle.
No, Poltava was short and sweet, from the Russian point of view. The Swedes were simply blown away by the proficiency of Russian cannons. Literally. Swedish soldiers fled in panic and climbed all over each other, trying to surrender to Peter’s Field Marshal, Alexander Menshikov. At the town of Perevolochnaya, there were twice as many Swedish POW’s crowding around than there were horsemen in the entire Russian cavalry.
And thus, on this fateful day, began also the perennial Swedish resentment and visceral hatred of Russia. Which continues to this very day! (Not to mention the geo-political demise of Lithuania as well, but that’s a whole n’other story.)
But What About Mazepa?
So, where does Hetman Mazepa fit into this calamitous defeat? When Mazepa switched sides from Russia to Sweden, he promised Polish-Lithuanian King John II Casimir Vasa (aka Carolus Rex) to provide the latter with the following: Food, ammunition, 40 cannons, and one million Ukrainian Cossacks in shiny uniforms.
What did C.Rex actually receive from Mazepa? A few rotten cabbages which they requisitioned from the local peasantry, no ammo, zero cannons and a couple of hundred Cossacks who ended up helping the Russian army.
Mazepa’s Famous Forty cannons were kept in an armory in the town of Baturyn, in what is now the Chernihiv Oblast of Northern Ukraine.
According to the wiki entry, Baturyn is a settled area since the Neolithic era. At one time it was home to Bronze Age Scythians. Its first mention in written history is in 1625, when it became a fortress city under Stefan Batory, King of Poland, Prince of Transylvania, and Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1648, unruly Cossacks captured the town during Hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky’s uprising against the Polish nobility. Khmelnitsky based his revolution (because it was an actual revolution, at least at first) on the ethnic underpinnings of the Ruthenian peasantry, long and viciously oppressed by Polish landowners. Under Khmelnitsky, and with Russian support, Baturyn was transformed into a Cossack regional center (sotnia). Moving forward a half century: Under the benign rule of Hetman Mazepa, Baturyn prospered, according to wiki. Population increased to around 20,000. This was a regional center for trade, and even boasted a college which turned out certified diplomats.
Mazepa was appointed Hetman of Baturyn in 1687 by Russian Prince Vasily Golitsyn, a “favorite” (whatever that means) of the Tsarevna Sofia (who was Peter the Great’s sister). Golitsyn met Mazepa and was blown away by the latter’s air of culture and European “luster”. Based on that, Golitsyn saw to it that Mazepa got the gig as Hetman. After stuff happened and Golitsyn was exiled to Archangelsk, Tsar Peter inherited Mazepa. Like Golitsyn, Peter found Mazepa to be quite an impressive candidate, and allowed him to keep his position. Indeed, Mazepa was a shrewd manager and seems to have done a credible job building up the Hetmanate. Until the Great Northern War came along and shot everything to ruins.
Returning to the issue of the 40 cannons in the Baturyn armory:
Once again, Menshikov proved his military acumen: In a daring raid, Peter’s henchman had managed to seize Baturyn, burn the armory to the ground, and steal the 40 cannons which were later used at Poltava, against the Swedes. How was Menshikov able to do this? Because, in a kind of reverse Ivan Susanin maneuver, Ukrainian Cossacks showed him the way in. Quoting Stoyakin:
To this day Ukrainian nationalists cannot forgive the Prince [Menshikov] for this feat, knowing that the capital of the Hetmanate [Baturyn] was guarded by only German mercenaries, while at the same time Cossacks were opening the gates [to the Russians].
Who Is The Traitor Here?
Hence, Stoyakin urges, what do we actually have here, in the final analysis? We have a Polish grandee (=Mazepa) who remained all his life a Polish grandee, and who gave his life for his Polish king. The Ukrainian people did not support him in the end. No, the Ukrainians did not support Mazepa’s “switching of sides” from Russia to Poland. On the whole, Ukrainians always supported friendship with Russia (especially over Poland).
This proves, according to Stoyakin, that Mazepa cannot be used as an example of supposed Ukrainian innate treachery. Instead, Stoyakin blames Russia. Or, I should say, blames Russian rulers, who care more about the lives of the rich and famous than about the lives of their menial subjects. Mazepa is simply a typical example of the “Little Russian” politics engaged in by every Tsar since Alexei Mikhailovich. Namely: The Tsars appoint a “Grandee”, what we today call an “oligarch”, over the Ukrainian peasantry. The Grandee does whatever he pleases, amasses wealth, and rules, one hopes with some wisdom, on behalf of the Russian emperor. The Tsars do not wish to get involved in the day-to-day details of Little Russian (Ukrainian) life. So long as things are flowing smoothly, they don’t care and don’t want to bother.
In conclusion, I quote/translate verbatim, the concluding two paragraphs of Stoyakin’s essay, in which he addresses Russian readers. One translation note: “Malo-Rossiya” (Little Russia). The traditional term for a swatch of area including today’s Ukraine. The distinction between Great Russians and Little Russians is not the demeaning one, as it sounds to Western, especially American ears. The concept is similar to that of “Major” and “Minor”, as in “Greece Major” and “Greece Minor”, for example. The “Minor” area is the core, the “Major” area is where the core people dispersed to, in colonies or diaspora. From this aspect, “Little Russia”, including towns such as Kiev and Chernigov, formed the core of the medieval Russian state. That’s all it means. Honestly.
Forgive me then, please, but what exactly is your beef against Ukraine and Ukrainians? Moscow herself gave the Hetman’s post to traitors. Mazepa is the fruit of Moscovite politics. You don’t like the fruits? Then fire the gardener.
And by the way, after the Mazepa fiasco, Peter, in his traditional style, cut the Gordian Knot. He curtailed the Hetmanate Autonomy. The Autonomy was liquidated for good in the years 1764-1765. In 1782 the Little Russian szlachta received all the rights pertaining to the Great Russian nobility. And from that time and right up until the 20th century Russians forgot about the supposed “genetic predispotion to treachery” on the part of the Little Russians.