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24 November, 2012  ▪  Dmytro Malakov

In the Footsteps of Fallen Heroes

The Ukrainian Week takes a drive to explore places where significant military campaigns had taken place

Dmytro Harmash, a Kyiv-based construction engineer and musician, is hopelessly in love with Ukraine’s history. He sometimes takes the day off to drive to places where memorable events have taken place. The most popular of these include Chernihiv, Kaniv, Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, Chyhyryn, Subotiv, Sedniv, Ostroh, Kozelets and Oster. The story below reveals some of the lesser-known spots.  


We pass Zhytomyr, Rivne, and Dubno, heading to Pliasheva, a village where a Cossack Grave memorial was founded in 1910-1914 to commemorate the tens of thousands of Bohdan Khmelnytsky’s warriors killed in the devastating Battle of Berestechko with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth army in 1651. The memorial was designed by architect Volodymyr Maksymov around two unique churches.

The wooden St. Michael’s Church was built in 1650, renovated and brought to Pliasheva from the nearby village of Ostriv a century ago. The St. George Mausoleum Church was decorated with oil frescos by Kyiv artist Ivan Yizhakevych 100 years ago. St. Michael’s is a traditional piece of Volyn architecture, while St. George’s is Ukrainian Art Nouveau. The two churches are connected by a vaulted underground passage with dozens of Cossack skulls stored under glass in a special chamber. They were collected on the vast battlefield. There is also a monument to the Cossacks of the Pryluky regiment in the village of Ostriv, and old stone crosses on Cossack tombs along the Pliasheva riverbank.   


The old village of Hermanivka, first mentioned as Hermenych in chronicles from 1096, is located in Obukhiv County, south of Kyiv. Over the Krasna River stands the Revyna Hill, an archaeological, historical and natural site containing a memorial to the past glory of this small village. “Cossack colonels Sulyma and Prokip Vereshchaka, slaughtered at the reading of the Treaty of Hadiach at the Chorna Rada on 11 September 1659 are buried here,” states the plaque on the solitary steel cross.  

After the death of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Moscow increased its pressure on Ukraine ignoring the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav. On September 16, 1658, Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky signed an agreement with Poland in Hadiach consolidating a break with Moscow. In Ukraine, however, discord sparked between supporters of Ukraine’s conflicting Russian and Western courses. This mounted after Ivan Vyhovsky’s army defeated the Moscow army at Konotop in summer 1659. In autumn, Cossack leaders arrived for the Chorna Rada – the Black Council – in Hermanivka to decide whether Ukraine should head east or west, a question that remains unresolved to this day. Supporters of the Russian course prevailed, while the allies of Ivan Vyhovsky, Stepan Sulyma and Prokip Vereshchaka, were executed by their compatriots who were now loyal to Moscow.  

The only monument to Hetman Ivan Vyhovsky in Ukraine is in the yard of Hermanivka County Gymnasium, a school located on the premises of a former two-grade school built in 1909 and designed by well-known Kyiv architect Volodymyr Nikolayev. Nearby is a memorial site for Hermanivka commander Roman Chernushenko and his 99 Cossacks.  


Kholodny Yar – the Cold Ravine – is a huge relict forest with ravines and spurs, streams and springs, covering over 7,000 hectares, and a symbol of national resistance south of Cherkasy. People have lived there for thousands of years. In recent times, the pristine thicket of the Cold Ravine was home and shelter to several generations of Ukrainians who struggled for freedom.

We turn west from the Cherkasy-Chyhyryn road, past the Tiasmyn River to the village of Medvedivka with its monument to Maksym Zalizniak, the leader of the Koliyivshchyna revolt[1]. The local museum presents the history of the Cold Ravine and the sites worth seeing. From there, we turn to Melnyky – a village with columns honouring Cossacks and leaders of the Cold Ravine haidamaky, as well as writer Yuriy Horlis-Horsky who wrote the novel Cold Ravine published in 1937 in Halychyna. Nearby is a monument to poet Taras Shevchenko inscribed with the prophetic words, “The new fire will come from the Cold Ravine.”

Next is the Motrona Trinity Convent, first mentioned in chronicles in 1198 and surviving alternating waves of prosperity and devastation. It had once been under the protectorate of Ukrainian Cossacks. The haidamaky who fought in the Koliyivshchyna had their weapons blessed there in 1768, followed by rebels fighting the Bolshevik government during the Ukrainian War of Independence in 1917-1921.     

The clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate to which this shrine is now subject – as are many churches and monasteries all over Ukraine – are more concerned about female church visitors adhering to the traditional dress-code (most often, hideous headscarves and long skirts) than about preserving the historical memory of this place. There is not a single monument to remind visitors of what transpired here long ago.

Behind the convent fence one can find several ancient and more recent caves. Across the road from the convent gates, steep wooden stairs descend to the bottom of a wide ravine that stays cool even on hot days.

The asphalt driveway takes us westward through a dense Kreselets State Forest to a roadside plaque commemorating the sklyk – or gathering. In Cossack times, this was the name of a huge cauldron hanging on an ancient oak tree and used as a bell to signal gatherings for councils. A few kilometres from here is Wild Hamlet, an open-air ethnographic museum. Arranged with Ukrainian hospitality and respect for the history of Cold Ravine, the hamlet houses a traditional Ukrainian baroque wooden church for Saint Petro Kalnyshevsky, the last otaman of the Zaporizhian Sich. A beautiful thousand-year old tree that inspired many legends, known as “Maksym Zalizniak’s Oak”, is another highlight. The restaurant offers traditional meals and features a machine gun standing between the tables, old weapons hanging on the walls, and framed portraits of the heroes of the Cold Ravine Republic.  


Some places are best visited in winter. One such place is the Kruty railway station near Nizhyn, a town in Chernihiv Oblast; the other is the village of Bazar in Korosten County, Zhytomyr Oblast. There, historical events took place in winter, during the Ukrainian War of Independence.

On January 29, 1918, the Cadet Corps of Bohdan Khmelnytsky Military School, Sich Riflemen student battalion, and nearly 200 haidamaky fought against the Bolshevik army commanded by ex-colonel of the Royal Army Mikhail Muravyov. The battle held back the Bolshevik attack on Kyiv, which was an important political contribution to the successful completion of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

A memorial commemorating the Kruty Heroes was built near the railway station as a branch of the National Military History Museum.

A manmade mound is crowned with a red pillar and a golden trident. Red stands for the characteristic colour of the Kyiv University building whose students also took part in the Kruty Battle. Beside it are 27 symbolic pillars commemorating the young defenders of Ukrainian statehood killed in the battle. The railway platform with two short trains in front of it reflects the original scene. Old cargo and passenger train cars host a museum collection telling the story of the 1918 battle.


In fall 1921, the Bolshevik government had not yet crushed the Ukrainian insurgent movement. The army of the UNR, the Ukrainian People’s Republic, commanded by General Yurko Tiutiunnyk launched a military campaign in hopes of coordinating the separate insurgent groups and overthrowing the Soviet government. The campaign failed when the red cavalry led by Grigory Kotovsky encircled and took most UNR fighters hostage after a fierce battle. On November 23, 1921, 359 insurgents were executed near the town of Bazar.

Today, it hosts a memorial to the UNR fighters who took part in the Second Winter Campaign. It was built with support of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of the UK diaspora, the Great Britain Symon Petlura Foundation, the Association of Former Ukrainian Fighters and the Ukrainian Community of Great Britain. The names of 359 executed soldiers are carved on the pillars crowned with the image of the UNR Iron Cross Knights Order, an inscription stating “Eternal glory and memory to 359 knights” and a bundle of guelder roseberries, a symbolic plant known in Ukraine as kalyna.

[1]A Ukrainian Cossack and peasant rebellion against Poland in 1768-1769

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