War of Liberation of the Ukrainian People of 1648–54

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

War of Liberation of the Ukrainian People of 1648–54


an armed struggle against the rule of the Polish szlachectwo (nobility or gentry) for reunification with Russia.

The war was caused by the merciless feudal-manorial and national-religious oppression to which the Ukrainian people, especially the peasantry, were subjected. The Ukrainian people had repeatedly risen up against their oppressors (1591–93, 1594–96, 1625–30, 1637–38). The Zaporozh’e Sech’ was the center of the struggle, and in time the registered cossacks became the main anti-Polish force. In the mid-1640’s the popular movement in the Ukraine witnessed a new upsurge, and by 1648 the movement had grown into a war of liberation headed by Bogdan Khmel’nitskii.

In late 1647 an anti-Polish cossack uprising broke out in the Zaporozh’e Sech’, and the cossacks elected Khmel’nitskii hetman. After concluding an alliance with the Crimean khan, Khmel’nitskii moved against the Polish Army in early 1648 and defeated it on May 6 at Zheltye Vody and on May 16 in the battle of Korsun’. The victories gave rise to a nationwide movement for the liberation of the Ukraine. Cossack and peasant detachments liberated Kiev and all the cities of the Left-bank Ukraine in May, and from September 11 to 13 the insurgents routed the Polish Army at Piliavtsy. They then moved into the Western Ukraine and laid siege to L’vov. Khmel’nitskii remained with the main forces in the region of Belaia Tserkov’.

The peasantry became the main force of the war of liberation. The peasants wished to became cossacks and demanded the formation of new regiments. The insurgent cossacks and peasants were joined by the petite bourgeoisie and part of the lower Ukrainian szlachectwo and members of the Orthodox clergy. The socially heterogenous composition of the movement caused internal dissension. The peasants, cossacks, and petite bourgeoisie fought not only for the elimination of national-religious oppression but also for the abolition of feudalism and serfdom. The cossack host starshina and the Ukrainian szlachectwo wanted to limit the popular movement to the goal of national liberation and tried to preserve the feudal order and the dominant position of their class.

The Polish government, frightened by the size of the popular movement, opened negotiations with Khmel’nitskii, who in November participated in the election of a new Polish king. The elected king John Casimir concluded a cease-fire with the cossacks. The cossack host lifted the siege of L’vov, left the Western Ukraine, and entered Kiev on Dec. 23, 1648 (Jan. 2, 1649), headed by Khmel’nitskii. The Left-bank and Right-bank

Ukraine were actually free of Polish troops, and power was in the hands of the cossack host starshina. The peace negotiations with Poland conducted by Khmel’nitskii in February 1649 ended in failure. He began to actively seek Russia’s help.

As early as June 8, 1648, Khmel’nitskii had sent a letter to the Russian tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, asking him to accept the Ukraine under Russian rule. In early 1649 he repeated the request. But the Russian government was not ready for a war with Poland and was frightened by the dimensions of the antifeudal struggle of the Ukrainian people. Nonetheless, it established diplomatic relations with Khmel’nitskii in early 1649 and began sending him economic and military aid. In addition to a number of other measures, it permitted the Don Cossacks and sluzhilye liudi (military service class) to fight on the side of the Ukrainian cossacks.

In the spring of 1649, the cossacks defeated the Polish Army in the Battle of Zborov. But when the Crimean khan refused to support them and threatened to unite with Poland against the Ukraine, Khmel’nitskii was forced to conclude the Treaty of Zborov of 1649 with Poland. The treaty partly satisfied the interests of the cossack host starshina but not the interests of the popular masses in the part of the Ukraine that remained within the Rzecz Pospolita (the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania). In early 1651 the Polish Army initiated an offensive against the Ukraine, defeated the cossacks in June at Berestechko, and captured Kiev. The Treaty of Belaia Tserkov’ of 1651 drastically curtailed the rights and privileges of the cossacks, and the authority of the cossack host starshina was recognized only in the Kiev Województwo.

In the fall of 1651, many Ukrainian peasants and cossacks resettled in the Russian territory of Slobodskaia Ukraina (the future Kharkov Province and parts of Kursk and Voronezh provinces). The Ukrainian people continued the armed struggle against the Polish szlachectwo forces. In the fall of 1653, the Polish Army under John Casimir moved against the Ukraine, but Russia came to the aid of the Ukrainian people. In Moscow on Oct. 1, 1653, the zemskii sobor resolved to accept the Ukraine under the rule of the Russian tsar and to declare war on Poland. The Ukraine was united with Russia in a unitary state, which was confirmed and approved by the Ukrainian people at the Pereiaslav Rada of 1654. The Russo-Polish War of 1654–67 began. According to the Armistice of Andrusovo of 1667, which ended the war, Poland recognized the reunification of the Left-bank Ukraine with Russia.

The reunification of the Ukraine with Russia had a progressive significance for the subsequent political, economic, and cultural development of the Ukrainian people. It strengthened the alliance and friendship of the two fraternal peoples, who jointly fought against foreign invaders for their national and social liberation.


Golobutskii, V. A. Osvoboditel’naia mina ukrainskogo naroda pod rukovodstvom Khmel’nitskogo (1648–1654 gg). Moscow, 1954.
Golobutskii, V. A. Diplomaticheskaia istoriia osvoboditel’noi voiny ukrainskogo naroda 1648–1654 gg. Kiev, 1962.
Dokumenty ob Osvoboditel’noi voine ukrainskogo naroda 1648–1654 gg. Kiev, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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