A long way from big cities, in a quiet nook of Male (Little) Polissia, near the village of Pliasheva, Radyvyliv District of Rivne Region, the "Cossacks' Tombs" Preserve is located. It is a place of hallowed memories about the battle at Berestechko in 1651 that annually attracts tens of thouнsands of visitors from various parts of this country and from abroad. They come to pay tribute to the fallen heroes, to explore the Museum's exhibits, to bow their heads before the remains of those who died in one of the most bloody battles in the course of the 17th-century Liberation War of the Ukнrainian peoplle against the oppression- of the Polish gentry.
In 1648, the working people, under the command of hetman (a Cossack military leader in Ukraine) Bohdan Khmelnytsky, rose against social, natioнnal and religious oppression of Polish and Ukrainian magnates. During the first year of the Liberation War the Cossack and peasant troops of Bohdan Khmelnytsky inflicted quite a few defeats on the Polish gentry army at Zhovti Vody (Yellow Waters), Korsun and Pyliavtsi, reached Lviv and Zamoscie, then temporarily returned to Ukraine. In 1649 the hostilities reнcommenced with new vigour. So long as the Treaty of Zboriv, signed by the Polish king and Bohdan Khmelnytsky in August 1649, contented neither party, the Royal Seim decided in September 1650 to resume the war. Thus the Liberation War entered its second period, which reached its peak in June-July 1651 when the two armies met at Berestechko. Clad in iron armour, perfectly armed and trained troops of the Polish gentry came there with a firm resolve to subjugate, once and for all, the Ukrainian people that had risen against their rule, to make them toil for the grand lords. Bohdan Khmelnytsky brought his Cossack regiments and the rebels, not infrequently armed with axes, scythes and pickets. Islam Khan Ghiray III, who came there with the alleged purpose of supporting Khmelнnytsky, turned out an unreliable ally. He fled the battle-ground, taking Bohнdan Khmelnytsky his prisoner and thus putting the Cossacks and peasant arнmy in desperate straits. The Cossacks and rebels did not surrender, they kept on fighting, but had to retreat to almost impassable marshes in which
many of them were lost. And those who managed to survive went to Bohdan Khmelnytsky (who had by that time been released from captivity) to contiнnue the fight for the freedom of the Ukrainian people, which was crowned with an act of unification of the two brotherly peoples Ч Russians and Ukrainians,Ч that took place at the Pereyaslav Rada (assembly of repнresentatives of the Ukrainian people established by Hetman Bohdan Khmelнnytsky in the town of Pereyaslav to decide on reunification of Ukraine and Russia).
Nearly 340 years have elapsed since the cease-fire at Berestechko. The lands and the bogs that used to be the scene of fighting still bear the traces of the past events Ч the mortal remains of the honoured dead, some of their arms and belongings. A great number of these relics have been collected in the halls of the ,,Cossacks' Tombs" Museum-Preserve, built to memorialize the heroes. The aim of the guide-book is to familiarize the reader with the places associated with the historical events of 1651, with the architectural ensemble on the Isle of Zhuravlykha and with the exhibits of the ,,Cossacks' Tombs" Museum-Preserve.
The Camp of the Royal Troops was located on the right bank of the Styr River, now the territory of the south suburb of Berestechko. It was built by the order of the Polish King Jan Kazimierz, in June 1651. In the diagram of the battle at Berestechko, the camp fortifications are in the shape of a big rectangle, on the three sides surrounded by a rampart with twelve redoubts and a moat. The fourth side was protected by the Styr River. In the centre were the tents of the king and his dignitaries, with mounted and unmounted regiments being located next to them. There are no records providing the accurate number of the gentry army. Most likely it must have been either 150 thousand or 200 thousand men atrong, provided the armed menial staff is taken into account. The army complement was heterogeнneous: royal regiments of Polish and Lithuanian lords, private armies of Polish and Ukrainian magnates, German mercenaries, the gentry's volunteer corps from every corner of Poland, some representatives of the registered Cossacks' elite, Ukrainian Uniate clergymen. Community of class interests brought all of them together.
At that time, Bohdan Khmelnytsky was encamped at Kolodne near Vyshnevets (Now Ternopil Region), where he was assembling troops (about 120Ч140 thousand men) and waiting for the Crimean Tatars (they came about 28 thousand strong). His army was made up of the Cossack reнgiments, rebellious peasants and urban artisans. Besides, in some records theнre are mentionings of the representatives of the Polish petty-gentry catholics fighting in the ranks of the Cossack- peasant army against the arbitrary rule of magnates. Khmelnytsky misinformed the king by setting a rumour afloat that he was about to retreat to the eastern part of Ukraine. Guided by the rumours, the king commanded that his army should move towards Dubno and cut off Khmelnytsky's path of retreat. The reconnoitrers, however, inнformed the king of the approach of the Tatar and Cossack advanced deнtachments, with whom the gentry were to fight on the 28th and the 29th of June.
The Battle-field. In the morning on the 30th of June 1651, the fields between the villages of Soloniv and Pliasheva in the north, between Ostriv in the east and Mytnytsia in the south were crowded with hundreds of thouнsands of armed people. Half a million people, from both sides, met there for a battle to the death. The Cossack-peasant regiments took up the northern part of the field, the khan settled south of them, on the hill between Ostriv and Mytnyisia, with his troops disposed around the foot of the hill in a crescent-shape. The Cossacks started their defensive works by arranging several rows of carts in the semblance of a big rectangle.
The king divided his army into three parts, charging Martyn Kalinowski and Yarema Vyshnevetsky with command of the left wing. Their troops lay along the bank of the Styr River, stretching from the camp to the village of Soloniv. The right wing, stationed near the forest on the bank of the Styr, was under command of Mikolaj Potocki, a coronetted hetman, and the army centre was in command of the king himself, who had gathered here German mercenaries, a hussar regiment and all available artillery. Screened by a thick fog, both armies were getting ready for action which started at about 4 p.m. with Vyshnevetsky's cavalry charging the Cossack regiments.
The Royal army centre started an attack against the Tatars, firing the guns on the khan's camp. The Tatars did not endure the gunfire and took to flight together with their khan, leaving behind their equipment. Bohdan Khmelnytsky overtook the khan at a distance of seven kilometres from the battle-ground, trying to persuade him to come back, but the khan, waxed angry with the defeat, took him captive and drove away with him. After the Tatars' rout, the Cossack-peasant army withdrew south-east and began to
fortify there its position. North-west of the "Cossacks' Tombs" Preserve there are traces of a ploughed-up creeping barrage which in those olden days used to be part of the fortification work of the Cossack fighting camp.
According to the accounts of eye-witneses, the Cossack-peasant camp was on the left bank of the Pliashivka River Ч "along the Plisniava River". Today this dried-up branch of the Pliashivka, that has retained its original name, is in the centre of the village of Ostriv. In their letters from Berestech-ko, Polish lords noted a strategically convenient arragement of the camp and the military might of its earthwork. In the centre of the camp were the tents of Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the Cossack leaders and the Corinthian metнropolitan loasaph, Khmelnytsky's ideological assistant. In the course of ten days the gentry were unsuccessfully besieging the camp on its three sides, the fourth being protected by the marshlands of the Pliashivka River.
Having elected colonel Philon Jajaliy from Kropyva their provisional hetman, the Cossacks made some daring sallies to parley with the king for an armistice in terms of the Zboriv Treaty. On the 19th of June they elected colonel Ivan Bohun from Vynnytsia as their provisional hetman.
The Fording. In the morning on the 10th of July, Bohun attempted a salнly to force a crossing to clear the road for the troops. But he had not coorнdinated his plans with the rebels who, being ignorant of Bohun's intentions, decided that the Cossacks had left them to the mercy of fate and thus panic-stricken they all rushed to the ford. Ivan Bohun failed to hold them back, neither did he manage to return to the camp. The gentry troops broke into the camp and killed all the people that had remained there, including the metropolitan loasaph and his deacon Pavlos, a Greek monk. They plunнdered the camp and started a pursuit of the people retreating toward the marshes.
Since 1970, the Rivne Museum of Regional Studies has been carrying archaeological excavations on the site of the former ford. Over two hectares of the battleground that have been explored, revealed 90 human and 36 horse skeletons, over 5,000 objects belonging to the fighters Ч rank-and-file Cossacks, the Cossack leaders, peasant rebels, artisans, the Don Cossacks and Moscow strelitzs, who, as it has been ascertained, participated in the battle within the complement of Bohdan Khmelnytsky's troops. Among the finds are articles of the Polish gentry's accoutrement. The peat-soil preservedа unique wood and leather wares Ч Cossack and peasant foot-ware, powder flasks, utensils and arms.
Hayok Isle, situated amidst the boggy flood- lands of the Pliashivka Riнver one and a half kilometres to the south-east of the "Cossacks' Tombs" Preserve, was, according to all available data, the scene of the heroic combat of 300 Cossacks, who on the 10th of July cushioned the Polish gentry ofнfensive. The written sources of that time minutely describe how stubbornly the Cossacks on the surrounded island defended themselves, inflicting conнsiderable losses upon the enemy and rejecting hetman Potocki's offer to grant them his pardon. Some more regi ments were sent against the defenнders to split them into separate groups. The courageous Cossacks would not yield to the enemy and all of them lost their lives, remaining, according to Polish historians, unconquered. Today, there is a separated farm on the island. It is called Hayok (Little Grove), and only the excavated arms lost during the battle remind one of the brave Cossacks' heroic deed.
The Cossack's Pit. The small lake amidst the boggy flood-lands of the Pliashivka is believed to be the place of death of the last Cossack, out of the 300 of those fighting on the island. The Polish sources hold a mention of a Cossack who, finding a canoe on the boggy lake, throughout a couple of hours, was trying to beat off the Polich gentry men with a musket and a scythe. Standing on his dignity, he rejected the mercy offered by the king and, having been hit by fourteen bullets, he continued fighting until he was finished off by a Polish gentry man and a German mercenary.
The Monastery Area Reservation is a sandy hill in close vicinity to the Cossack's Pit. On a glade among young pine-trees there are two stone crosнses, with the year 1651 carved on one of them. Here the local people buried the remains of those who fell at the fording and at the camp on the 10th of July 1651. When the construction of the "Cossacks' Tombs" Preserve was underway, a part of the cemetery was dug up and the remains of the deceaнsed were recovered and entombed at the basement of the shrine on Zhurav-lykha Island.
The ensemble of the "Cossacks' Tombs" Preserve is located on Zhurav-lykha Island in the flood-lands of the Pliashivka's left bank. It was built in 1910Ч1914, mainly with the funds from public donations. Its central builнding is the three-tiered St. George Church, an inimitable example of Ukraiнnian baroque, constructed after the design of V. M. Maximov, a pupil of
A. V. Shchusiev, who had approved the project. Both She iconostasis of the church, which is at the same time ifc> western wall, and some of the interior wall-paintings were executed by 1. S. izitakevych, a famous Ukrainian painнter. In the subterranean tier of the shr'ne the remains of the dead Cossacks and rebels, recovered on the site of the battle at Berestechko, are kept.
In 1912, the St. Michael Church, built in 1650, was removed from the neнighbouring village of Ostriv onto the territory of the Preserve. An underнground passage, 50 metres long, connects it mith the lower tier of the St. Geнorge Church. The excavations on the site of the former St. Michael Churh at the village of Ostriv ascertained that in its chapel had been entombed the Corinthian metropolitan loasaph and the Greek monk Pavlos, killed at the Cossack-and-peasant camp on the 10th of July 1651.
The "Cossacks' Tombs" Museum is located on the territory of the Preнserve, in the former monastety building. The exhibits are displayed in seven halls and elucidate mainly the developments at Berestechko in 1651. Its first hall contains the materials pertaining to time preceding the Battle. In the second hall there is a diorama showing the beginning of the battle Ч Vyshnevetsky's unsuccessful attack of the Cossacks' field camp. The third hall, filled with the original exhibits obtained at excavations, offers speciнmens of Cossacks' arms. One show-case is devoted to bullet moulding, in another one the accoutrement of the Polish gentry is collected, and next to it is a glass-case with pieces of personal equipment and belongings of the Don Cossacks and Moscow strelitzs, which include breast-crosses and a small icon, a Berdan rifle of a strelitz and muskets of Moscow workmanship.
The fourth hall shows the social structure of the Cossack-peasant army and class stratification of the Ukrainian Cossacks. Here one can see things and arms of the Cossack nobility and those of common Cossacks, peasants, rebels, and tools of the risen craftsmen. The show-cases exhibit collections of various muskets, copper vessels for cooking food, knives and wooden spoons in leathern cases. Among the exhibits are sculptural portraits of Cossacks, executed by Moscow anthropologists.
The exhibits of the fifth hall cover the final events of the Berestechko battle, the Pereyaslav Rada, provide a brief exposition of the history of Ukraine in the 17thЧ18th centuries.
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