Cossack Officials in Sloboda Ukraine: from Local Elite to Imperial Nobility?

JVF Conference Papers

This article explores the history of a boundary region in Eastern Ukraine known as Sloboda Ukraine (Slobozhanshchyna).

Its origins can be traced back to the mid-17th century, when mass Ukrainian migrations from the Dnieper banks eastward resulted in the establishment of five Cossack regiments – Ostrohoz’k, Kharkiv, Okhtyrka, Sumy and Izium. The Cossack officials soon constituted themselves as a local oligarchy. They concentrated power and wealth in their hands and became closely connected through intermarriage. They adapted a noble outlook as attested to by the practice of using coats of arms. Being formally separated, Sloboda Ukraine Cossack regiments were politically influenced by the Hetmanate. In the second half of the 18th century, the Russian empire resorted to the intensified centralization, integration and unification of national peripheries into one imperial body. Under the pressure of reforms, introduced by the empress Catherine II and dictated by the ideas of Enlightened Absolutism the Cossacks’ rights of autonomy were abolished.

The long and painful political transformations paralleled the process of the incorporation of Cossack elites into the imperial nobility. In the case of Sloboda Ukraine, the social and economic privileges granted by Saint Petersburg to the Cossack officials happened to be the most effective integrative tool. However, at the beginning of the 19th century, the Cossack past, completely mythologized, served as an ideological foundation for modern Ukrainian national building.

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