The Lithuanian princes were reasonable rulers; in some cases they
assimilated adopted local customs, language and religion. People did not resist
them and appreciated their protection from Poland, Moscow and Tatars. However,
under Polish rule, western Ukraine was subjected to exploitation and
colonization by influx of people from Poland and Germany, who were taking over
property and offices from local boyars.
There was a period of wars between Poland and Lithuania, but on 15th
August 1385 they agreed to unite their kingdoms. In 1386 Polish queen Yadwiga
was forced to marry Lithuanian prince Yahaylo, who thus became King of Poland
In 1400 Lithuania, together with its Ukrainian principalities, separated
under king Vitowt Yahaylo's cousin. This arrangement was opposed by Yahaylo's
younger brother, Svytryhaylo. Ukrainian principalities under Vitowt were
loosing their national character and independence to Polish influences. In 1413
a decision was made to allow only Catholics to occupy important government
positions ("Horodlo Privilege"); wide spread discrimination against
Orthodox population followed. Nearly all Ukrainians in those days were
Orthodox, therefore Ukrainian princes and boyars were helping Svytryhaylo in
his fight with Vitowt. After Vitowt died in 1430, Svytryhaylo defended himself
from Poles, but by the year 1440 his sphere of influence was reduced to Volynj
There was a period of hostilities between Lithuania and Moscow, when
about 1480 several principalities in eastern Ukraine were annexed by Moscow.
Also several popular uprising took place. The rebellion under Mukha in 1490, in
western Ukraine, was seeking help from neighboring Moldova; uprising under
prince Mykhaylo Hlynskiy in 1500 in eastern Ukraine expected help from Moscow
and Tatars. However Poland and Lithuania, at that time, were very strong,
therefore all uprisings were squashed.
Meanwhile, in the South, marauding Tatar hordes converted large area of
the country into wilderness, without any law or order. It was very rich part of
Ukraine with productive soil, wild animals and rivers full of fish. It
attracted many adventurous people, who although had to fight Tatars there,
could be free from suppression by Polish and Lithuanian overlords. They began
to organize under hetmans, thus originating Cossack society. To defend
themselves from Tatars, they were constructing forts called "sitch"
and amalgamated into sort of union, with Zaporizhia, downstream of river Dnipro
cascades, as a centre.
In 1552, one of Ukrainian princes, Dmytro Wyshnevetskyi, being among
Cossacks, built a castle on island Khortytsya. From there, Cossacks conducted
raids on Crimean towns sometimes with help from Moscow. Dmytro wanted to
develop Zaporizhia, with help from Lithuania and Moscow, into a powerful
fortress against Tatars and Turks. Being unable to achieve this goal, he left
Zaporizhia in 1561, became involved in a war in Moldova, was captured and
executed by Turks in 1563.
In 1569, by the Union of Lublin, the dynastic link between Poland and
Lithuania was transformed into a constitutional union of the two states as the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Most of Ukraine became part of Poland,
settlement of Polish nationals followed, Polish laws and customs became
dominant. Most of Ukrainian princes and boyars, except for few notably
Ostrozkyis and Wyshnevetskyis -, were replaced by Polish nobles. Peasants lost
land ownership and civil rights and gradually became serfs, exploited as
manpower in agriculture and forestry, by landowners. Suppression of Orthodox
Church retarded development of Ukrainian literature, arts and education;
preferential treatment of Catholics inhibited economic and political
advancement of Ukrainians.
In spite of that there was a modest revival of Ukrainian culture later
in 16th century. Church schools and seminaries were set up, based at first on
properties of Ukrainian magnate Hryhoriy Khodkovych and later on holdings of
Ostrozkyi princes. Printing industry began, culminating in publication of Bible
in print shop ran by Ivan Fedorovych. Trade and church brotherhoods sprang up;
they established schools and hospitals and became centers of defense of
Orthodox Church and fight for justice and equality.
Such situation also multiplied influx of people to Cossack territory thus
increasing Cossacks strength. Tatars were pushed out into Crimea; Cossacks
became more daring in their raids on Turkish cities.
Although Ukrainian Cossacks defended not only Ukraine, but also whole
eastern Europe from Turks and Tatar hordes, they were causing diplomatic
problems for Poland because Turkey used Cossacks as an excuse for wars against
Poland. When Cossack leader, Ivan Pidkova, conquered Moldova in 1577, Poles
captured and executed him in order to appease the Turks. They tried to control
Cossacks by recruiting some of them into Polish military system as, so called,
Registered Cossacks, but they could never really tame them.
With decreasing danger from Tatars, Polish nobles and Ukrainian princes
loyal to the king, were granted possessions in territory controlled by Cossacks
and began to introduce their ,freedom limiting, unpopular laws. Dissatisfied
with such treatment Cossacks, under Kryshtof Kosynskyi, rebelled about 1590,
and by year 1593 controlled most of eastern Ukraine. After Kosynskyi, Hryhoriy
Loboda became Cossack Hetman in 1593.
Another section of Cossacks, numbering about 12000, under Semeryn
Nalyvayko, were recruited by Pope and German Kaiser for war against Turks. They
conquered Moldova and in 1595 returned to Ukraine to fight against Polish
rulers and to defend Orthodox population from Jesuits, who were instigating
amalgamation with Catholic Church. In 1596 at a synod of Brest, the Kyivan
metropolitan and the majority of bishops signed an act of union with Rome. The
Uniate church thus formed recognized supremacy of the pope but retained the
Eastern rites and the Slavonic liturgical language.
Also in year 1596 Polish king, Sigismund III Vasa, ordered Field Marshal
Stanislav Zholkewski to subjugate Cossack forces. After several months of
fighting, Zholkewski surrounded Cossacks, led by Nalyvayko, Loboda and Shaula,
at river Solonytsya near Lubny. There were about 6000 Cossack fighters and just
as many women and children facing much more superior force. The prolonged
siege, lack of food and fodder, internal squabbles (Loboda was killed in one
the fights between sections of Cossacks) and intensive cannon fire destroyed
defenders' capacity to resist. In order to save their families, Cossacks agreed
to Zholkewski's terms to let them go free in exchange for handing over their
leaders. However, after surrender, Poles did not keep their word; they attacked
and started to massacre defenseless and disoriented Cossacks. Only a section
under leadership of Krempskyi broke through and joined with troops of
Pidvysotskyi, who were coming to the rescue of besieged Cossacks.
Zholkewski, exhausted by prolonged fighting, decided to abandon the idea
to conquer Cossacks. He returned to Poland, where he tortured and executed
captured Cossack leaders; most severe punishment was handed to Nalyvayko, who
was tortured for about a year prior to a brutal execution.