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Koliyivshchyna rebellion

Camp of Haidamakas
Date May 1768–June 1769
Location Right-bank Ukraine
Result Polish-Russian victory
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Russian Empire
Commanders and leaders
Mikhail Krechetnikov
Jan Klemens Branicki
Maksym Zalizniak
Ivan Gonta
Part of a series on
Cossack hosts
Other groups
Cossack terms

Koliyivshchyna 1768-1769 (Ukrainian: Коліївщина, from Ukr. "impaling") was a Ukrainian Cossack and peasant rebellion against Poland, which was responsible for the murder of noblemen (szlachta) and other Polish population, Jews, Uniates, and Catholic priests across the part of the country west of the Dnieper river. While this rebellion may have begun with the aim of stopping social, national, and religious oppression of Ukrainians, it rapidly became a full-fledged campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed against Poles, Jews, and non-Orthodox Ukrainians. It was simultaneous to the Confederation of Bar and a de facto civil war in Poland. It is unclear whether the hostilities were started by the Catholic or Orthodox paramilitary units. Some historians have stated that Russia may have had a role in fomenting the rebellion and the fact that Ukrainian Uniates were among its victims adds credence to this interpretation. The rebellion was fueled by the circulation of letter ostensibly written by the Empress Catherine of Russia, in which she promised military help if Ukrainians rise against the Poles.

The peasant rebellion quickly gained momentum and spread over the territory from the right bank of the Dnieper River to the river Syan. At Uman it led to a massacre of legendary proportions. Poles, Jews and Uniates were herded into their churches and synagogues and killed in cold blood. In three weeks of unbridled violence the rebels slaughtered 20,000 people, according to numerous Polish sources. The leaders of the uprising were Cossacks Maksym Zalizniak and Ivan Gonta. The latter was a Registered Cossack who changed sides and joined Zalizniak at Uman while being sent by Polish Count Franciszek Salezy Potocki to protect it. Gonta was in fact а sotnyk (i.e. a commander of a unit of 100 sabers) of the Uman Regiment.

The rebellion was suppressed by the joint forces of Polish and Russian armies, with numerous hangings, decapitations, quarterings and impalings.[1]


According to numerous Polish sources, the total number of casualties of the Koliyivshchyna 1768 on the right-bank Ukraine is estimated at 200,000 murdered people, mainly Poles and Jews.[1] Testimonies and reports of the witnesses and those who managed to survive give evidence of unbelievable cruelty of the perpetrators.

Koliyivshchyna in popular culture

Taras Shevchenko's epic poem Haidamaky (The Haidamakas) chronicles the events of the Koliyivshchnyna. The event also inspired recent artwork during the latest Ukrainian unrest.[2]


  1. ^ a b Norman Davis (1982). God's playground. A history of Poland, vol 1. Columbia University Press.  
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