Turning the pages back...
March 10, 1787
The last of the Haidamaky was born 210 years ago. Ustym Karmaliuk (a.k.a. Karmeliuk) was born a serf on March 10, 1787, in Holovchyntsi (since renamed Karmaliukove), a village about 40 miles west of Vinnytsia in the Podillia region.
Sent into the army by his landowner in 1812, Karmeliuk deserted and began organizing rebel bands and leading them in raids on aristocrats' and merchants' estates.
Captured in 1814, he was sentenced to 500 blows while running a gauntlet in Kamianets-Podilskyi, and was then dispatched to a Russian imperial military unit in Crimea. On his way south, he escaped and again began inciting revolts.
By 1828, Karmeliuk had become a folk hero and the rebellions he inflamed began attracting not only peasants, but also army deserters and the urban poor. He was active at a time when serfdom in the Russian Empire was becoming profitable and was at its most repressive and exploitative - landowners had increased the amount of compulsory labor extracted from each peasant to as much as six days a week.
In his native Podillia, where Karmeliuk's movement had particular success, the oppression Ukrainian serfs faced also had an ethnic dimension, as most of the local magnates were Polish. It also had a religious sectarian dimension, as most of the Ukrainian peasantry was Orthodox, while the gentry was predominantly Roman Catholic.
The zenith of Karmeliuk's struggle came in 1830-1835, when insurrections spread from Podillia to the Kyiv region, Volyn and even Bessarabia, involving up to 20,000 peasants. About 1,000 raids were staged, and whatever was captured in the attacks was handed over to poor villagers, who invariably gave Karmeliuk shelter and assistance.
In the end, Karmeliuk was ambushed by the magnate Rutkowski and killed near Korchyntsi, not far from his native village, on October 22, 1835. His struggle was immortalized in countless Ukrainian sayings and folksongs, in the works of writers Mykhailo Starytsky, Stepan Vasylchenko and Marko Vovchok, and composer Valentyn Kostenko.
Source: "Karmaliuk, Ustym," Encyclopedia of Ukraine, Vol. 2 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988).
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 9, 1997, No. 10, Vol. LXV
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