The Bendery Constitution and Pylyp Orlyk and His Government-in-Exile in Sweden in 1715–1720

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The period 1709 to 1720 was of historic importance in the Ukrainian struggle for freedom and independence. On April 5, 1710, on Turkish territory in Bendery, Ukraine’s first constitution was inaugurated. The main author was Orlyk. After the Battle of Poltava in June 1709 King Charles XII of Sweden and the newly elected Hetman Pylyp Orlyk were in exile. In the fall of 1709 Hetman Ivan Mazepa had died in Moldavian Bendery. Orlyk, his chancellor, was elected hetman of Ukraine in the spring of 1710. The Bendery Constitution is not only an expression of the rights of a free Ukrainian people. It may be the main earliest document in modern Ukrainian intellectual history. The constitution is probably also the oldest constitution in the world of the modern era. The first Ukrainian constitution confirmed the status of the “ancient Cossack nation” and its century long struggle for freedom and independence. It guarantees the supremacy of a Kyiv metropolitan. A large number of the rights of the Cossacks are provided for as well as the protection by the king of Sweden. In 1714 around 40 of the Ukrainians in Moldavia left for exile together with Swedes returning home. The journey across Europe first ended in Stralsund (Swedish Pommerania) in May 1715. Later that year to avoid capture Hetman Orlyk and the Ukrainians (including parts of the government) left Stralsund by ship for Ystad, Sweden. Orlyk and family came to reside in the fortress city of Kristianstad in southern Sweden 1716 to 1719 while his government continued to Stockholm. During 1719 to 1720 Orlyk joined them in the Swedish capital. The Ukrainian government-in-exile in Stockholm was supported by the Swedish government of Frederic I and especially by the prominent Swedish politician Daniel von Höpken. The latter aided Orlyk and his ministers financially and most likely with living quarters. In June 1720 von Höpken in a letter advised the king that Orlyk should be financially supported and be given the opportunity to leave Sweden to continue the fight for freedom and independence of Ukraine and lead the Ukrainian Cossacks against Russia. In January 1719 Orlyk had been greatly encouraged by the Treaty of Vienna between Austria, Hannover and Saxony against Russia and its aggressive policy in Eastern Europe. In a last letter dated Stockholm October 10, 1720, Orlyk wrote in Latin to King Frederic I that when leaving Sweden he first planned to visit the King of Great Britain, then Vienna and after that via Hungary go further east. In foreign policy Orlyk’s best hope was King George I of Great Britain. He was willing to go to war against Russia but in the end could find no partners. British naval squadrons entered the Baltic Sea from 1719 to 1721 but could not attack Russian ports. The result was that George I advised Frederic I to conclude peace with Peter I on what terms he could. At Nystad in 1721, however, the question of Ukraine’s freedom and independence was not on the agenda of the Swedish negotiators. The Bendery constitution of 1710 remains as a monument to Ukraine’s first main attempt to break away from Russian domination. Full freedom and independence of Ukraine was finally achieved in 2014.

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