Pylyp Orlyk's Constitution

Vitaliia Tomakhiv
April 16, 2024
Let's embark on a journey through the corridors of history as we delve into the extraordinary life of Pylyp Orlyk and the profound significance of Pylyp Orlyk's Constitution. Step back in time to explore the visionary document penned by one of Ukraine's most illustrious statesmen.

Pylyp Orlyk

Pylyp Orlyk was born on October 21, 1672, in the village of Kosuti (now the territory of Belarus) into a family of Czech origin. He became a Ukrainian political and military figure, General Clerk and Hetman of the Zaporizhzhya Army (in exile), publicist and diplomat, co-author of Pacts and of the Constitution of the Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhzhya Army — a constitutional act that is considered the first Ukrainian Constitution dated 1710.

Father, Stepan Orlyk, died in the battle of Khotyn during the Polish-Ottoman war, when Pylyp was barely a year old, so his son was raised by his mother, Iryna Orlyk from the Malakhov family. The father was a Catholic, but she baptized Philip according to the Orthodox rite.

Pylyp Orlyk was extremely talented in languages and knew eight European languages, as well as ancient Greek and Latin. He studied at the Jesuit Vilnius Academy and the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, where his teacher was professor of philosophy Stefan Yavorskyi. On his recommendation, he became a scribe of the Kyiv Spiritual Consistory, and in a short time he was invited to the General Military Office in Baturyn.

Portrait of King Charles XII. Johan David Schwartz, 1706
The first page of the Bendery Constitution (Latin-language version, National Archives of Sweden). The tile reads: Latin: Contenta Pactorum inter Ducem et Exercitum Zaporoviensem conventorum, in Compendium brevi Stylo collecta

In 1702 (according to other sources, in 1706) he became the General Clerk of the Zaporizhzhya Army, a confidant of Hetman Ivan Mazepa. He supported the hetman in his plans to join the alliance with the Swedes against Peter I, on his behalf he corresponded with Charles XII.

After the defeat of the Swedes in the battle near Poltava, together with the hetman, the Cossack foreman and the Cossacks, he retreated to Bender, to the territory of the Ottoman Empire. These "Mazepins", as historians later called them, were the first Ukrainian political emigration.

After Mazepa's death, on April 5, 1710 (April 16 in some sources), at a joint council of elders and Cossacks, with the participation of representatives of the Ottoman Sultan and Swedish King Charles XII, Philip Orlyk was elected hetman (in exile).

At the same time, the "Pacts and Constitutions of the Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhzhya Army" were promulgated, also known as the Bender Pacts or the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk. It prescribed the system of the Hetmanate after its future liberation and separation from Russia. In particular, the borders of the Hetmanship were determined in accordance with the Treaty of Zboriv in 1649. The hetman was supposed to protect the integrity and inviolability of the territory of Ukraine, and the creation of an elected supreme body - the General Council, which received the right to "give advice" to the hetman in the most important matters - was also foreseen. The King of Sweden acted as protector and guarantor of the inviolability of the laws of the Constitution. There were also paragraphs that prohibited bribery and established the election of positions and restrictions on the abuse of senior government officials. There was also a clause that protected the rights of Cossack widows and women while their husbands were at war or on a campaign.

Hetman Pylyp Orlyk

Throughout his life, Pylyp Orlyk never gave up hope of defending the independence of Ukraine and liberating it from Moscow's oppression. Having secured the support of Sweden and the Ottoman Empire, in 1711, with a 16,000-strong army consisting of Zaporozhians, Bujat Tatars, Swedes, and Poles under the command of Józef Pototsky, he began a liberation campaign for Ukraine.

Orlyk was supported by many Ukrainians on the Right Bank. Along the way, he sent out proclamations in which he explained the threats to Moscow's domination and called for a fight. In March, after several victorious battles, Orlyk's army approached Bila Tserkva and began a siege.

And then the unexpected happened. The Tatars, tired of the long siege, disembarked and returned home, plundering Ukrainian villages on their way and taking away a large yasir. Right-bank Cossacks who joined Orlyk rushed to save their families and take revenge for the insult. In a short time, 3,000 of the 16,000-strong army remained, with which Orlyk was forced to retreat to Bender.

He spent the next 30 years in exile, trying to find support for the idea of Ukrainian state from the rulers of France, Great Britain, the Vatican, Saxony, and Prussia. But it was impossible to do this without a strong army. Later, his son, Grihyr Orlyk, tried to unite European monarchs in an anti-Moscow coalition.

"Orlyk tried to use every opportunity, every international conflict in the east of Europe, just to put the Ukrainian issue on the agenda. But all the efforts of the great Ukrainian patriot were in vain. After the Poltava victory, the Muscovite kingdom became a powerful state that took a leading place in northern and eastern Europe," wrote historian Dmytro Doroshenko.

Historian Volodymyr Zamlynskyi characterized the "Pylip Orlyk Constitution" as follows: "French educators did not even dare to develop the civic ideas that were laid down in it. For the first time in Europe, a real model of a free, independent state based on the people's natural right to freedom and self-determination was developed, a model based on hitherto unknown democratic principles of public life. It should be noted that it is unlikely that such a document could have been produced by Orlyk and the foreman alone. Everything indicates that it contained Mazepa's own thoughts cultivated over a long life."

Pylyp Orlyk died on May 24, 1742 in the then capital of Moldova, Iasi (capital of back that time). In addition to the Constitution, he left behind several collections of poems in Polish and "Traveler's Diary" in Polish and French, which he kept from 1720 to 1733.

Pylyp Orlyk was among the first Ukrainians who fled their native land for political reasons. He lived in Sweden, Austria, and the Czech Republic. On the territory of Turkey in Thessaloniki, he lived from 1722 to 1734 under the supervision of the Turkish authorities. He also lived for some time in the territory of modern Moldova and Romania. But even abroad, he considered himself a hetman and continued his state-building activities and struggle for independence.

He defended the idea of Ukraine's independence until his death, and sought support from European states. Although Pylyp Orlyk was not born in Ukraine and died abroad.