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Travels of Paul from Haleba in Syria to Ukraine in mid-seventeenth century


Volodymyr Yavorivsky, a writer (and a member of parliament into the bargain) has been appearing on one of the Ukrainian radio stations with his stories about Ukrainian history twice a week for many years now. Yavorivsky’s history program continues to stand high in the popularity ratings. In this issue of our magazine we publish the text (in abridgement) of one of Yavorivsky’s broadcasts.


This time I will tell you about writings of the archdeacon Paul from Haleba in Syria, who visited Ukraine in the mid-seventeenth century and described what he saw. The twenty-five year old archdeacon traveled in company with his father, Patriarch Macarius III. They traveled all across Ukraine, then moved on to Muscovy, returned to Ukraine, went on to Moldova, reached Constantsa in Rumania and from there they sailed back to Syria.

Paul was a keen observer and he described in his writings the Ukraine of the mid-seventeenth century — the general state of things resulting from the War of Independence which was led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. I will quote passages from Paul’s travels in translation which was done by Mykola Ryaby, a writer from the town of Vinnytsya (naturally, Yavorivsky read his quotes in Ukrainian and what follows is my translation of the Ukrainian translation from the Syrian; translation of a translation usually turns out to be a distant echo of the original — tr.).

Here is how Paul describes what he saw in Uman: “We were taken to see a majestic church with a dome which was covered with green shingles. Though the church is built of wood, it is big and spacious inside. The walls are decorated with murals. The church is lit inside with oil lamps and wonderful green candles. The bell tower is a magnificent sight too. The singers in the choir of the church sing looking into the sheet music and they sing so loudly that the church seems to be filled with the rumble of thunder… When the faithful sing prayers, they do it in such a way that their singing sounds as though an organ were playing. Uman is the first big town we visited in the Land of Cossacks. The houses are tall and well kept; the windows are glazed with glass of many colors; in some of the buildings we saw icons through the windows. The people in the streets of Uman wear colorful clothes. A majority of the local community used to be made up of Poles, Jews and Armenians. Now there are nine churches in Uman, all of them nice looking, with tall domes… When the town was under the Poles, it was considered to be a central, important place with many palaces of the Poles that look like royal residences… When the patriarch traveled along the road, the peasants working in the fields spotted his carriage with the cross on it and they abandoned whatever they were doing and rushed to the patriarch to get his blessing. When people, the priest included, mention The Virgin Mary, they take off their hats… Everybody we met on the way showed great respect…Everywhere we went we were welcomed and hospitably received. We were provided with food and everything else we needed… In this country the summer seems to be lasting until October, and we were much amazed to see flowers in abundance at such time of the year.”

I wish Paul’s book, Ukraine, The Country of Cossacks, were read widely in Ukraine — Ukrainians would learn so much new about the past of their native land. We have but a few books like Paul’s. Here is Paul’s description of his and his father’s visit to the town of Mankivka in the Land of Cherkashchyna: “We were met at the outskirts of the town and greeted, in accordance with the local tradition, with loaves of bread… After the church service, we went on foot to the place which was offered to us for our accommodation… In the Land of Cossacks there is no wine — instead people use a drink made out of barley. It proved to taste good and we drank it too. This barley drink is good for the stomach and it is very refreshing in hot weather. There is also mead which inebriates you. Horilka is a strong alcoholic beverage which is made from rye — there is enough grain to make a lot of it, and that is why horilka is cheap. In addition to horilka, beer is also made in the Land of Cossacks … Everywhere we went we were expected — letters warning of our arrival were sent from place we traveled. People showed great respect for the patriarch, taking off their hats and kissing the patriarch’s hand… In the central square there is a most splendid palace. It seems to have been carved out of an enormously huge, ancient tree which no fire could destroy. As I discovered later, the palace is made of oak beams and bars which are fit together so tight, with not even the tiniest cracks between them and because of that the walls seem to have been carved from single piece of wood… There are so many rooms in the palace that one can easily get lost wandering through them, and the number of windows is great too… There are stoves to keep this palace warm in winter, and the chimneys are as high as cypresses… I climbed to the top floor of the palace from where I could see a long way into the distance. There is a lot of beautiful carvings in the rooms of the palace… Later we went to see the church that the Cossacks call St Michael’s. When we were there the domes were being restored. The size of the church, its architecture and splendor make it one of the most perfect churches I’ve ever seen… The gilded carving inside looks as though it is made of gold… In the Land of Cossacks we found no people who would be of any other faith rather than Orthodox. People are pious, zealous and true Orthodox Christians… The Cossacks, after delivering themselves from bondage, live in joy and freedom. They have built cathedrals, decorated them with icons, with iconostases of heavenly beauty, with banners and crosses. Even in small villages churches are all very nice looking. People are eager to study, to read books and to sing melodic church hymns…

After a short trip, we arrived at another big town which lies beyond a range of hills. It is a fortified place, and there is a fortress that sits on top of one of the hills. In the valley, there is a big pond, and on the dyke there sit four water mills — the water falls on huge wheels and these rotating wheels turn the mills that grind grain. The windmills also set in motion other kinds of mechanisms for pressing and crushing things… The name of that town is Buky.”

At present, Buky is a village of a great scenic beauty, with picturesque peasant houses and with an atmosphere that reminds one of Cossack freedom.

“Throughout our stay in the Land of Cossacks we were provided with carriages, wagons and horses for moving from place to place… When we were in the town of Lysyanka, we sent letters to Hetman Zinoviy Khmelnytsky, may God protect him, who had his quarters four miles from Lysyanka, informing him of our progress… We passed through a large stretch of virgin forest, then through a valley between two hills…On both sides of the road we saw neat houses — evidently all these households were well-tended. The valley was partitioned by mill dams and dykes with big ponds between them. The ponds, overgrown with water plants, swarmed with fish. The watermills, whose wheels are in constant motion making a lot of noise, are everywhere. The households amazed us by the abundance of domestic fowls — chickens, geese and ducks. We also saw a lot of pheasants, even close to the human settlements… There are no dangerous predators lurking in the forest, and no venomous snakes with the exception of adders… Because of the country’s prosperity there are no robbers or other criminals among the Cossacks… We were constantly amazed at their well-being — in almost every house we visited we saw the signs of comfortable life. We were also amazed at the number of children in each household — at least ten. The age difference between them is just one year; and if lined up they would differ in size as though they were standing on the rungs of a ladder. Many of them are fair-haired… Many households, may God protect them, have all kinds of domestic animals in addition to fowls — horses, cows, goats, and pigs. Some houses have dovecots in the attic. The dogs that protect the households and the animals are rather fierce. We were amazed by the number of various kinds of breeds of pigs that we saw — there were speckled, black, pink, reddish, yellowish and grayish pigs; some were even striped… Every household has a garden with cherry, plum and apple trees growing there. The vegetable gardens have patches of cabbage, carrots, reddish, parsley and other vegetables and green things…. After a journey of several miles we reached the fortified town of Bohuslav. We crossed the river called Ros in boats. The priests, the children’s choir and the faithful were already waiting for us… We were told that the Hetman would come to greet the patriarch and we went to meet him at the fortress where he was to stay. The hetman arrived at the town gate with a long train of his retinue and warriors. It would be difficult to recognize him among the richly dressed retainers who had valuable weapons on them — the hetman wore a simple Cossack jacket with many buttons, comfortable to ride a horse in, and at his belt hang regular side arms…”

Such glimpses of the past provided by an impartial observer who described what he saw rather than used hearsay, vividly bring to life what in history books is often hardly more than dry accounts.






Bulos ibn az-Zaima al-Halebi (Paul from Halebi)

from Syria, Archdeacon and the son

of the Patriarch Macary III, who authored

a travelogue about his trip to the Cossack Ukraine.

Drawing by Mykhailo Chorny. 1654.


Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East Macary III

holding a cross in one hand and a crosier in

the other, blesses Ukraine, the Land of the Cossacks,

in the town of Rashkiv, June 10 1654.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Bohdan Khmelnytsky, hetman who led the Cossacks

in the Ukrainian War of Independence in

the middle of the seventeenth century.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Paul of Halebi writes that Cossacks have many

children. The drawing by Ivan Hryshchuk shows

Cossacks children at a church in the village

of Subotiv in the Land of Cherkashchyna

in August 1654 which was a feast day.


The town of Zhabokrych (now a village in the Land

of Vinnychyna) which was visited by

Patriarch Macary and his son Paul

in June 1654. Paul writes that the town was

girded by three circles of defensive walls.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Semen Orhiyanenko, a Cossack colonel from the town

of Uman who welcomed Patriarch Macary and

his son Archdeacon Paul to the town of Uman in

the spring of 1654; the colonel was well known

for his taking part in the heroic defense of Uman.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Ivan Bohun, a legendary commander of

the Cossack troops, who, alongside a number of

other Cossack leaders, refused to swear

allegiance to Muscovy.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Filon Dzheozhaly, a Cossack leader of Tartar

descent, who fought in many battles in the War

of Independence in Ukraine, and who refused

to swear allegiance to Muscovy.

Drawing by Valentyn Tyshetsky.


Paul of Halebi writes that Cossacks have many

children. The drawing by Ivan Hryshchuk shows

Cossacks children going to a church in the village

of Subotiv in the Land of Cherkashchyna

in August 1654 which was a feast day.


Tymish Khmelnytsky, one of the sons of

Bohdan Khmelnytsky, at the age of twenty-five;

he commanded a Cossack unit in the Battle of

Batoh in June 1652, in which Polish troops were

routed. Tymish, being a sturdy warrior,

had a lyrical heart and could play the bandura,

a Ukrainian traditional instrument, and

sing songs. Drawing by Ivan Hryshchuk.


Rolanda, the daughter of the Moldavian ruler

Vasyl Lupul, who Tymish Khmelnytsky fell

in love with at first sight. In her turn, she fell

in love with Tymish too and married him.

After his death, she never remarried.

Drawing by Ivan Hryshchuk.



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