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The First Ukrainian Who Circumnavigated the Earth


Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese navigator who was the first to circumnavigate the globe. The first Ukrainian who performed this feat was Yury Lysyansky. Natalya Mykhailova has probed into the past to see who this Ukrainian was and what circumstances brought him to the sea, and now she tells the readers what she has discovered.


Itis but natural to begin a story of ones life from mentioning where and when the protagonist of the story was born. We shall not break this enduring tradition though we realize that in the world of such rapid changes such a tradition may seem a bit outdated.

Yury Lysyansky was born in the town of Nizhyn on August 13, 1773.

Nizhyn is proud to list a number of prominent personalities who were born, lived or studied there. Among them were Mykola (Nikolai) Gogol, the 19th-century Ukrainian writer and the great classic of Russian literature; Ivan Mazepa, the hetman who fought for Ukrainian independence but lost the decisive battle in 1708.

Yury Lysyanskys father was a priest of old Cossack extraction. He managed to win the status of a nobleman, and thought that his son should be educated at the Navy Cadet Corps in St Petersburg. Yury must have expressed a wish to go to sea and his father obliged.

Yury proved to be a diligent and successful student and his progress in studies put him at the top of his class. He made friends with a student of German extraction, Adam Johann Krusenstern, who preferred to be addressed as Ivan. Yury and Ivan stayed close friends until the end of their studies.

They both joined the Navy and fought bravely in naval engagements during the Russo-Swedish war of 17881790, in the Battle of Sitka, in particular.

Both Yury and Ivan rose through the ranks and distinguished themselves enough to be noticed by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. She thought that the two young officers should continue their training and studies in Britain, then the strongest naval power in the world.

In Britain

Lysyansky stayed in Britain for over five years. During 1793-1799 he sailed British ships to many parts of the globe. Once, during one of the voyages, his ship found herself in need of repairs, and she docked at one of the ports of the US eastern coast. Lysyansky used the opportunity to travel and visited Boston, Philadelphia and New York.

He was fascinated with the social and political organization of the country, which, in his opinion, was supported and guaranteed by the efficient administration, effective laws and high morality.

Quakers of Philadelphia made a particularly lasting impression on him. It was in Philadelphia, in 1795, that he was honored with being granted an audience with George Washington, the first president of the United States of America.

Lysyansky found Washington to be an earnest, open and friendly person.

On the way back to Britain, the ship Lysyansky was on, visited the Cape of Good Hope and he had a chance to learn a lot about the way of life of the Dutch colonists there.

Next, they made landfall on the coast of India and stayed there for three months. And again Lysyansky used the opportunity to see as much of the country as he could. There was enough time to see the country, and Indian nature and the people seemed to be very exotic and unusual.

In 1799, the ship he served on, went on a journey to Australia, the continent exploration of which was just beginning.

On his return to Britain, Lysyansky hoped to stay in service and carry on further journeys, but in the early nineteenth century the political situation in Europe showed signs of approaching wars, and the then Emperor Pavel I, whose good judgment and even mental stability was often questioned, severed diplomatic relations with Britain and ordered all the Russian subjects there to immediately return to Russia.

In Russia

Russia made attempts to establish her colonies in North America in the eighteenth century, and small Russian settlements did start to appear in Alaska and on the western coast of what today is the United States.

Ivan Krusenstern worked out a plan of a naval expedition around the globe which would, among other places, visit Alaska, but nobody high enough in the imperial hierarchy seemed to be interested.

But then a high-ranking official, Nikolai Rezanov entered the scene. He had risen high back in the time of Catherine the Great, and strengthened his standing by marrying a daughter of Gregoriy Shelikhov, who was one of the three major traders in fur between Russia and the Aleutian Islands.

Rezanov went further and founded the Russian-American Company, among whose stockholders were members of the Russian Imperial family.

A curious aside: Back in the 1980s, one of the first soviet rock operas, Yunona and Avos, was based on the fictionalized life story of Nikolai Rezanov, the central theme being his love for a young American girl they meet and part, and the protagonist dies tragically; the disconsolate girl waits for her paramour for thirty years and then takes the veil and the vow of silence.

As a matter of fact, there is some historical truth behind the story.

And now we go back to our story about Lysyansky and the circumstances which put him aboard the ship that would circumnavigate the globe.

Rezanov was appointed by the Russian Emperor Alexander I to be his envoy to Japan. At that time, the idea of an expedition to circumnavigate the globe was very much on the agenda and the czar offered Rezanov to head the expedition he must have thought it would be a dignified way for Rezanov, the imperial envoy, to arrive in Japan.

Rezanov accepted the offer, probably hoping that the journey and his new post in a far-away country would help distract from mourning the tragic loss of his wife who had died in delivery of a child.

The two captains of the two ships that were to sail, were to be Krusenstern and Lysyansky. The ships, sloops-of-war, had been purchased from Britain and were christened Nadezhda (Hope) and Neva (for the Neva River).

The ships sailed from Krondstadt, a Russian military base on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic, not far from the capital, St Petersburg.

From Krondstadt to Hawaii

Lysyansky was a captain who, on top of his good knowledge of the sea and of all else that a captain should know, took a good care of his crew, making sure that enough food and water and other necessary things were stocked for the journey. He saw to it that the living conditions of the crew were tolerable and he treated them with respect and respect they reciprocated.

The trip across the Atlantic, the crossing of the Equator, which was celebrated on board in a traditional colorful ceremony, was not free of tense moments but the ship was spared severe tests of violent storms.

The Neva successfully reached Cape Horn, the southernmost point of South America that extends into Drake Passage, and passed through the Antarctic strait from the South Atlantic into the South Pacific. It was during that passage in the usually turbulent strait that the two ships got separated and lost sight of each other.

Lysyanskys Neva sailed on and found herself in the vicinity of Easter Island, a place of mysteries. The island was named by a Dutch explorer who landed there on Easter Day in 1722.

It is a rich site of the megaliths and the only source of evidence of a form of writing in Polynesia.

Very little is known about the people who made the megaliths, and Lysyansky must have wondered too who created those huge sculptures. He conducted astronomical observations and introduced corrections into the geographical coordinates of the islands location which, before him, had been established by the English captain James Cook earlier in the eighteenth century.

It was only at the Polynesian island of Nuka Hiva that Lysyanskys ship sighted Krusensterns Nadezhda, and from there they sailed on together to the Hawaiian Islands.

During their stay there, Lysyansky tried to learn, the way he did in all of his journeys, as much as possible about the life of the locals, their customs and religion. He even compiled a dictionary of one of the local languages. He went to see the beach at Kealakekua, the place where James Cook had been slain by the Polynesian natives. Lysyanskys visit did not stir any trouble.

Krusensterns Nadezhda sailed on to Kamchatka and then to Japan, and Lysyanskys Neva sailed to Alaska. Lysyansky made landfall at the Island of Kodiak, the largest island of the Kodiak archipelago, in the Gulf of Alaska. The archipelago had been explored about 1762 by a Russian fur trader, Stepan Gottov. The first Russian colony in North America was founded in 1784 at Three Saints Bay, on southeastern Kodiak Island, and until 1804 the colony was the center of Russian activity in Alaska. In 1867, when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, Kodiak became an American possession.

Lysyansky arrived at the time of trouble. The guns of his sloop-of-war played a decisive role in defeating the hostile Tlingit natives in the Battle of Sitka. Afterwards, the trading station of the Russian-American Company got renamed into Novoarkhangelsk.

Lysyansky was scandalized to discover that the Native Americans were badly treated by the Russian traders and colonists. The trade, he thought, was unfair for costly furs they were paid with tobacco, beads and all sorts of cheap bric-a-brac, but his protestations fell on deaf ears.

With precious furs as its cargo, the Neva sailed to China where, at one of the ports, Lysyansky was to meet Krusenstern.

On the way to his destination, Lysyansky discovered a small island whose only inhabitants were seals (called Hawaiian monk seals) and sea turtles. It happened on October 15 1805. The island was named after Yury Lysyansky (spelled Lisiansky Island).

Lisianski Island (in Hawaiian it is called Papaapoho) is one of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with a land area of almost 156 hectares (384.425 acres) and a maximum elevation of 12 meters (40 feet above sea level. It is a low, flat sand and coral island about 905 nautical miles (1,676 km) northwest of Honolulu. Linked to Lisianski are also the extensive shoals which are called Neva Shoals. Access to this volcanic island is limited by helicopter or by boat to a narrow sandy inlet on the southeastern side of the island.

Lysyansky reported the Island to be of little interest, except its surrounding reefs and shoals that posed a threat to passing vessels.


In November of 1805, the two ships at last met and from Macau they sailed first to Canton (Guangzhou) together and then back home across the Indian Ocean, around the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip of Africa. On the way back home, the ships separated in dense fog. In early 1806, the Russian and French relations were openly hostile and both captains tried to avoid encountering French warships.

Krusenstern chose to sail around the British Isles choosing a northern route and Lysyansky risked sailing on to Portsmouth in Britain. It took his ship 142 days to get from Canton to Portsmouth, a record at that time.

It was only in August 1806 that Lysyanskys Neva arrived at Krondstadt. Krusenstern arrived there two days later.

For this feat Lysyansky was awarded in various ways, including the decoration with the Order of Saint Vladimir of 3rd degree.

Krusenstern returned to civilian life and became one of the founders of the Russian Geographic Society, but Lysyansky continued to serve in the Imperial Navy. For his excellent captainship, he was presented a golden sword by the Neva crew.

Lysyansky wrote a book about his travels with his circumnavigation trip taking the central part of his story. He failed to get money from the state to get the book published (the language of his narrative was deemed to be not academic enough, plus some of the high-ranking officials of the Russian-American Company who had a grudge against him for some of his utterances) and had to pay for the publication with his own money.

Lysyansky retired from the navy in 1809. His book appeared in 1812 and was the first treatise in Russian about Hawaii.

In 1824 he went on a visit to the town of Nizhyn in Ukraine and at the hymnaziya of which he had been a student, he was given a heros welcome.

Lysyansky died on March 6, 1837 and was buried at Lazarev Cemetery of the St Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St Petersburg.

The fame of Krusenstern overshadowed Lysyansky, who in fact should be given credit, in equal measure with Krusenstern, for being one of the two first captains who circumnavigated the globe.

A number of places are named after Lysyansky: Lisianski Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands; a peninsula of Baranof Island, Alaska; a bay; a strait; a river; a cape in North America; an undersea mountain in Okhotsk Sea (discovered in the 1959s), and a peninsula by the Okhotsk Sea.




Admiral Yury Lysyansky. A portrait by Volodymyr Borovykovsky. 1810.


The bust of Yury Lysyansky in the town of Nizhyn.


Ivan (Adam Johann) Krusenstern. A portrait by an unknown artist. Mid 19th century.


The sloops-of-war Nadezhda (Hope) and Neva. A painting by Yevgeniy Voyshvillo and Borys Starodubtsev. 1986.


The map that shows the route of the first Russian expedition that circumnavigated the globe in 18031806; the expedition was captained by Ivan Krusenstern and Yury Lysyansky.


The Ukrainian postage stamp released in commemoration of Yury Lysyansky.


One of the Hawaiian monk seals near the island named after Yury Lysyansky.


Lisianski Island (in Hawaiian Papaa-poho) is one of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.


Lisianski (Lysyansky) Inlet, Southeast Alaska.




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