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Sloboda Ukraine (Ukrainian: Слобiдська Україна, translit. Slobids'ka Ukrayina, Russian: Слобожанщина) was a historical region which developed and flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries on the southwestern frontier of the Tsardom of Russia.
The sparsely inhabited area of the Wild Fields on the south border of Muscovite Russia, immediately south of Severia, was traditionally used by the Crimean Tatars and Nogai Tatars to launch annual raids into Russian territories along the Muravsky Trail and Izyum Trail. After a number of Russo-Crimean Wars, the Russian monarchs started to encourage the settlement of the region by the Cossacks who acted as a sort of frontier guards against the raids of the Tatars.
Apart from the Cossacks, the settlers included peasants and townspeople from Right and Left-bank Ukraine, divided by the Treaty of Andrusovo in 1667. The name Sloboda Ukraine derives from the word sloboda, a Slavic term meaning freedom (or liberty), and also the name of a type of settlement. The settlers of a sloboda were freed by the Tsar from the obligation of paying taxes and fees for a certain period of time, which proved to be very enticing for settlers. By the end of the 18th century, 523 slobodas (slobody) had been settled in Sloboda Ukraine.
From 1650–1765, the territory referred to as Sloboda Ukraine became increasingly organized according to Cossack military custom, similar to that of the Zaporozhian Host and the Hetmanate. The relocated cossacks became known as Sloboda Cossacks. There were five regimental districts (polki) of Sloboda Cossacks, named after the towns of their sustained deployment, and subdivided into company districts (sotni): Ostrohozky, Kharkivsky, Okhtyrsky, Sumsky, and Izyumsky.
Under Catherine the Great, the regiments of Slobozhanshchina were disbanded and Cossack privileges were abolished by the decree of July 28, 1765. The semiautonomous region became a province (namestnichestvo), also called Sloboda Ukraine. The regimental administrations were replaced by Russian hussar regiments, and Cossack higher ranks (starshinas) were granted officership and dvoryanstvo (nobility).
In 1835, the province of Sloboda Ukraine was abolished, ceding most of its territory to the new Kharkov Governorate, and some to Voronezh and Kursk, which were under the Little Russian General Governorship of Left-bank Ukraine. The region was to be reorganized several times under Soviet Ukraine, until the borders of present-day Kharkiv Oblast were established in the 1930s.
The territory of historic Sloboda Ukraine corresponds to the territory of the present-day Ukrainian oblasts (provinces) of Kharkiv (in its entirety), and parts of the Sumy, Donetsk, and Luhansk Oblasts, as well as parts of the Belgorod, Kursk, and Voronezh Oblasts of Russia.
- Sloboda in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
- The autonomous hetman state and Sloboda Ukraine in the Encyclopædia Britannica
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