Maksym Zalizniak

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Maksym Zaliznyak

Maksym Zalizniak (Ukrainian: Максим Залізняк, Maksym Zaliznyak) (born early 1740s in Medvedivka near Chyhyryn - date and place of death unknown, after 1768) was a Zaporizhian Cossack and leader of the Koliivshchyna rebellion.


Oak of Zalizniak in Uman, Ukraine
Monument of Zalizniak in Vedmedivka, Ukraine

Zaliznyak was born in a poor peasant family. At a very young age he joined Zaporozhian Host as a mercenary.

By 1767 he had retired from Sich and became a lay brother at Motronynsky Monastery [uk] near Chyhyryn. In March he was visited by Joseph Shelest who had a letter from the Zaporozhian Kosh otaman which called all the cossacks to fight against Poland. Witnessing Polish oppression of Ukrainian peasants in right-bank Ukraine Zaliznyak left the monastery and led an uprising of over 1,000 cossacks.

He called himself a colonel of Zaporozhian Sich although the people often called him an Otaman.

The main reasons for the uprising were the brutal enforcement of new religious and social-economic laws implemented by the Polish nobility (szlachta) which was very negative regarding Orthodox Christianity.

There was a report of a "Golden bull" issued by the Russian Empress Catherine II in support of armed insurrection against non-believers, which included Roman Catholic Poles, Jews and Ukrainians who had become Uniates. The call to armed insurrection was also echoed by father Melkhysedek Zacko-Yavorsky the igumen of the Motrynsky Monastery where Zaliznyak had become a dutiful novice.

Hundreds of people responded to Zaliznyak’s call. In April 1768 Zaliznyak emerged from Motroninsky Forest and started to advance toward Uman.

Uman and Lysianka became the places of the most violent conflict during Koliivshchyna. At Uman Zaliznyak joined forces with Ivan Gonta, who was initially ordered to attack Zaliznyak. After Uman fell (see Massacre of Uman), Zaliznyak declared the reinstatement of Hetman State and himself the new Hetman. The Koliivshchyna movement overwhelmed the Poles, and they appealed to Russia for help. Fearing that the rebellion would set a spark off in left-bank Ukraine, Catherine crushed the rebels (known as "haydamaky" – see Haidamaka). Zaliznyak and Gonta were captured by Russian colonel Guriev.

As a subject of Russian Empire, Zaliznyak was kept under arrest by the Russians, unlike Ivan Gonta, who was turned over to the Poles for execution. On July 8, 1768 Zaliznyak and 73 rebels were imprisoned in Kyiv-Pechersk Fortress. At the end of the month the case was ordered to trial by Kyiv Provincial Court. The exact verdict of this trial is unknown, but in view of the fact that Zaliznyak operated outside Russian borders he and his cohorts were spared the death sentence (unlike Pugachev, for example). It is believed that the captives were sentenced to exile to Far East or Siberia. Zaliznyak was punished by severe whipping and was branded. By November 1, 1768 Zaliznyak was deported to Bilhorod. In the vicinity Ohtyrka he and 51 comrades were able to escape by disarming the guards. Most of the fugitives however, including Zaliznyak, were quickly captured. His further whereabouts are unknown.


In traditional culture of the Ukrainian people Zaliznyak lives on as a folk hero for his struggle to protect Ukrainian identity and Orthodox Christian faith. His idealized image is a subject of numerous folk songs, legends and lore.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Great Soviet Encyclopedia