Personalities of such magnitude as hetman of Ukraine Ivan Mazepa (March 30, 1639 – September 22, 1709, “was holding” hetman’s mace since July 1687), due to the peculiarities of human consciousness, are no longer ordinary human, mortal men with their virtues and vices, victories and failures. They often, even if unintentionally, turn into national symbols that (and this should be stressed) are necessary because they strengthen the freedom-loving spirit of the people. Of course, there lies the danger of “intoxication” with mythologemes.
How could Mazepa (we won’t retell the major milestones of his biography, because they are known to every educated Ukrainian) combine things that seemed to be absolutely incompatible: the features of oligarch-landowner and misanthrope, a true aristocrat, “enlightened ruler” and, at the same time, loyal servant of the mad, cruel, and devilishly clever King Peter the First – Asian according to his inner principles and Europeanizer of the newly emerging empire of political coercion.
But what else could the Hetman of Ukraine, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, the companion of all possible orders, etc. do? If he wanted to survive (simply survive), he had to win the trust of the king by faithfully serving him… Because he saw how even noble boyars were tortured and executed in Moscovia, which became an empire (thanks to Ukraine!). Mazepa realized that the “vice” of history inexorably squeezed over Ukraine and there was only one, maybe the last chance for it to be released from the king the executioner, and that Ukrainian people must wait for this chance, and meanwhile they should stay faithful to the king.
The great tragedy for Ukraine was the fact that there was an insurmountable gap between educated Cossack officers, on whom, in fact, Mazepa relied, and the “peasantry,” who did not see big changes in their situation and decided that the Moscow authorities and Hetman, who served for their good for 20 years and now allied with King Charles, were all the same (!). And it turned out that relying on only the educated strata of society without having the support of ordinary people meant a sure failure. More so because Peter the First and his satrap Aleksandr Menshikov filled the Hetmanate with blood, crucifying Cossacks, who sympathized with Mazepa.
Yet Mazepa became a symbol of our dramatic history. The symbol of the struggle for independence – no wonder that imperial ideologists called all the champions of Ukraine’s liberty “Mazepa’s followers.” And they were right!