An incongruous claim II


November 8, 2014 by AK

Continuing from part I, I’m going to focus on a misstatement that may not be important compared with Putin’s other claims but I’d still like to talk about it. “This land [Novorossiya] included Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Nikolayev, Kherson and Odessa Region,” said Putin.

Kharkov, or Kharkiv in Ukrainian, has little to do with Novorossiya. The Kharkiv-Sumy-Belgorod area is sometimes called Slobozhanschina or the Sloboda Ukraine (note that Belgorod is in Russia). This map seems helpful, although I cannot vouchsafe for its accuracy. Once a sparsely populated frontier of the Russian tsardom, Slobozhanschina was largely settled in the second half of the 17th century by Ukrainian Cossacks fleeing Poland-Lithuania for Russia during the Khmelnitsky wars and the so-called Ruin. Therefore by the mid-18th century, when the Russian government began its efforts to colonize Novorossiya, most of Slobozhanschina had a sizable – by frontier standards – permanent population.

For about 100 years ending in 1765, the Sloboda Ukraine enjoyed a degree of autonomy and self-government while its Cossacks served as the Russian tsar’s frontier troops – on guard mostly against raids by Crimean Tatars. In fact, the north of the Lugansk oblast – currently under Ukrainian control – is properly part of Sloboda rather than Novorossiya. For example, Starobelsk or Starobilsk was founded in 1598 as a Russian frontier fortress but became part of the territory settled by the Ostrogozh Cossack regiment – formerly Ukrainian Cossacks in Polish service. Interestingly, the town of Ostrogozhsk itself, the regimental capital, is now in Russia, probably because it was historically on the Russian side of the Belgorod line, an exception among Sloboda townships.

In contrast to Starobelsk, Lugansk (Luhansk) did not exist as a proper settlement before 1795, when Charles Gascoigne set up an iron foundry there, and was officially recognized as a town as late as 1884. In 1733-1775, the land now occupied by the city was part of Zaporozhye’s Kalmius district, a large and almost unpopulated steppe. Here’s an interesting list of early Cossack settlements, some seasonal, and makeshift fortresses in the Kalmius district: none of them came close to a real town.


  1. […] final write-up on Putin’s Valdai hisitoricizing, following parts 1, 2, 3. The “lands wrongly handed over to Ukraine” meme seems to go back to the […]

  2. […] mostly settled by Ukrainians from the Poltava and Chernigov governorates, as well as from the Slobozhanschina and the right bank of the Dnieper. After all, Germany was far away, nor were Greater Russian […]

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