Sergei Belyakov on the settlement of Novorossiya

Sergei Belyakov, the historian and literary critic from Yekaterinburg, was the runner-up for the Russian Big Book Prize in 2013 with his biography, Gumilev, the Son of Gumilev.

I have yet to read it, but the only mainstream review I have seen, by Anna Narinskaya of Kommersant, says the book veers into boredom because Belyakov is too dispassionate and too willing to hear both sides of every debate. “[S]triving not to lose the balance of fairness, he has no time to turn aside to what is interesting,” such as the inordinate popularity of Lev Gumilev’s views, conveniently simplified and bastardized, in the late 1980s and the 1990s. This is a major plus, rather than a drawback, to me: I’m aware of those sh*tstorms so I’d rather read about the man whose ideas launched the multitude of fans.

Belyakov had another work published in 2016: Mazepa’s Shadow: the Ukrainian Nation in Gogol’s Era. As I’m reading it, I’ve reached the chapter dealing with the early colonization/settlement of Novorossiya. Since I wrote a few posts on this in 2014-15, a few quotes from Belyakov seem appropriate to complement my amateurish research. For the most part, he is reliant on the large body of literature published in the pre-, post-, and Soviet periods, including Dmitry Bagaley’s and Vladimir Kabuzan’s work on the settlement of Novorossiya.

Granting that the Germans were the best grain farmers, the Russian Old Believers the best vegetable growers, the Bulgarians the best gardeners, and that the Greeks and Armenians dominated trade, still the country was 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 regions close. In contrast, Ukrainians lived nearby. It was they who started transforming Novorossiya into Southern Ukraine.

The passage above refers to the 18th century and possibly the early 19th. Mentioned below, Bakhmut was known as Artemovsk/Artyomovsk/Artemivsk from 1923 until earlier this year. The 100,000-something town is in the Donetsk oblast but on the Ukrainian side of the demarcation line, close enough so it was shelled by the DNR in 2015.

Here is data on the Bakhmut district [uyezd]. This is the eastward edge of Novorossiya. The Bakhmut settlement had been known since as early as the 16th century but became a town only in 1701-03, when a fortress was built there as ordered by Peter I. Bakhmut residents were mostly engaged in salt making. In 1701, Bakhmut’s population consisted of 36 Russians, two Don Cossacks and 112 “Cherkassians,” that is, Ukrainian Cossacks. They belonged to the Izyum regiment, one of the regiments of the Sloboda Ukraine. By 1719 (data from to the first census), the tiny townlet had grown and Russian settlements had spread around it. Now Minor Russians only made up 20% of its population. But going forward, the inflow of Ukrainian peasants much exceeded the Russian inflow, and as soon as 1763, Russians and Moldovans were tied for the second place (9.8% Russians and 9.9% Moldovans) while Ukrainians made up 78.6% of the population of what would later become the Bakhmut district. This in a region that is relatively close to Greater Russian governorates.

To be continued.


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