CHAPTER II

 

The people of Podolia through the age

 

A nation's history begins at the point in time when the first known event associated with its origin is recorded. The roots may lie at its creation, migration, expansion or some other episode of historical value.

This approach may vary when the object is to create the history of the country in its strictest geographical terms. While staying fixed within its borders, the study of the origination of people and cultures can provide a solid base for a history of more modern times.

The history of Podolia is the history of many peoples, nations, tribes, clans and political powers, each of which made there own contribution to its development. For its geographical location between the Prypec River marshes and the east ridge of Carpathian Mountains, it became a migratory gate for ancient people to pass through. Some of these wandering groups searched a better environment in which to live, some to increase their territorial borders, and some recognizing the economic potential of the land, remained there until pushed aside by more powerful forces.

To present the names of every migratory group would be too confusing to a clear logical and chronological presentation of their movements. Furthermore, subjecting it to numerous theories and assumptions would only add to the muddled picture. Lengthy discussions on various issues, vaguely recorded long after their occurrence, would render difficult the comprehension of the land's history. Therefore, some episodes of lesser importance will be avoided in this account.

The selection also aims at removing any information lacking in analytical logic, or which perhaps was interpreted in favor of a particular national group or groups for present political reasons. In the case of Podolia, where research of Polish scholars until the third decade of this century was almost nonexistent, and where the ancient history Russian territories was extended as far west as their political interests warranted, the selection of events, information and source material herein is well justified.

The unilateral interpretation of Podolia's ancient past by the Russians and favoring their own rendition, often lacks objectivity, especially where there are conflicting opinions which reflect a restricted comprehension of the issues. Long-running practice of such attitudes gives rise to the conviction that only Russian sources are reliable and credible. This practice became apparent to Polish scholars when the country lost its eastern territories after World War Two. Very few ever tried to present the Polish point of view in regard to the land where Poles once lived and even now maintain scant presence there.

This trend of revisionist history led to a concept that can be described as the "Russian bag."

In plain language, it means that whatever lacks explanation or benefits the Russians irrevocably passes into their history. This aggressive posture, and the passive mood of Polish post-war historians, led to abandonment of Polish interest in research of the past, and especially of such Slavic tribes as the Dulebians, Eastern Khorvats, Lendzians and Lekhs. Although the involvement of these groups in the creation of the Polish nation is unquestionable, whenever the subject is presented in texts, their locations are moved east or west, or their existence sometimes totally denied.

When reading recent publications on former Polish eastern territories, this concept appears to be in wide practice. It is evident that after the removal of Polish population to the west of present Poland, the process of the obliteration of its history in that area became a trend among Russian and Ukrainian historians. There were also some Polish scholars who, for reasons of political indoctrination or appeasement, also pursued this policy. This revisionist history is therefore nothing more than a product of political convenience and a blatant distortion of facts.

The selection of historical evidence used in this presentation is related mostly to Russian source material because of its greater availability. Since Polish historians, because of their tardy entry into the subject, have provided little documentation on the Polish family of eastern Slavs, it is necessary to resort to other sources, such as geographical nomenclature, local traditions, folklore and the logical interpretation of available evidence. These, though not in great abundance, at some point provide a different and perhaps original point of view, but it also highlights missing dimensions. They combine to support a less recognized aspect of Podolian history, the aspect that may have greater authenticity.

Thanks to the archeological research and discoveries of Prof. T. Sulimirski, who opened the secrets of prehistoric cultures, we can go back deep into the Podolian past. Prof. Sulimirski's researches take us as far back as the various Glacial periods, beginning with the lower Paleolithic Age (140,000 BCE), when life was already present in that area. Stone artifacts found by Prof. Sulimirski in West Podolia evidence this. Further evidence of local flint industry testifies to the fact that man was there during the Upper Paleolithic period. Man, as a hunter, could have come into the region from the areas of present-day Poland and could have brought with him the Swiderian culture.

Other archeological findings bear witness to the development of additional cultures common to this area, such as the North Pontic Mesolithic and the Tripolyan. The latter was confirmed by discoveries of globular amphoras in the town of Buczacz. This also proves that at the end of the Neolithic era, this section of the Pontic Steppe was comparatively well populated.

In the course of the Bronze Age (circa 1,600 BCE), several other cultures developed in different regions of Podolia at various times. The earliest unearthed by archaeologists were the earlier mentioned Globular Amphoras in Strzyzow and sub-Carpathian Barrow Graves, with corresponding findings at Bilcze Zlote, Beremiany and Rusilow. The later period provided us with the Komarow and Holihrady cultures, both named after the place of their discovery. The following step in human development is our present era, the Iron Age, which originated in that region at the time of the Cimmerian domination over the vast plains north of the Black Sea coast.

The earliest known political organization in the area, the Cimmerian Empire, did not leave us with sufficient evidence to provide a deeper and broader understanding of its 300 year history (1,000 BCE-700 BCE). Whatever information is available comes from the Greek historian Herodotus. From him we know that the Cimmerians ruled over the entire territory of the Pontic Steppe, but the presence of this Tracian group of Indo-European family in the land of future Podolia cannot be proved with any tangible evidence to corroborate Herodotus. However, it seems unlikely that the westernmost section of the plains was excluded from their control.

The following Indo-European group to arrive in the region was the Scythians, better known in history because of the documentation of Herodotus, which is backed up by tangible evidence of their civilization. After moving into the Cimmerians territory by peaceful means or military conquest they established control over what is now southern Russia , Ukraine and part of Balkans. Their presence in Podolia is evidenced by the "kurgan" graves, inherent to their culture, found in various locations in the area. The Scythians, although of nomadic nature, allowed for indigenous cultures to develop in various parts of their domain. This was the factor in the development of agriculture in the steppe North of the Black Sea, which included Podolia. This stabilization of life also gave rise to the establishment of towns and villages, thus opening the way to commerce and industry.

The Scythians were in their turn overrun by another Indo-European group from the regions of central Asia and Azow Sea, the Iranian-speaking Sarmatians. Their long existence (300 BCE-200 AD), also secured a long period of peace which was beneficial to further development of social and political order in these territories. This progress was further enhanced by the influence of the Greek culture that reached the Pontic Steppes through Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast. The combination of the two gave rise to the Greco-Iranian culture that became the unifying social and political element in this part of the world until the retrenchment of the Roman Empire.

The Greek geographer, Strabo, relates that the Sarmatians were not a homogenous group, but were divided into several lesser groups, like Ossetians, Yazyges, Alans and Antes. In the latter part of Sarmatian existence the Alans seemed to play the major role in creating their history. Much of the control over the vast territorial empire was delegated to them by some Sarmatian organization of which nothing is being known. It is also to be noted that the Sarmatians were the first people that left any permanent imprint on the future Polish nation, as the name "Sarmata" became synonymous with that of the Pole even as close to our period as pre-World War Two era.

The intensive study of Prof. Sulimirski, expert in the field of prehistoric archeology and history in pre-war southeast Poland, provided us with much information on those people who left their legacy in many areas of his country and even Europe. At the end of the first century AD, the Sarmatians expanded their influence deep into southern Europe, which eventually lead them into conflict with the Roman Empire. Defeated by the Romans in 175 AD, they were forced to retreat beyond the Danube line and to provide the victors with eight thousand man cavalry unit. These men, mainly Alans and Antes, were dispatched by the Romans to serve their captors in Great Britain and France, where their names can still be found in the local geography.

The archeological findings in Podolia near the town of Trembowla give witness to the Sarmatians long presence in that region. Proof to that effect can be found in the geographical names that extend through the southern and central Poland. The study of Polish heraldry furthermore indicates that Sarmatian signs, called "tamgas," became part of Polish tradition. In addition, Polish folklore is a viable proof of Sarmatian influence on the culture and traditions of the Slavic tribes that later formed the Polish nation.

One such tradition was the general conviction that the Sarmatians laid the foundations of Polish nobility; the other was the well known phrase that "a Polish patriot is a true Sarmatian". In the post-World War Two Poland this folklore seemed to have disappeared, which is regrettable, considering its traditional importance to the Polish nation.

As stated earlier in this text, the Sarmatians were a multi-group people, where the Iranian-speaking group, the Alans, played an important role at some time of Sarmatians existence. The Alans, while exercising direct control in the central and eastern territories of Pontic Steppe, delegated supervision of outer regions to the Antes. This clan of the "Az" group (a.k.a.) Yaz, As and Asi), like the Alans, is known to have taken it origin in the area of the Azow Sea. There is no information to prove that Alans were directly involved in the control of Podolia, but their underlings, the Antes, definitely were.

The Russian historian G. Vernadsky reports that the Antes were permanently established in the land of Volhynia, the region immediately north of Podolia. It can be assumed that as the overseer of the Slavic tribes, acting on behalf of Alans, the Antes were directly involved in the affairs of Podolia. According to Mr. Vernadsky, they enjoyed good relations with the tribes under their control. According to another source, their relations with the Slavs included intermarriage, especially between ruling families. This practice relates to the post-Sarmatian period, after their defeat by the Romans, and the vanishing of their influence on the general territory in their earlier possession.

With the disintegration of Sarmatians, lesser elements like Alans and Antes assumed rulership of various areas of the Pontic Steppe. The Antes residing in Vohlynia took full control of the area. As far as it can be established, their sphere of influence extended from the Dniestr River in the south to the Prypec basin in the north. Although the territory was rather small, they soon developed into a major power in that region. The period of their rule, according to Mr. Vernadsky, in that area is known as the "Antes Empire."

Around that time, another tribal name appears on the map of the Slavs antiquity. That tribe was called the Duleby and considered to be a Slavic tribe, although its origins were never established. According to one of the Polish historians, H. Paszkiewicz, the name Duleby evolved as a result of the Gothic invasion from the north at the end of the 3rd century AD, who passed through Volhynian and Podolian territories in their migration towards the northern shores of the Black Sea. The same Polish historian theorizes that a Slavic tribe became subjugated to the rule of a Gothic chieftain named Gotlieb. Consequently, the Slavic group was recognized as the people of Dietlieb, then Dietleby, and finally the name was slavicized to Duleby. It is a feasible explanation and therefore may be factual.

The Goth's invasion was also responsible for several major changes in the politics of the Pontic Steppe. It pressured the Antes into submission and relocated several Alan tribes further west, into the Balkan area. One of them Khorezm, another clan of Az group, originally from the area of the Azow Sea, relocated to Vohlynia. It should be noted that the ancient name of the Azow Sea was Vohlynia. We can therefore assume that the Khorezm were instrumental in naming this part of the Pontic Steppe with the name of their place of origin.

Some of the Khorezm elements who migrated further west along the slope of the Carpathian Mountains were the forerunners of the eastern and western Khorvatians (Croatians). Both of these components of the tribe played important role in the creation of the original states in the region of Upper Vistula and of the Moravian nation across the mountains. There is an historical explanation about the Croats, who reside in the Balkans. A group of them settled there as the result of an arrangement of the 7th century AD with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius. This move was meant to protect Grecian territories against the Serbs menace.

The Slavic Dulebians, after the defeat of Goths by the Alans in 376 AD, developed into a regional political power. At various times the Slavic tribes united under their leadership and attacked the towns of Illyria and Thracia, then under Byzantine rule. It was because of this political power that they themselves became the subject of aggression from the Awars in 561 AD As a result of this conflict, a great number of Dulebians were taken captive and forced to resettle in the valley of Tissa River (present-day Hungary). Some of their people, apparently fleeing from the Awars, reached the region of present-day Czechoslovakia, where their name is preserved in geographical terminology. Some must have fled as far north as Russian Smolensk, because the map shows a place of their name over there. Although Dulebian power was destroyed, some of their tribe remained in Podolia, subject to the rule of Hungarian Awars.

The Awars domination ended in 803 AD, when the Frankonians and Bulgars defeated their armies and divided their territories between themselves.

Prior to that, a new power developed in the Azow-Caucasian region, the Khazars, who had ruled the Black Sea Steppe for more than three centuries (605 AD-965 AD). Their control extended as far west as the land of Derewlans in the present Ukraine - neighboring Vohlynia. Control and collection of tributes was delegated to the Magyar clans. This new group from the east, resided mainly in the western regions of the Khazar's empire, particularly in the Kievian lands. In the 9th century, the Magyars, prior to their final migration to the present territory of Hungary, came in direct contact with the Slavic tribes of the Polish family, the Lendzians. Since that time "Lendzian" became synonymous with the name of the Poles in the Hungarian language.

With the sudden disappearance of Dulebians in the region of Podolia and Vohlynia, some new Slavic names became known in that area. In the northern part, Wohlynians, Buzans and Lendzians developed into independent tribes. In the south, the Dulebians still maintained as small presence, and further west, the East Khorvatians were gradually replaced or assimilated with the Lekhs. The presence of the latter is well-evidenced by Kievian and Arabian chronicles. The Ruthenian Primary Chronicle places the East Khorvats (Lekhs) directly in the vicinity of Polianians and Derewlans - East Podolia and Wohlynia. It also mentions Khorvat and Dulebian participation in the foray of the Kievian Prince Oleg into northern Greece (902 AD), then part of Byzantine Empire.

From the time of consolidation of the Kievian state by the Scandinavian Warengians and the establishment of the Rurick dynasty in Kiev, the Dulebians and Lekhs again became subject to foreign invasion from the east. The Kievians, after conquering the Eastern and Balkan Slavic tribes, turned westward against the Dulebians and Derewlans. In 945 AD, the Kievians were defeated by the two Slavic groups and their leader, Prince Igor, killed in the battle. In reprisal, his mother, Olga massacred the Derewlan population. Similar actions were taken against the Dulebians, who were opposed to Kievian domination. The implication was that Kievian rule was harsh and uncompromising, which may also explain the disappearance of the Dulebians from that region. Their only vestige was in the geographical nomenclature, which was still in evidence until World War Two. It stretched in line from Kovel in the north (Vohlynia) to the town of Stryj in the south (the sub-Carpathian region).

Some recent Russian and Ukrainian historians claim that the extinct Dulebians were once a Slavic tribe which became part of their nations. This claim seems to be void of supporting evidence and even contradictory to information provided by their own chronicles. In the analysis of the source material by the contemporary historian H. Paszkiewicz, this assumption originated no earlier than 12th or 13th centuries, long after the tribal names had become absolute. It appears that the Russians and Ukrainians to support more recent territorial claims in the past historical perspective raised both this issue. It openly contradicts information contained in the Ruthenian Primary Chronicle, which nowhere classifies Vohlynia and Podolia as lands of the Kievian Slavs. In addition, the Kievian chronicler Nestor never mentions Dulebians as a tribe belonging to Ruthenian (Kievian) family of Slavic tribes. Furthermore the strong social and political ties of the Dulebians and East Khorvats, dating back as far as Khorezm times, indicate that when pressed by the Kievians, they melded together under the name of Khorvats, identical with the later Lekhs.

After the Dulebians and East Khorvats waned in the region that was later known as Podolia, the name of the Lekhs became well established. This name change was a general application to all Slavic tribes sharing common ethnic and linguistic roots. According to Russian historian Nicholas Riasanowsky, all Southern Slavs (which to him refers to Slavs residing south and west of the Kievian state) had common language. This was also the language used by the Slavs residing in the territory that would become Poland. Therefore, the term "Lekhs" was commonly used by Ruthenians and contemporary traveling Arabian merchants in reference to all Slavic tribes of the Polish family.

The original Lekh territory, apart from Poland, extended far east, along the northern slopes of the Carpathian mountains and basin of the Dniestr River to the lower run of the Boh River, almost reaching the Black Sea shore. This entire area was known to the Arabs as Lekhistan, and later to the Armenians as Lakhistan. The Kievian Primary Chronicle also use the expression "Land of the Lekhs." This territory, although having gone through only a minimal ethnic changes, had its geographical nomenclature changed on several occasions. Its former names include "Grody Czerwienskie" (most western part), "Land of Tyvercy and Uhliche" (the eastern section), later evolving into "Podniestrze" - land along the Dniestr River) and "Poboze" (land along the lower Boh). Podniestrze for some unknown reason acquired the name "Ponize," which under Tartar occupation changed to "Podole" (Podolia). It should be noted that all these names are of Polish origination, strong evidence of Polish ethnicity of the people in the area.

Most of the history of the peoples of the region originates from the Kievian Primary Chronicle. From this source, it can be determined that these people existed as an independent Slavic group, strongly opposed to the aggressive tendencies of their Kievian neighbors. The earliest evidence points to the fact that the entire area south of Kiev was known as the Land of Tyvercy and Uhliche, peoples who built strong wooden forts to protect their agrarian population from foreign aggression. This aggression can be none else but the Ruthenians from Kiev. Further proof of their independent posture is found in the texts which relate to the expedition of the Kievian Prince Oleg against Greece (907 AD), in which Tyvercys and the Uliches participated in no other role than his allies. They are also mentioned in the chronicle relating to 944 AD Since then, only the name Lekhs was commonly used by their Ruthenian neighbors.

Lekhian opposition to continuing Ruthenian aggression most likely caused the hostile attitude of the Ruthenians (later Ukrainians), towards them and all Poles in general. The traditional one-sided hate lingered through many centuries, expressed in the slogan "Smert Lacham" (death to Poles). Even in World War Two, this slogan was popular with Ukrainian nationalists, as they pursued their policy of attrition against the oppressed Poles.

The Eastern Lekhs (residing in Podniestrze and Poboze) had their history presented in some details by a 19th century Kievian historian, N. Molczanowski, in a monograph entitled "Ancient Podole to 1434". Reaching deep into Kievian chronicles, he came to the conclusion that the land of Eastern Lekhs had only been subjected to temporary Kievian rule, if they were subjected at all. It is also evident that the incursion of the Ruthenian princes into their territory had not been very deep. The first information that gives us some insight on the conquest of this territory dates to 1144 and 1156 when one of the Ruthenian princes, Wszechwolod, while fighting Waldimirek Halicki, conquered the town of Uszyca and Mikulince. This does not represent a very deep penetration of the Lekhian lands. As the Ruthenian invasion of Polish Grody Czerwienskie in 981 AD cut this land off the main body of Poles, Lekhian history after that date intertwines with the history of Altaic and Mongol invasions from the east. For the following two centuries, nomadic people like Polovtse and Tartars dominated the territory of the Eastern Lekhs.

The history of the Lekhs in Grody Czerwienskie, renamed by the Ruthenians "Red Ruthenia" (Czerwona Rus), took a different turn under the rule of the Kievian princes. Invasion of their lands did not necessarily mean that they became Ruthenian in any other way than that of a political nature. Except for the administration functions, it was an unlikely that the Kievians colonized the land or converted the local populace to their culture. At that time the Kievian state, continuously engaged in wars with Khazars, Bulgars, Pechengs and Polovtse, did not have the sufficient human resources to effectively colonize their newly-acquired territory. It is also unlikely that in the system of serfdom and slavery, introduced to the Ruthenians with the Byzantine culture, that the migration of individuals from the Ruthenian culture to the Lekhian lands was possible. It is thus evident that Ruthenian rule was merely a military occupation, with its main purpose being the collection of tribute from the conquered people.

The harsh rule of the Kievian princes was unpopular among the Lekhs. The painfully slow process in which the Eastern Orthodox religion and the Byzantine culture took root in the area is perhaps the best example of opposition to Ruthenian rule. For instance, the first Orthodox bishopric in the area, in Halicz (the capital of the principality bearing the same name), was not founded until the second half of the 12th century, almost 200 years after the Ruthenian established themselves in that area. This opposition to eastern religion and culture also serves as evidence of a strong inclination towards Poland by the conquered Lekhs, although separated from Poland by conquest.

Grody Czerwienskie's national and cultural (and perhaps religious as well) ties to Poland were the reasons behind Polish kings' (primarily Boleslaw I and Boleslaw II) attempts to reunite this land with their kingdoms in the 10th and 11th centuries. The claim of Russian and Ukrainian historians that the Polish intervention was merely motivated by the desire of territorial expansion lacks logical support. The fact that the acquisition of land was limited to Grody Czerwienskie testifies to the contrary.

At that time, the Polish kings were in a position of power, and could have integrated the entire Kievian state into their kingdom, should they have desired to do so.

The history of Podniestrze and Poboze took a different turn, affected by invaders from the east, who also menaced the Kievian state for more than two centuries. The Kievians were the first to be subjected to invasion from the primitive Altaic-speaking nomads, the Pechengs. From 915 AD, the Pechengs carried out constant assaults against them, draining the Kievians' human and economic resources. Eventually, the Pechengs were forced by the Kievians to settle south of their territory in the area of the lower Dniestr, the Lekhian territories. The Pechengs were then pushed out of their newly-occupied lands towards the lower Danube by the nomadic Turkic-speaking invaders, the Polovtsy. In due course, these people also became a direct threat against the Kievian state. Beginning with their initial assault in 1061 AD, they plundered the Ruthenian territories until the middle of the 12th century. Eventually pushed aside by the Kievians, they settled into the Lekhian region of Podniestrze and Poboze. They also settled around Kamieniec Podolski and moved further northwest towards Jazlowiec, Buczacz and even Zloczow.

According to a brief article which appeared in Chicago's Polish-language newspaper after World War Two, the Polovtsy, following their established tradition, scrupulously recorded in writing all events leading to their western movements. The records were stored for several centuries in Kamieniec Podolski. Removed from there by the Russians in the 18th century, they were transferred to Kiev and kept in storage until World War Two. After German forces captured the city in 1941, they foolishly destroyed the records. A small part of them survived, however, and was removed to Moscow, where they allegedly remain to this day.

Strong evidence of the Polovtsy's presence in Podniestrze, Poboze and Podolia also survived in the geographical nomenclature of the Lekhian lands. After reaching the fertile land along the River Dniestr, these nomadic people abandoned their former way of life, adopting agriculture and the raising of cattle as their main occupation. In due course, they settled in various place, along the Lekhian population, that acquired names of combined language structure. The basic theme was a combination of both, Altaic and Polish languages, with Altaic roots and Polish endings like "owce," meaning "sheep" in Polish. This gave origin to the such geographical names, like Koszylowce, Trybuchowce, Ossowce and others in which the Polish ending "owce" is a constant components. Some personal names, like Polowczak and Polowczuk, were also common among the people in that area. The geographical names are also strong evidence that at that time the Kievian/Ruthenian influence on the Lekhian lands was negligible. The combined population must have continued their tradition of independence from Ruthenian princes, up to the time when new nomadic people, the Tartars, appeared on the scene.

The Polish historian, Aleksander Jablonowski, in his publication, "Ancient Podole," gives description of this interim period a detailed, but not always complete. Within this time period the Ruthenian princes, although engaged in internal wars, on some occasions made attempts to subjugate Podniestrze, being successful in some instances. One of the princes, Roman Mscislowicz, the Prince of Halicz, conquered part of Podniestrze and Podole (Podolia), extending the borders of his principality almost to Boh River. However, this uncompromising and ambitious prince's autocratic rule caused general resentment among the people in his newly-conquered lands. Following his death in the war with Poland, there was general unrest among the Lekhian population. These lands remained under Ruthenian rule, however, until 1226. At this time, the name of Podniestrze for some unknown reason acquired the name "Ponize." Again, in spite of Ruthenian influence, this term is of definite Polish linguistic roots. The term itself denotes a "lower land." There is no corresponding term in the old Ruthenian or later Ukrainian terminology.

The Tartar invasion of 1240, which devastated Ruthenian principalities and reached the far western borders of Poland, somehow did not have the same destructive effects on Ponize/Podole. By then, the Tartars were well-settled in that area, and must have considered it part of their own territory, although somewhat later we find that part of Ponize was still in Ruthenian hands. This is evidenced in the decree of Daniel, Prince of Halicz, in which he names a man Milij to the post of governor of Ponize. The historian Jablonowski makes the conclusion that Milij was neither of Ruthenian nor Tartar origin, hence he might have been a descendant of the forgotten Lekhs. The new governor eventually sided with the Tartars and as a result, the entire former Lekhian lands, as far south as the shores of the Black Sea, came under Tartar domination.

It was under the Tartars that the Land of Ponize acquired the name Podole (Podolia). This term is also of linguistic Polish origination. In direct translation, it means "the land of many valleys." It is in fact a most accurate description of the land north of Dniestr River, cut by several of its parallel tributaries on the north side.

The Tartars rule was in every sense a colonial system that allowed for the economic exploitation of the occupied land. Its basic aspect was the system of taxation, calling for local representatives to collect tributes, who in turn paid them to Tartar khans. This occupation was apparently less hard on the populace than the former Ruthenian occupation. Evidence of this cane be found in the fact that when military confrontation between the Ruthenians and Tartars erupted, the local populace sided with the Tartars. One unpopular Tartar imposition on the conquered people was a total ban on the building of fortifications as a means of defense. Thus, at the time when war was a constant threat, the people were left without protection. In some parts of the land caves in the banks of the Dniestr River provided shelter.

In this part of eastern Europe, Tartar domination was to some extent viewed as a relatively peaceful period. The local population increased through natural birth rates and immigration of the people from adjacent regions suffering from continuous conflicts. The prime occupation of the populace was a primitive agriculture. The people were basically allowed to pursue it without interruption, as Tartar control served as a protection against the aggressive Ruthenians. As this land was on the direct route Halicz, Poland and Lithuania it had to bear substantial burdens to forage provisions for the ever-marching Tartar armies, however.

By the end of the 13th century, the Tartar empires began to show internal weaknesses. The lesser leaders, or minor khans, of the Tartar groups called "ordas" revolted against the Golden Orda in Crimea in an effort to gain more individual power. This internal war created the division of the Tartar state into three ordas, among which the Crimean still remained the most powerful. During that time, Podole remained under their rule, in spite of repeated attempts by the Ruthenian princes to regain control over the area. Prior to the middle of the 14th century, the last two Ruthenian princes died in a battle with the Tartars, leaving the Ruthenia throne empty. The Ruthenian nobility offered the throne to the Polish prince of Mazowsze, the nearest relative of the fallen princes. However, his rule was cut short, as he was poisoned by the Ruthenians for favoring the Roman Catholic Church against the wishes of the country's clergy of predominantly Eastern Orthodox faith.

Three neighboring powers - Poland, Lithuania and Hungary - immediately appeared as contenders for this area. In due course Polish King Kazimierz the Great acquired the territory of Red Ruthenia (formerly Grody Czerwienskie) in 1340, while the Lithuanians grabbed at Wohlynia. The acquisition of their neighboring land encouraged the nobility of Podole to overthrow Tartar control in which they were assisted by the Lithuanians, who sent troops against the Tartars and defeated them at Siny Wody in 1362. Podole then became part of the Lithuanian state.

The Lithuanian family of Kuriatowicz took the task of securing of the newly gained lands against possible Tartars attacks upon themselves. Four brothers of the family, following the example of the Polish king in Red Ruthenia, began to erect stone castles throughout the land. The most formidable one of these was at Kamieniec Podolski. This town then became the capitol of Podole, and an important trading post on the East-West route.

Due to a rearrangement of borders in 1366, the most western part of Podole, the territory west of the Seret River, at this time became a Polish possession. This land included the town of Jazlowiec, which had already become an important trade center developed by its Armenian community. Polish Catholics must have also played an important role here, since early Dominican missionaries, whose presence, already there at that time, built a Catholic church in that area dates back to the mid-13th century.

The nobility of the eastern part of Podole also began to display tendencies towards joining neighboring Poland. This caused some uprisings and military confrontation between Poland and Lithuania, some of which involved the Hungarians. A state of hostilities existed between two principal parties until the Tartars defeated the Lithuanian forces at Worskla in 1399, leaving Podole once again at the mercy of Tartars. Polish and Hungarian kings saved the Podolians from this fate by arranging joint control of the territory due to succession of the Hungarian king to the Polish throne. This state of mutual control existed until Jadwiga, the daughter of the Hungarian king, was designated Queen of Poland. As her dowry, she brought with her the Hungarian rights to Podole. The Lithuanian claims to the territory were resolved by the accession of their Prince, Wladyslaw Jagiello to the Polish throne by the virtue of his marriage to Jadwiga. The marriage also dealt a fatal blow to the weak claim of the Lithuanians to Podole, who then compromised by having their Prince Swidrygiello accept governorship of Podole, with the Poles retaining sovereignty over the land. But the ambitious prince plotted open revolt against the Polish king, with the help of some of his countrymen, in an effort to make it a part of Lithuania. This led to some confrontations between his forces and the Poles, in which the local nobility sided with the Poles. Under the leadership of the Buczacki family the Podolians struggled for several years to stay Lithuanians away from their land. Eventually, in 1402, the Polish king intervened by entering Podolian territory and capturing Kamieniec Podolski, its capitol.

After 1402, the land of rich soil and strategic importance became a Polish province with special rights and privileges granted by the Polish king. One such privilege was exemption of Podolian participation in any Polish military action against their enemies. In exchange for this exemption the Podolians obligated themselves to vigilance against the Tartars. Thus the ancient land of Tyvercy and later Lekhs, after several years of separation, joined the nation of the same traditional, ethnic and linguistic ties.

By this time, Podole has been substantially reduced in size. Its eastern borders near the Black Sea remained under Tartar control, which for many years became the source of constant threat of attacks and incursions from its eastern neighbor. The new borders of Podole, then developed, were as follows: the southern boundary was the Dniestr River; the east was the Murchwa River; to the west, along the Strypa River, turning east at Buczacz to Trembowla; and to the north the borders with Vohlynia. These borders remained firm until the 18th century, when the eastern territories of Poland were ceded to Russia.

After World War One part of the former Podolia returned to Poland which basically included the Voivodship of Tarnopol. The next war and the Yalta Treaty gave Podolia to the Soviet Union, who named it the Western Ukraine. After the Polish population left that territory, in 1946, Podolia as the name ceased to exist and the population became predominantly Ukrainian. Nothing basically changed after the fall of communism. The once Polish land remained in the hands of the Ukrainians. This nation highly nationalistic and strongly anti-Polish tends to remove all Polish vestiges in order to ukrainize the culture and the past of the land. Their prime object is to have a homogenized Ukrainian nation, which seems to be problematic, since large Russian population may well represent the majority of the populace.

 


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