Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 19.01.2018
In the early 13th century, Ukraine was still fragmented, the Cumans no longer posed a threat and few people thought about a common defense. Meanwhile, a new horde was emerging in Asia. The nomadic Mongols borrowed from China knowledge and tools for storming cities and kept strict discipline in their army, including punishment by death for the slightest of violations.
The Mongol ideology was to establish worldwide rule — “a military expedition to the last sea”. The Mongols formed a huge army of hundreds of thousands of warriors from subjugated peoples.
Meanwhile, the hired military forces of the Rus’ princes rarely exceeded several thousand warriors. These detachments did not have a unified command and disliked discipline.
Mongolian soldiers, Persian miniature, early 14th century.
In 1223, the Mongol army crosses the Caucasus after conquering Central Asia. All princely dynasties, with the exception of Zalesye, came out to fight the Mongols. The armies clashed near the Kalka River (now to the West off Donetsk city). The army of the great Kyiv Prince Mstyslav Romanovych (son of Roman) fended off Mongol attacks for three days until its water supply was exhausted. The Mongols promised to let the army go free in exchange for a ransom, but they broke their word. They captured and choked princes to death by putting them under a wooden platform on which they had a banquet after the victory.
In 1239 the Mongols led by Batu Khan began the invasion of Ukraine. They attacked Kyiv together with units from the conquered Finno-Ugric peoples of Central Muscovy (now called Russia), including the Moksha. According to the chronicles, the Mongols did not dare storm Kyiv, impressed by its grandeur. After a long siege and several assaults in December 1240, Mongol rams broke the walls near the Liadski Gate in a place where the forest came closest to the walls and protected the attackers from the arrows shot by the defenders. The Kyivans built new fortifications on Starokyivska Hill around the Church of the Tithes. During the fighting in the Churth of the Tithes, the Mongols captured Dmytro, a wounded voivode of the Prince Danylo Romanovych, who had led the defense of the city. The chronicle reports that, in order to save his homeland, Dmytro convinced Batu Khan to promptly leave Rus’.
Castle Hill, Kremenets, 19th century. The castle survived a Mongol siege in the winter of 1241.
However, some cities in the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia withstood the invasion. These included Kremenets and Kholm, both of which had the reputation of being impregnable. Rus’ was spared even greater devastation due to the fact the Mongols moved to Hungary as quickly as the winter of 1241 and roamed its territory for the next three years, attacking Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Germany and Croatia. However, the population of Kyiv plummeted, and there were a mere 2,000-3,000 residents in the city in 1245.
On the backdrop of the ruined state, the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia stood out. It became the strongest principality in Rus’ back in the late 12th and the early 13th century under Prince Roman Mstyslavych (son of Mstyslav), who united nearly all the Ukrainian lands. The state organization of Galicia and Volhynia remained strong, relying on energetic and gifted princes, Danylo Romanovych and Vasylko Romanovych (sons of Danylo). Salt trade helped the principality to quickly restore its strength. Galicia and Volhynia enjoyed the greatest degree of independence from the Mongols and Tatars.
The Kyiv and Chernihiv regions also revived, albeit more slowly. In 1245, they had a tysiatsky, i.e. a city governor, and other nobility, bishops and merchants from the Italian cities of Venice, Genoa and Pisa.
Mongol machines used in siege warfare, Persian miniature, early 14th century.
The Mongol and Tatar invasion undermined the statehood of Kyivan Rus’ but was unable to obliterate it. The local princes from the Rurik dynasty maintained power in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Pereyaslav, Volhynia and Galicia regions. Their power was weak in some places that were close to the territory where the Mongols roamed, but strong in other regions. The Kyivan lands were not made part of the Horde and the Mongol troops were not quartered in Kyiv. Kyiv continued to be considered the capital. However, the khan approved the powers of the grand prince with the formula “Kyiv with all of Rus’ land”.
Despite Mongol efforts to weaken the statehood traditions of Rus’, Kyiv remained the main Orthodox religious center in Eastern Europe. In 1243 Danylo Romanovych appointed his governor Kurylo as the metropolitan of Kyiv and all Rus’. All the new metropolitans of Kyiv, even those who fled from Kyiv to the calmer Galicia or Vladimir-on-Klyazma, were ordained in St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kyiv.
King Lev (Leo) son of Danylo; Lemberg or Lviv (City of Lev) was being named after him
The Pope hoped that Danylo would help fight off the Mongols, while Danylo hoped for a crusade against the Mongols. In late 1253 the Pope crowned Danylo Romanovych (son of Roman) as the king of all Rus’. The royal crown established Danylo’s superiority over the princes of the neighboring Catholic countries.
Galicians and Volhynias were the first to dare a rebellion against the Mongols. In 1255–1256 King Danylo’s army liberated the lands along the Boh, Sluch and Teteriv rivers in immediate proximity to Kyiv and repelled attacks on Kremenets and Lutsk. However, an additional horde led by Khan Burundai came to Rus’. All the defensive fortifications, which had been built by strenuous efforts, were destroyed on his orders. Only the strongest fortress in Kholm was preserved with the use of some cunning.
Mitre of Peremyshl bishops, likely an alteration of the crown of Danylo Romanovych (son of Roman)
At the time of these rebellions, the Prince of Suzdal, Alexander Nevsky, helped the Mongols to kill his own brother, suppressed popular rebellions against the Horde with fierce punishments and acknowledged himself the adopted son of Batu Khan — all in the territory of modern Muscovy (Russia).
Large-scale Mongol-Tatar attacks on Ukrainian lands took place approximately once per decade. Ukrainian princes sometimes tried to fight back, at times with some success. In 1275, the Mongol Khan Kurdan led a large army and invaded Polisia. Grand Prince Sviatoslav of Kyiv joined forces with Lithuanian princes and received the support of a detachment from Lutsk to counter the Mongols. A battle on the Okunivka River near Mozyr (now in Belarus) ended in the defeat of the Mongol-Tatar army, and only the khan with a small unit managed to escape.
Decades later, the Horde itself began to experience a growing crisis. Mongol khans turned on each other. The Mongols and the Tatars remained at a low level of development and their economy was based on extracting resources from other peoples.
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