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The fortress of Poltava
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   The fortress of Poltava with its earthworks, ditch and palisade was built in 1609 by Kozaks of the Mirgorod Regiment, headed by Polish Crown Hetman Stanislav Jolkevsky. Being located on the top of a hill overlooking the right bank of the River Vorskla, the fortress was protected primarily by steep slopes to the east, south and north. In the middle of the 17th century the fortress became the seat of the Poltava Kozak Regiment and played a strategic role in the system of Ukrainian defensive installations that were erected to protect this region from the invasion of Baty-Khan. In 1658, soon after the signing of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the fortress was partially reconstructed under the supervision of the Muscovite Voevode Chirkov. On the eve of the Battle of Poltava, the decisive battle of the Great Northern War, the fortress was surrounded by ravines, protected by palisades, and had many bastions. Each of its five gates was protected by a special tower to secure the approach roads to the fortress. But if one compares it with some other European fortresses of that time, its imperfection becomes clear. On the eve of the battle, when Tsar Peter was informed that Hetman Mazepa had joined the camp of the Swedish king, he ordered that the commandant of the fortress, Colonel Levenets, who was a supporter of Mazepa, be placed under house arrest in Kharkov and replaced by Colonel Kelin. Three infantry battalions loyal to the Tsar were also deployed in the fortress to reinforce it. One of the numerous myths maintained among first Russian and then Soviet historians is that of a “heroic defence of the fortress in April–May 1709.” In Poltava there is a monument to commandant Kelin and the “brave defenders of the Fortress of Poltava,” which was unveiled in 1909 in the presence of Tsar Nikolay II. But, in reality, there had been no attempt by the Swedes to take the fortress. Robert Petre, a lieutenant of the Dalecarlia Regiment, who during the siege was in command of a platoon deployed in the approach trenches near the eastern sector of the fortress, left a diary, which has been published in Sweden. The most interesting entries in it concern a dialogue between Charles XII and the commander of the siege artillery, Colonel von Binau, overheard by the lieutenant. The colonel asked the king for a mere six hours, which he believed to be enough time for his two batteries to raze the fortress to the ground. Although there was enough ammunition, the king turned him down politely. Although it would have been easy for the experienced Swedish army to conquer this primitive defensive installation that had no stone walls and only a few guns, the king used the siege solely to force Tsar Peter to engage in battle. The fortress of Poltava was repaired for the last time in the late 1720s. After the signing of the Russian-Turkish peace treaty of 1774, the border of the Russian Empire was moved further south and the Poltava fortress started to lose its strategic significance. During that time period, Ukraine also became known as “Little Russia.” In the 19th century, when Poltava became a major administrative center of the Malorossiyskaya (Little Russia) government, new streets were built that breached the fortress’ earthworks in many places. In preparation for Tsar Alexander I’s visit to Poltava in 1817 all the remains of the fortress were razed to the ground. The destruction of the remains aroused his displeasure, because at that time it was absolutely clear that the Russian Empire had the firm intention to use Poltava as a symbol of its power, and that it planned to celebrate no other historic victories but only the victory over the Swedes in 1709.

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