Berestechko and fort in Tarakaniv
Designation: Berestechko and fort in Tarakaniv
Places of interest
One of the largest battles of the Ukrainian People’s Liberation War against serfdom (1648-1654) as well as the largest battle of the 17th century took place on the fields of the villages of Plyasheva and Ostriv in the summer of 1651. The Zaporizhian Army under the command of Bohdan Khmelnytsky fought alongside the Crimean Tatar forces under Khan Islam III Giray against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Army under King John II Casimir near the town of Berestechko. During the battle the Crimean Tatars abandoned the battlefield. Thus, the left flank of the Cossack and Peasant Army was left exposed. The reason Khan Islam III Giray ran away was unknown. Some historians believe that Khan was simply not interested in strengthening the Cossack state, and maybe even made an agreement with the King of Poland. Other historians state the following: when the Polish Army started shelling the Tatar positions on the hill, a cannon-ball exploded beside Khan and killed Sultan Amurath. Khan was deeply affected by Sultan’s death and he unexpectedly gave order to the Tatars to abandon the battlefield. In another version of the story, the Tatars simply could not resist the direct attack of the Polish cavalry. Hetman Khmelnytsky tried to persuade the Tatars to return. When he caught up with Khan, the latter seized him and carried him away. Within ten days, the Cossacks were left without their Hetman and they could withstand the siege. Ivan Bohun was elected as the acting Hetman. He decided to save the army by marching his troops across the river and the swamps. Most regiments broke through the encirclement on July 10. However, many insurgents were killed while crossing the swamps, and the Cossacks lost their military supplies and artillery. Just several small units protected the retreating main detachments.
The legendary three hundred Cossacks, who perished there, had set an unprecedented example of courage. Several thousand Poles could not defeat them all day long. Even cannons could not help. During the battle the Poles could not approach the crossing, and thousands of Cossacks and peasants were able to retreat safely. When King John II Casimir arrived, he personally led his army to attack Hayok swamp island. In the evening, the detachments of German mercenaries seized the island. The Cossack’s pit is located nearby. According to legend, the only Cossack who survived among three hundred victims came here. When he was in his boat in the middle of the lake, the Cossack started shooting at the enemies, and then defended himself with scythe. John II Casimir was fascinated by his heroism and asked him to surrender, promising to keep him alive. The Cossack refused to surrender and was killed undefeated. They say that the body of the unknown hero contained fourteen bullets.
Frenchman Pierre Chevalier, an eyewitness of the battle, described the end of that battle: “In a place amid swamps there gathered three hundred Cossacks who defended themselves bravely against a large number of attackers approaching from all directions. Having being completely surrounded, all of them died. The only remaining Cossack was fighting against the whole Polish army for three hours”.
The Tarakaniv Fort is a grand military fortification that was built during the confrontation between the empires in the 19th century. This work of engineering and architectural art impresses with its size and mystery even being in a partially damaged and neglected condition. The construction of the fortification started in 1860s and it was completed in 1890. During that period of time, the residents of ten neighboring villages were not allowed to build any stone buildings. The Fort is in the shape of a rhombus with the length of each side 240 meters, and its walls are two meters thick. The perimeter was surrounded by a dry moat up to 13m wide and 6m high. The sides of the moat were strengthened with bricks. The two-story barracks linked to four underground tunnels was built in the central part of the Fort. It housed the residential, storage and household premises for the Artillery Company as well as Commandant’s Quarters. The perimeter of the Fort is composed of 105 so-called safe casemates and in order to get there it was necessary to break through two defensive lines. In principle the Fort became obsolete as a military facility before the completion of its construction as the artillery did not occupy its position. The terrain relief was also badly used. The first ordeal occurred at the Fort in the First World War. During the retreat of the troops of the Southwestern Front of the Russian Army, the Fort surrendered without a fight and it was not damaged. However, in the summer of 1916, during the Brusilov Offensive, when Russian troops knocked the 4th Austrian Army out of the fortification, the first battles for the Dubno Fort occurred and as a result the Tarakaniv Fort underwent the first destruction. About 200 Austrian soldiers were killed in those battles and they were buried near the Fort.