History plays a crucial role in the Ukrainian-Russian War, as President Putin continues to spread misinformation and a twisted version of Ukraine’s past to legitimise his invasion as an attempt to “reunite” Ukraine with Russia. Let us consider a bit of Ukrainian history, therefore, relating to the Netherlands, from a time when modern-day Ukraine was not part of Russia.
In July 1606, a young student called Samuel Korecki inscribed his name into the album amicorum (“book of friends”) of the Dutch scholar and mayor of Harderwijk, Ernst Brinck. Korecki’s name features amongst numerous well-known men of the time, such as Galileo Galilei. But who was he?
Samuel Korecki was a duke from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, whose family owned Korets Castle and vast estates in Volhynia. This region, currently in western Ukraine, had for a long time belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but during the sixteenth century was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland. Samuel Korecki was born there ca. 1586/88 and made a military career in service of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the Polish-Russian War of 1609-1618, he aided the Polish forces which occupied the Kremlin. He fought the Tatars and Moldavians on multiple occasions, and famously escaped Ottoman imprisonment. Returning home via Italy, he once again faced the Commonwealth’s southern enemies at the Battle of Cecora in 1620. Korecki was taken captive once more, and was eventually strangled by the Ottomans in Istanbul, in 1622.
So how did his name find its way into Ernst Brinck’s album amicorum? Before his military career, Samuel Korecki studied in the Northern Netherlands. He enrolled as an arts student at Leiden University on 29 May 1604, together with his younger brother Karol. This was not uncommon: since the founding of Leiden University in 1575, hundreds if not thousands of nobles from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth studied in Leiden. Apparently, Samuel met Ernst Brinck and decided to inscribe his name into his “book of friends”.
When Samuel finished his studies, Dominicus Baudius, one of the university professors, wrote a Latin poem in his honour, which was published in Leiden in 1607. Baudius ended his eulogy by saying that “Themis [the ancient Greek goddess of justice] will lift your name above the high stars of the sky,” implying that his Volhynian friend deserved eternal praise.
The case of Samuel Korecki illustrates that Ukrainian history is not Russian history, and Dutch-Ukrainian relations go way back.
*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 28.