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Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Kharkov and Sloboda Ukraine

During the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire launched a series of expansion campaigns. Russian Emperors and Empresses fought to strengthen their borders on the west and east against Polish and Turkish enemies, respectively. For example, Peter the Great began pushing west in order acquire ports to build his navy. And Catherine the Great conquered Crimea in order to establish a military outpost near the Ottoman Empire. The Empire experienced the most expansion under Catherine the Great (r. 1762-1796). As Catherine continued to bring people into her Empire, she was faced with administrative difficulties that challenged the existence of a uniform, stable Empire. Various ethnicities and religions entered her Empire, and she enacted a set of administrative reforms in order to assert enough control that would eliminate chances for deflection or rebellion. Kharkov was subject to these reforms as Catherine aimed to smoothly integrate Cossack regions into her vast Empire.

In 1765, Catherine issued an imperial manifesto that ended the semi-autonomy of the Cossack regions, including Kharkov, and by doing so, officially integrated these territories into the Russian Empire. Before Catherine’s efforts, Empress Anna (r. 1730-1740) attempted to end the semi-autonomy of the Cossack regions, but ultimately failed. Anna conducted a census in 1732 of the Cossack regions in the effort to create a taxing system that would result in the inclusion of the regions in the larger Empire. However, protests following the attempts of the census ended Anna’s efforts. Catherine’s manifesto set up provinces in the Empire and established administration in the area. Not only did this introduce uniform administrative systems across the Empire, but it also allowed for taxing systems to be created which brought in revenue for the Empire. Furthermore, pertaining to the Cossack regions in the South, the reforms aimed to turn the Cossacks into formal Russian subjects; the proximity to the Crimean Khanate threatened to destabilize the alliance between the Cossacks and the Empire. This manifesto abolished the five Cossack regiments in the southern territory of the Empire, one of which was Kharkov. Catherine united these five regions into Sloboda Ukraine and appointed a governor-general of the province who reported directly to St. Petersburg. 
 

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