Publication by The Vibes: Democracy in Ukraine: 311 years of the Pact of Rights and Freedoms
28 June 2021 13:28

Every year on June 28 Ukraine marks its Constitution Day, when the Constitution of the Independent Ukraine was adopted by Parliament in 1996

Democracy in Ukraine: 311 years of the Pact of Rights and Freedoms
Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, National Archives of Sweden in November 2016. – Pic courtesy of Embassy of Ukraine in Malaysia, June 28, 2021


EVEN though the contemporary Constitution turns only 25 this year, Ukraine is the birthplace of one of the world’s first legal documents defining and guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Back in 1710, a few decades before the US Constitution was even conceived, a document called “The Pacts and Constitutions of Rights and Freedoms of the Zaporizhian Host”, currently known as the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, had been adopted by the Zaporizhian Cossacks. 

It was an unprecedented piece of legislature that established a democratic standard for the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches, well before the publication of Montesquieu's “Spirit of the Laws”.

The Constitution also limited the executive authority of the Hetman (Cossack leader and Commander-in-Chief) and established a democratically elected Cossack Parliament, called the General Council. 

It is noteworthy that Zaporizhian Host established in the 16th century was a self-ruled republic, where all residents were free citizens that exercised their rights to elect their leaders and to delegate certain powers to the General Council. 

Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, copy of the last page in Old-Ukrainian, Parliament of Ukraine, June 2018. – Pic courtesy of Embassy of Ukraine in Malaysia
Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, copy of the last page in Old-Ukrainian, Parliament of Ukraine, June 2018. – Pic courtesy of Embassy of Ukraine in Malaysia


In a social and economic sense, the Pylyp Orlyk Constitution gave more recognition not so much to the Cossacks, but to the unprivileged peasants and townspeople.

The document strictly forbade a statute labour – a form of slavery, common at that time in nearby Russia. There were also privileges for the cities that were relieved from the mandatory-then war tax. According to the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, small traders were also exempt from all taxes.

The document was written in two languages – Latin and Old-Ukrainian. The Old-Ukrainian-language original copy, signed by Orlyk, accompanied by a diploma sealed by the King Charles XII of Sweden, was found in 2008 by the Ukrainian researchers in the Russian State Archive in Moscow.

The Latin-language original copy is preserved at the National Archives of Sweden. For decades since its independence Ukraine was trying to make this piece of historic and legislative heritage available for the Ukrainian public. 

According to the arrangement between the Ukrainian and Swedish governments announced in May 2021, the Constitution and the mace of Pylyp Orlyk will make their way back to Ukraine for the first time in 311 years, to be displayed in Kyiv as a part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Independence. – The Vibes, June 28, 2021

The writer H.E. Olexander Nechytaylo is Ambassador of Ukraine to Malaysia.

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