Creating A Hero – The Execution of Ivan Pidkova in Lviv’s Rynok Square (Lviv: The History of One City Part 36)

A man’s head is set atop several pieces of rock. He has a long drooping mustache which hangs down far enough to touch the pedestal. The name “Ivan” is mounted on the rock and below that is a horseshoe. Further down is a small cannon barrel with several balls. What is this? It is a unique monument that stands a block north of Rynok Square, in a small square just off Teatralna Street in Lviv. This monument commemorates Ivan Pidkova, a Cossack leader who was executed in the city on June 16, 1578. Unique for a public work of art in Lviv it was not commissioned by the city or state. The sculptor, Petro Kulyk, used his own funds to create the work, which was installed in 1981. Though the sculpture is located at Ivan Pidkova Square, it would have been more appropriately placed just one block away in Rynok Square, the actual site of Pidkoa’s execution. This would have made it more than just a work of passing public interest, but the execution site was already occupied by a sculpture of the sea goddess Amphitrite. While this classical sculpture and three other similar ones have become recognized landmarks adorning each side of Rynok Square, one cannot help but wonder if the Pidkova Monument had been placed on the execution site, how much more interest there would have been in one of the most fascinating events in the history of Lviv and Rynok Square.

Ivan Pidkova Monument in Lviv

Ivan Pidkova Monument in Lviv

Moldavian Machinations – Pidkova’s Rise To Power
Oddly enough for a national hero, Ivan Pidkova was neither from Ukraine nor was he an ethnic kinsman of the people. He was a Moldavian, born in Transnistria which is today part of the Moldovan nation. He gained fame as a brave soldier and fearless leader, known for his magnificent horsemanship and superhuman strength. The horseshoe that is mounted on the pedestal of the Pidkova Sculpture in Lviv symbolizes both of these traits. Legend states that he rode stallions so hard that their horseshoes would break. It was also said that he could break horseshoes in another, more impressive manner, with his bare hands. These feats helped him gain a leading position with the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who held sway in southern Ukraine and the country surrounding much of the Dniester River. As a well-respected warrior Pidkova saw an opportunity to take control of Moldavia from its weak and feckless leader, Peter VI the Lame, the Ottoman Turk’s vassal in Moldavia. To do this, Pidkova needed to show a connection to the princely families. Thus, he claimed to be the half-brother of John III the Terrible who was Voivode (ruler) of Moldavia from 1572 – 1574.

John had fought the Turks without mercy, but suffered a horrific death after surrendering to them. His arms and legs were tied by rope to four camels which were then sent to run in opposite directions. Thus he was drawn and quartered. Peter the Lame, who was installed as Voivode of Moldavia after John’s death, was compliant with Turkish wishes. This compliance came at the expense of the Moldavian peasantry. Ivan managed to force Peter from the throne with the help of another Cossack leader. Pidkova’s time as ruler was short lived, as the Turks managed to pressure the Polish King Stefan Bathory to remove him. Pidcova fled his homeland. He was arrested in Nemryiv (found today in central Ukraine), a city that had recently come under the control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Turks demanded that Bathory execute the dangerous Pidkova. If the King disobeyed their wishes the Turks threatened to attack the Commonwealth. Pidkova was taken to Lviv where it was decided that he would be executed. This set the stage for an incredible scene that centered on Rynok Square in mid-June of 1571.

Ivan Pidkova

Ivan Pidkova

Swift & Brutal Fashion – A Warning To All
It is believed that Ivan Pidkova spent the last night of his life at Rynok Square. Sources state that Lviv’s city prison was in such a disgusting state of filth and grime, that the noble Cossack warrior was instead housed at Rynok 28, the Heppner House. Because it is one of the few Renaissance era mansions on the square that has remained almost totally unaltered it is possible stand in Rynok Square and reimagine Pidkova being ushered forth from the portal for his execution. On that late spring day, there were well over a thousand people in the square to witness the execution. These included four hundred of the King’s soldiers that were brought in to keep order due to fears of unrest by Lviv’s Ruthenian population. Pidkova and the Cossacks were heroes to this community. In a display of cowardice, King Bathory did not attend the execution since he feared for his personal safety. His decision made him terribly unpopular at the time.

The Heppner House at Rynok 28 in Lviv

The Heppner House at Rynok 28 in Lviv – where Ivan Pidcova spent his last night (Credit: Сергій Криниця – Haidamac)

At two o’clock in the afternoon, Pidkova mounted the scaffold along with the executioner who was scheduled to decapitate him. A first-hand account of Pidkova’s execution survives in the form of a report to the court of Florence by Filippo Talducci, a Florentine official. According to Talducci, Pidkova addressed the crowd in a final, defiant message that resounded as a warning to all. He said, “I was always fighting against the enemies of Christianity, and did all I could to prevent the infidels from threatening the Christian world. Your King, a supporter of the Pagan Khan gave the order that I should be executed, but this eventuality really is of no consequence to me. However you should all remember that what will happen to me will also in the very near future happen to you and your wealth, Your heads and those of your Kings will be delivered up to Constantinople.” This sent much of the crowd into expressions of anguish. After imbibing a glass of wine proffered from the crowd and asking for his personal rug to be brought so he could kneel upon it, Pidkova offered himself up for the fatal stroke. The blow was delivered in swift and brutal fashion, separating Pidkova’s head from the rest of his body. The crowd’s reaction was indignant as the entire square seemed to be on the verge of riot. Only the threat of military force kept the situation from getting out of hand. A head had been severed and thousands of hearts broken that day in Rynok Square. A great Cossack leader was now dead, but he would live on in a heroic afterlife.

Amphitrite statue and fountain in Rynok Square

Amphitrite statue and fountain in Rynok Square – it was in this area that Ivan Pidkova was executed in 1571 (Credit: Petar Milošević)

A Heroic Afterlife
It is interesting to note that Pidkova, turned out to be wrong about a future Turkish occupation of Lviv. The Turks were unable to conquer Lviv, despite taking much of southern and eastern Europe. They put the city under siege during the 17th century, but were thrown back. What happened to Pidkova would not happen to Lviv’s merchants or the Polish-Lithuanian Kings, but the Turks did manage to ravage other areas of the Commonwealth. The memory of Pidkova may well have faded from history if not for the words of the man regarded as the founder of modern Ukrainian literature and one of Ukraine’s most famous heroes, Taras Shevchenko. One of the poems found in his first collection, Kobzar (Bard), is called Ivan Pidkova. It is a literary manifestation of Pidkova, in much the same way that the Kulyk sculpture is an artistic representation of the great Moldavian Cossack. As Shevchenko’s verse states:

He casts his glances here and there
Where exploits may be wrought.
He curled his long black whiskers,
He twirled his forelock free,
Then raised his cap — the vessels stopped:
“Death to the enemy!

Few have been braver in their time or better served by memory than Ivan Pidkova. A man whose life and legend still today, stalk two squares in Lviv.

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