Orest Subtelny

Orest Subtelny (Ukrainian: О́рест Субте́льний, 17 May 1941 – 24 July 2016) was a Ukrainian-Canadian historian. Born in Kraków, Poland, he received his doctorate from Harvard University in 1973. Since 1982, he was a professor in the departments of history and political science at York University in Toronto.[1]

In the words of Taras Kuzio, a senior research fellow at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, Subtelny “made a truly enormous contribution to Ukrainian nation-building. Prof. Subtelny was not an ivory-tower academic. He was an internationally acclaimed historian, civic and community activist whose roots in the Ukrainian community meant his focus was on Ukrainian national identity, the struggle for independence and achieving statehood.”

Early life

Orest Subtelny was born in Krakow, General Government, on May 17, 1941.[2][lower-alpha 1] His father, Myroslav, was a lawyer who had lived in the city in the mid-1930s and returned with his wife, Ivanna, in late August, 1939, to take a government job. The following day, Germany invaded, forcing the family to return to Ukraine. But Orest's mother returned to Krakow to give birth to her son because the city had a hospital. The family spent World War II in western Ukraine, then fled the Soviet Red Army, and spent 1945 to 1949 in a displaced persons camp in Germany before arriving in Philadelphia as refugees.

Education and teaching

Subtelny graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1965. He also studied in universities of Vienna and Hamburg. Subtelny received his doctorate in 1973 after defending his dissertation "Reluctant allies: Pylyp Orlyk and his relations with Crimean Khanate and Ottoman Empire. 1708-1742." His primary adviser was Oleksander Ohloblyn.

Subtelny started his teaching career in the History Department of Harvard (1973-1975), later moving to the Hamilton College in New York (1976-1981). In 1982 he became professor of history and politics at York University in Toronto.


Subtelny's major work is the general textbook Ukraine: A History (1988), a work of Ukrainian historiography. During the Mikhail Gorbachev reforms, the book was quickly translated into both Ukrainian and Russian and affected the growth of Ukrainian historical and national consciousness during the initial years of Ukrainian independence.

Under the influence of his mentors, the orientalist Omeljan Pritsak and the Ivan Mazepa specialist Oleksander Ohloblyn, Subtelny's earlier work dealt with the Cossack era, especially the revolt of Hetman Ivan Mazepa against Tsar Peter the Great. In this work, he sought to avoid the extremes of labeling Mazepa either an evil traitor to Russia or a heroic defender of Ukrainian national independence and portrayed him as a typical partisan of aristocratic local autonomy before the encroaching absolute monarchies of his time.

In his history of Ukraine, Subtelny took a more traditional approach, like his predecessors Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Dmytro Doroshenko, and Ivan Krypiakevych, writing a national history, primarily the history of the Ukrainian people. However, unlike these predecessors who wished to stress aspirations to statehood, Subtelny stressed "statelessness." In his view, modernization of the country was largely sponsored by outside powers and thus not exactly favorable to the rise of a Ukrainian national consciousness.

Subtelny died on 24 July 2016 at the age of 75.[5]


Selected books and publications

  • The Mazepists: Ukrainian Separatism in the Early Eighteenth Century (1981).
  • The Domination of Eastern Europe, Foreign Absolutism and Native Nobilities (1986)
  • Ukraine: A History (1988)
  • Ukrainians in North America (1991)
  • "Cossacks", in The World Book Encyclopedia (1997)
  • "Ukraine", in Encarta Encyclopedia (1997)
  • "Ukraine: The Imperial Heritage", Briefing Papers of the Canadian Bureau of International Studies (1996)

Further reading


  1. Some historians claim his date of birth as May 17, 1943[3] or May 7, 1941[4]


  1. "York Atlas - Phone and E-mail Directory". Mocha.yorku.ca. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-05-28.
  2. Passings: Orest Subtelny made significant contributions to history research. York University. July 27, 2016
  3. Yas, O.V. Subtelnyi Orest Myroslavovych (СУБТЕЛЬНИЙ Орест Мирославович). Encyclopedia of History of Ukraine.
  4. Субтельний Орест (07.05.1941-24.07.2016 )
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-07-27. Retrieved 2016-07-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)