The irony of fate is such, that while Hetman Ivan Mazepa became the best known Ukrainian worldwide, both as a figure of history and myth, in his own homeland of Ukraine for decades he fell into oblivion. If known at all, it was largely as others would have Ukrainians see him. There was little of a native, national image cultivated of him in the cultural arena.
It was not always so. During his hetmancy, from 1687 to 1708, Mazepa was not only a positive, but even a cult figure. In painting, engraving, poetry, drama, all types of dedicatory enterprises — he was compared to heroes of classical antiquity or the Kyivan princes of medieval times. The Swedish alliance and the defeat at Poltava changed all that. Under the Tsar's instructions the Hetman was anathematized by the Russian Church and fell under total opprobrium. His supporters became political exiles and advocates of Ukraine's rights abroad, gaining such sympathizers as Voltaire. Those who remained at home had to adhere to the refashioned image of Mazepa prepared in St. Petersburg.
With the revival of historical consciousness and the emergence of a native high culture in the nineteenth century, Mazepa began to reenter the repertoire of prominent figures in Ukraine. Still, the traditional Russian view dominated, while even writers and artists who were more nationally driven followed the populist trend, which often depicted Mazepa as an exploiting aristocrat and sympathized with his Ukrainian opponents from the lower strata of the military and society.
Still, some of the major figures of the Ukrainian cultural revival devoted attention to Hetman Mazepa. Shevchenko, Sokalskyi, Malaniuk ... Here, too, the obstacles were formidable, such as imperial Russian censorship. The division of Ukraine between Russia and Austria — or later the USSR and Poland— did not allow easy transmission of cultural products from one empire to another. It is only since independence in 1991 that Ukrainians have gained the possibility to learn the heritage of Mazepa, historical and cultural, native and foreign, and to begin to fashion their own image of one of their country's most famous sons.