Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ukrainian Cossack History

Not being very familiar with the Ukrainian Cossacks, I choose to research this topic, supposing others in the class might also be unfamiliar. A great source, of course, is the Encyclopedia of Ukraine article at

The Cossacks began as free soldiers, protecting the steppe area from Turkish and Tartar raids. Although it does not seem clear to me, it appears their founding was even supported or allowed by the Polish-Lithuanian powers to assist in protecting the area. As the Cossacks grew in numbers and power, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth first tried to regulate them, and then later gave the them limited autonomy while still under Polish-Lithuanian control. By the late 1500s, the Cossacks began making their own external treaties but still assisted the Polish Army in certain battles: 1618, Moscow and 1621, Khotyn.

Of particular note is the Cossack-Polish Ward, 1648 to 1657. In some regards, this war is hailed as a great event--a Cossack uprising gathering a large portion of the Ukrainian populace and yielding a Cossack state. However, this state was never able to gain complete autonomy, the result of the war seeming to remove them from Polish rule, only to place them under Russian rule. Also, the local people fared very poorly, with all armies being very cruel and murdering many people (women, children, clergymen, Jews, etc.) of the opposing side.

This Cossack state mentioned above existed from 1648 until 1782. Although initially the general populous had more freedom under this state, soon class hierarchies again controlled available freedoms. The state was abolished by Catherine II in 1764--the governing bodies replaced by Russian organizations and serfdom for the peasants. Only few of the ruling Cossacks were given Russian nobility status. During the 1800s, army regiments were sometimes formed from previous Cossack groups, and periodic Cossack protests were engaged, resulting in the social class remaining somewhat distinct.

As a last note, an anti-socialist Ukrainian government formed in 1918, called the Hetman government, certainly with ties to the historical Cossacks. However, it was too closely tied with Czarist Russia, and after the Bolshevik revolution, the Hetman government eventually surrendered powers to the socialist Ukrainian National Republic in December 1918.

This is just a very brief historical outline of the Cossacks, but I think it adds some interesting perspective to some of our class discussion regarding Schevchencko, Cossacks and Ukrainian Nationalism.


mpokora said...

This is a pretty concise and unbiased analysis of the Cossak/Kozak (Ukrainian spelling) community- which is refreshing to read! Many people who know about Kozak cultural or military history are very opinionated, and take drastic pro or anti Kozak stances on relatively little understanding of the people. One nationalistic viewpoint may be that of a romantic, anti-authority group of freedom fighters living off of the land, while another is of a wild band of pillaging warriors creating & suppressing uprisings while abusing various ethnic groups.
I think a huge part of Kozak history worth mentioning is Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the leader of the Zaphorozhian Kozaks. He organized a treaty with Poland in 1649 to recognize the Zapohorozhain Kozaks as a Ukrainian state; Over years of harsh repression by the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, Khmelnytsky led one of (if not the) largest Kozak wars/rebellions in history against the Poles.
However, it ended in 1654 with the treaty of Treaty of Pereyaslav, where Bohdan pledged the Kozak's loyalty with the Russian Tsar. This, for many Ukrainians, was considered "treason" by Khmelnytsky and an end to Ukrainian military freedom.

S Gliske said...

I'm not sure how to edit the origional post, but I wanted to add a little. The sources for the page come from not just the given Encyclopedia of Ukraine, but from many other articles in this encyclopedia. I consulted a few other resources online, but they repeated information found in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine.

I also didn't realize when posting that we'd cover more about the Cossacks during the following class. However, I think the information here is a nice complement to what was discussed both weeks.