Cossacks History

История казачества

In the 15th century breaders appeared in the Ukrainian heath, later they were followed by refugees from the Polish rule. In the new territory they had to repel continuous assaults of the Tatars, and eventually the breaders united into separate armed groups that not only countered the Tatars’ attacks, but hit upon the Tatar detached forces and towns. People started to call those brave men the Cossacks.

People from all social classes became the Cossacks (peasants, the bourgeois, the noble). There were even foreigners among them. Zaporozhean Cossacks lived in the lower Dnieper, across the rapids (Russian “porog”), and that’s where their name comes from.

People used to say “A Zaporozhean will hum the devil itself”. The “glorious cavaliers” of the Zaporozhean Forces became heroes of legends, mediations and songs. A whisper went round that some Cossacks were not even afraid of bullets or sabre. Where does the Cossacks’ strength lie, where do their vaunted bravery and survivability come from? The origin of this mighty and fearless army is well-known to each and every school student. These are people who escaped from servage and authority to the south, to the wild heath. The word “Cossack” was used to denote a free and an independent man. And this might be a secret of their bravery. Runaway knights of knife and serfs had nothing to loose. That is why they threw themselves into their practices – bread-winning and defense of Sich, initially, and the whole Ukraine later.

And, probably, it’s all about special selection? An Orthodox man could become a Cossack, whatever his race or social class might be. The principal condition: If you are willing to join the cavaliers of the glorious Zaporozhean army – pass tests. For instance, they could fix a board between the two rocks and you had to get over it. And that really required some effort, as men had to do it blind-folded. If you loose footing, they’ll catch you up on the ground. But will not admit. Go, practice, they said. Come in a year. But if you succeed, please, join. Only no women or children – they were not allowed to Sich.

And another variant, however, yet very questionable. People said that the Cossacks’ survivability is charmed. People believed that the distinguished Cossacks (Zaporozhean magicians) could spell the bullets, “revert the evil eye”, or put “no end of trouble” on people (fog and sleep). And this is not even half the story. It was believed that the distinguished Cossacks could turn into animals, control the weather and even raise the dead. People thought that almost all Cossack leaders had magic power: hetmans, chieftains, colonels.

Such alliance between the Cossacks and magic is really very surprising. After all, one of the Sich principal laws, never to be infringed, was the sincere faith of a Zaporozhean. Orthodox belief. Yet, Christianity denounces magic as one of the deepest sins. How so?
“It’s nothing but gossip,” explains the chieftain of an individual Lozovsky Cossack hundred, military first sergeant Nikolai Nakonechny. “Gossip is spread by people willing to deprecate the Orthodox belief. Is it possible that the Cossacks had a church and a priest in Sich, and at the same time were on friendly terms with devilry?”

Chieftain Nakonechny explains the Cossacks’ survivability from the Christian point of view: people who went to fight for the country, including Cossacks, went with God rather than devil.

Today the Ukrainian Cossacks show their bravery only for peaceful purposes. They preserve order during the church service, so that orthodox Christians could pray in peace. Sometimes they visit churches to wheedle money out of people, steal what is left unattended or just have fun. According to the chieftain Nikolai Nakonechny, the contemporary Cossacks protect orthodox Christians from these very pranks. And, probably, it’s not for nothing that the Day of the Cossacks coincides with a great orthodox holiday – Intercession of the Holy Virgin. After all, the divine forces seem to protect the Cossacks.