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Lesson 6


Author: Myron Hordiichuk

When the Middle Ages ended, Christopher Columbus discovered a new continent at the end of the 15th century, and the first mention of Ukrainian Cossacks is recorded. In the beginning, these were communities of "free people" – not included in the structure of neighboring states (Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crimean Khanate). They arose on the border of the agricultural / Christian and nomadic / Muslim worlds. "Cossack" and "Ukrainian" are often used interchangeably, although Cossacks were not only Ukrainian. In the history of the Cossacks, Ukrainians see the origins of their identity, including mentality and love of freedom. Let us show you this through the cartoon "Cossacks" (1st episode was released in 1967).

The main characters surprisingly well convey character traits that Ukrainians would prefer to associate with themselves. Hrai (character on the left) is a cunning and prudent Cossack “kharakternyk” (a spiritual mentor, keeper of traditions, and sometimes even a sorcerer). Oko (in the center) is a skilled archer who is energetic and militant. Tur (on the right) is a strong but sentimental warrior.

“How the Cossacks drove the orcs” – from Ukrainian social networks. April 2022

On the island of Mala Khortytsya, behind the legendary orders in 1556, the Cossacks found their first fortification – Zaporozka Sich. And until 1775, the fate of the forts (Sich) on the banks of the Dnieper was a strengthened military-political force. The Zaporizhians were enemies and allies (under the protectorate) of the Commonwealth, the Crimean Khanate, and the Muscovite Kingdom/Russian Empire. A vast community of Cossacks – Volnosti Viyska Zaporozkoho Nyzovoho – was called a freeman because there was no slavery (kripatstvo), and a Cossack foreman was elected annually.

Ukrainian lands in 1750

Ukrainians still use the traditions of Sich`s self-government. During the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014, the central place of the protest – Kyiv Maidan, was often compared to the Sich Fortress, surrounded by barricades.

A meme from the Revolution of Dignity: Under any uncertain circumstances, build Sich.

Since the 1570s, the Ukrainian Cossacks have claimed the status of a separate state in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They paid taxes in blood by their military service. Their rights and privileges attracted many people. Tens of thousands of people became Cossacks – arbitrarily declared themselves Cossacks and, accordingly, large areas outside of Sich became Cossacks.

The accumulated contradictions provoked conflicts between the Cossacks and the Polish authorities. As a result, the Cossack uprisings failed in 1591-1638. However, the rebellion of 1648 was a success. Its leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, actually created a new state. Historians will call it the Hetmanate (hetman – the elected head of state and leader of the Cossacks), and this period – the Cossack revolution of the mid-seventeenth century. As a result, the Ukrainian Cossack state emerged almost 100 years after the appearance of the first Sich fortress. It lasted until the end of the eighteenth century.

State during times of B. Khmelnytsky.

However, only its left-bank part remained at that time. Shortly after Bohdan Khmelnytsky's death, the state split along the Dnieper River into two parts: Left-Bank Ukraine (blue on the map below) and Right-Bank Ukraine (marked red). A civil war broke out, complicated by the intervention of neighboring states. At the same time, the Sich territory (yellow) often lived on its own.

Three Cossack territories in the 1660s.

(описание картинки ниже) The Polish authorities finally abolished the Cossack administrative system of the Right Bank in 1713, the Zaporozhian Sich by the Russian Empress in 1775, and the Left Bank lost the remnants of autonomy in the 1780s. Russians didn't manage to occupy the important centers (regimental cities) of the Cossack Left Bank – Chernihiv, Pryluky, and Nizhyn during the invasion in 2022. The defense of Chernihiv partly simplified the protection of the capital of Ukraine.

To the east of the Left Bank of Ukraine was another "Cossack" region – Slobozhanshchyna or Sloboda Ukraine. This territory did not have its own elected leader and was subordinated to the local Russian voivode. Three of the four regimental cities of this region (Sumy, Okhtyrka Kharkiv) could not be captured by the Russian army in 2022 as well. Heavy fighting has been going on around the fourth city of Izyum during spring 2022.

At the end of the 18th century, another region, the Kuban, became "Cossack." Descendants of the Zaporozhian Cossacks actively settled here. It was considered Ukrainian ethnographic territory at the beginning of the twentieth century. These lands are currently a part of Russia.

Kuban is marked in red.

Taras Shevchenko. Ivan Pidkova. 1840

In the 19th century, Ukrainians did not have their own state. Like other peoples of Europe, they created their own modern national identity. Romanticized ideas about the Ukrainian Cossacks, emphasizing the ideals of freedom and equality (echoed the slogans of the Great French Revolution), came in handy. The primary creator of this myth was Taras Shevchenko, who created a heroic and attractive image of the Cossack past in his poetry.

The myth of the Cossacks and the cult of Shevchenko became unifying for Ukrainians. His younger contemporary Pavlo Chubynsky wrote poetry with the words in 1862:

“We will lay our soul and body for the cherished freedom.
Cossack blood will raise the nation of the joyous people.”

This is the chorus of the national anthem of Ukraine

The song "Cossacks go" in a contemporary sound

The Ukrainian spirit is in honor of the traditions of our ancestors – a reminder to ourselves that we are a Cossack family.

Andriy Khlyvnyuk and Pink Floyd "Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow".

The Ukrainian military tradition and protection of their land from uninvited guests are at the heart of Cossack's identification. In 1914, the Legion of Ukrainian Sich Riflemen was established, using the word "Sich" to continue the tradition of the Zaporozhian Sich, destroyed in 1775. Now the song of this military unit from the distant 1914 – "Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow" is one of the most popular songs in Ukraine.

The Cossack tradition was relevant during the struggle for independence from 1917 to 1921. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (also known as UPA, 1940 to the 1950s) considered the main Cossack holiday – Pokrova, its founding day. The president receives a mace at the inauguration in modern Ukraine that symbolizes the hetman's power over the Cossacks. Many military units belonging to Ukraine's defense forces in the war with Russia are named after the Cossack leaders of previous centuries.

How the Cossacks roasted rashists. The Ukrainian spirit is a Cossack drive that nurtures historical traditions.

Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov thanked the Americans for providing the M777 howitzers to the Armed Forces of Ukraine and assured them that the army uses these systems effectively. He wrote about this on Twitter.

"155 mm, M777. The Ukrainian army uses them successfully – no other words are needed." , – the Defense Minister wrote.

The Minister presented an excerpt from the cartoon "How the Cossacks bought salt" (1975), where the main characters hit the enemy with a cannon.

And the Ukrainian spirit is humor that allows you to withstand difficult times:

"How the Cossacks applied to join the European Union" – from Ukrainian social networks.


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Being brave like Ukraine means raising in defense whenever anyone tries to violate and mutilate something native.

Lesson 7

Traditions of Ukrainians

Lesson 7