Which Side for the Cossacks?
I saw on the news that the unrest plaguing eastern Ukraine has now reached Zaporizhzhya, home of the Zaporizhzhyian Sich of Cossacks. The riders shown above are modern re-enactors of some of the extraordinary feats of horsemanship performed by Cossacks. I saww one guy who stood atop two galloping horses, another who rod underneath the horse.
Cossacks were originally sent by Russia to fight for and hold the territory of southeastern Ukraine against the Tatars in the 16th century, but they were later joined by escaped serfs, convicts and others who were not happy in Mother Russia. There were only two requirements to be a Cossack--you had to be male and Christian. According to the Bradt guidebook on Ukraine, modern Ukrainians regard them as the precursors of their first independent government.
Today I suspect Cossacks like the actors above find themselves divided between those who support Ukraine's current government and those who favour closer ties with Russia. In any case, I would definitely want these guys on my side.
If you happen to visit Zaporizhzhya, don't miss the Cossack Museum on Khortytsya Island in the Dnieper. It tells the story of this group of men and the surrounding area, and admission is very inexpensive, probably less than $1.
Cossacks were also noted for dancing, and you can view a modern day Cossack dance troupe at www.zapcossacks.com.