Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ukranian Cossacks

The above is a statue honouring Cossack hetman Sahaidachny in Kontraktova Ploschad, Kiev. Cossacks, the wild horsemen of the borderlands of southern Russia, are more or less synonomous with Ukraine. They were freemen who organized into groups in various locations in order to escape serfdom in Russia or slavery in the Ottoman Empire. The only requirements to be a Cossack were Christianity and male gender--Muslims, Jews and women did not need to apply. They elected their own leaders called hetmen.
One large group(called a sich) of Cossacks met on the island of Khortitsa near Zaporozhye, where there is now a very interesting museum dedicated to them. They were outlawed by Catherine the Great and had fallen into decline by the 19th century. When not meeting for military training on the island, they were peaceful farmers.
Cossacks fought in wars against Poland and Lithuania and were notorious for participating in pogroms of Jews. They were renowned for their horsemanship, and visitors to Khortitsa can see amazing feats of riding at the Cossack Horse Theatre there in summer.


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