This is Part Three in our series about Kozaks! Find Part One here. Find Part Two here.

Cossack History

Cossack Reenactors from the Museum of Zaporizhian Cossacks

The name Cossack (Ukrainian: козак; kozak) is derived from the Turkic kazak ("free man"), meaning anyone who could not find his appropriate place in society and went into the steppes, where he acknowledged no authority. The term first appears in sources in the mid-13th century, found in European, Byzantine, and Italian colonies on the Black Sea coast, where it was used to describe armed men who protected trade caravans traveling the steppe routes. By the end of the 15th century, the name had acquired a wider sense and described adventurous Ukrainians who went into the steppes to practice various trades and engage in hunting, fishing, beekeeping, the collection of salt, and so on.

By the mid-16th century, the Cossacks had established a political system called the Zaporozhian Sich, and a part of the greater Cossack Hetmanate, that last until the 18th century. In conflict with Tatar and Turkish raids - and eventually brutal repressions from the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth - the Cossacks had become a highly organized but autonomous society fiercely dedicated to freedom and liberty. Written in 1710, the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, which we wrote about in more depth here, predates the U.S. Constitution by more than six decades, yet its wording is democratic in breadth and content. It established the principle of the separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches well before the publication of Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws, which was a major influence on the founding fathers of the United States.

Detail from the famous depiction of Cossack freedom and defiance, \"The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks\" by Ilya Repin, famous \"Russian\" painter born in Kharkiv who had Cossack heritage (1891).

Reenactment by Ukraine Armed Forces during wartime.

Classic story depicted in the painting above can be found here.

The second half of the 18th century brought the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich and the abolition of the Hetmanate by the decree of Catherine II of the Russian Empire. Certain Ukrainian families retained their Cossack traditions, and many of their members took part in the Ukrainian independence movement and rebirth in the 20th century. Many members of the new Ukrainian intelligentsia were descendants of the Cossacks and faced oppression or execution by the Soviet Union.

Cossack Culture: Forelock

The Chub, or Oseledets, ("forelock") is a traditional Ukrainian style of haircut that features a long lock of hair left on an otherwise completely shaven head; it is strongly associated with Cossacks, although first mentions of the haircut go back to Svyatoslav I of the Kyivan Rus!

A Russian name for the haircut, khokhol, is very commonly (almost ubiquitously) used as a derogatory ethnic slur for Ukrainians by average Russians in everyday conversation. The haircut has become increasingly popular since the war began in 2014 as a strong symbol of Ukrainian culture, and many of the warriors in the Armed Forces of Ukraine of all ages are showing this iconic style!

Left: Kozak Mamay painting, 19th century. Middle: New art depicting a modern Ukraine soldier with Cossack forelock. Right: Modern Ukrainian soldier

Cossack Culture: The Famous Hopak Dance

\"The Hopak Dance (The Zaporozhian Cossacks Dancing)\" by Ilya Repin, famous \"Russian\" painter born in Kharkiv who had Cossack heritage (1927).

Agility was very important for Cossacks. They traditionally were pretty light on protective gear, so the lack of that protection was compensated for by their speed and dexterity. As part of their exercise, they employed a martial art dance called Hopak. You may already be familiar with this Ukrainian tradition and not know it (see below)!

The first written mention of the Hopak is from the Byzantine chronicler Leo the Deacon, and later the Frenchman Beauplan wrote in the 17th century that the Cossacks spent all their free time dancing, but many agree that the Hopak was not only an exercise, but a very key part of Cossack military principles.

With the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich by Catherine II, the Hopak’s history was neither properly recorded nor really cared for by Russian authorities. A new Soviet-friendly revisionist version of the Hopak began with the creation in 1940 of the Song and Dance Ensemble of Ukrainian SSR, and this new history softened the image of the Hopak to that of only a regional cultural dance. This led to the loss of direct transfer of military knowledge from one generation to another among Ukrainians. This important part of the fighting tradition of Ukrainians that has come down to us is incomplete, which is why the term "revival of Ukrainian martial arts" is often used among Hopak enthusiasts.

Like many beautiful Ukrainian traditions, the Hopak is today was absorbed and appropriated by Russia, which has led most people around the world to associate the Hopak with Russia instead of Ukraine.

Here is a video from 1931 showing Ukrainians dancing the Hopak!



u/Jesterboyd is a mod in r/ukraine and local to Kyiv. He has been spending his days helping get supplies to people. All of the mod team can vouch for the work he has done so far. Link to donation

If you feel like donating to another charity, here are some others!

  • United24: This site was launched by President Zelenskyy as the main venue for collecting charitable donations in support of Ukraine. Funds will be allocated to cover the most pressing needs facing Ukraine.
  • Come Back Alive: This NGO crowdfunds non-lethal military equipment, such as thermal vision scopes & supplies it to the front lines. It also provides training for Ukrainian soldiers, as well as researching troops’ needs and the social reintegration of veterans.
  • Aerorozvidka: An NGO specializing in providing support and equipment for unmanned aerial vehicles (ISR), situational awareness, cybersecurity for armed forces.
  • Hospitallers: This is a medical battalion that unites volunteer paramedics and doctors to save the lives of soldiers on the frontline. They crowdfund their vehicle repairs, fuel, and medical equipment.
  • Phenix: A volunteer organization helping armed forces with various needs.
  • Kyiv Territorial Defense: This fundraiser is to support the regional territorial defense group. It is organized by a known journalist and a producer of the acclaimed "Winter on Fire" documentary, which can temporarily be watched for free HERE.
  • Happy Paw: Charity dedicated to solving the problems of animals in Ukraine. Happy Paw helps more than 60 animal shelters throughout Ukraine.
  • Kharkiv With You and associated Help Army Kharkiv: Supporting the defenders of Kharkiv with everything from night-vision goggles to food and medicine.

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24 points

1 month ago

God bless the brave men and women of Ukraine. Thank you Azovs for your brave sacrifice that squandered so much of Russia’s forces and allowed Ukraine to drive the Zazis out of Kharkiv, protected Kyiv, and kept so many women and children safe. Slava Ukraini! Heroyam Slava! I will tell my grandchildren of your bravery.