This essay makes an argument about who the Zaporozhian Cossacks were and what their political and social impact was on the various stages of Ukrainian history, in order to understand how they are used in today’s politics. This essay attempts to separate the Cossacks’ mythology from their history by explaining what the Zaporozhian Cossacks were not, notwithstanding today’s new national identity that makes claims to the contrary. The Zaporozhian Cossacks were not representatives of the Ukrainian community and not Orthodox Crusaders. They did not fight for the Ukrainian people and were not at any point Ukrainian nationalists. Even though the Zaporozhian brotherhood was at times self-consciously Ukrainian, their members came from many different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. This study challenges some of the traditional interpretations of the Zaporozhian Cossacks’ role in Ukrainian history as well as in the development of modern Ukrainian nationalism.
The area described as Ukraine was mostly a plain on the direct route from the Southern Asian lowlands to the heart of Europa, meaning that it was also a buffer between Occidental and Oriental civilizations. From its early days Ukraine was a corridor for many migrations, such as Huns, Bulgars, Scandinavians, Mongols, Jews, Tatars, Turks, Poles, Russians, French, and Germans. Among these were also several distinct sub-ethnic groups, especially in western Ukraine.01 The most commonly known are the Hutsuls, Volhynians, Books, and Lemkos. On a large part of the Eurasian plain, nomadic tribes remained dominant well into the modern era.
01. Linda Gordon, Cossack Rebellions-Social Turmoil in the Sixteenth-Century Ukraine, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1983.