"Had I just 10,000 Cossacks, I would have conquered the whole world." (Napoleon Bonaparte)
"Save us Lord, from Cossacks." (Sir Wilson, reporting the prayers of conquered Germans, 1813)
The modern myth of the Cossack presents striking images of a stern warrior mounted on horseback, with a long woolen coat, papakha (distinctive tall fur cap ) and fur-lined cloak, with bandoliers holding large-caliber bullets crisscrossing his chest. The warrior is armed with a mixture of rifle, lance, daggers and pistols, but he always has his signature weapons: the shashka (a single-edged, guard-less, slightly curved saber originally designed by the Circassian foes) and the nagyka (short, thick whip of braided leather with a heavy weight worked into the end originally designed for fighting off wolves but more commonly used in later years against enemies of the state in the streets of Moscow or Odessa). As enemies conjured up the Cossack as semi-tamed steppe barbarian, a dog of the state, and the fist of the Czar, it's no surprise they were terrified.
Even as the origins of these ferocious fighters remain murky and obscure, the Cossacks have continued their growing international appearance with the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in 2014. The conflict over the Crimea and the southeastern Donbass region has had thoroughly Cossack overtones; on the one hand, the Ukrainian Nationalists view themselves as the descendants of the freedom minded Cossack Republics and on the other hand, Russia has leaned heavily upon Cossack "volunteers" to staff its informal militias in the Donbass and to seize and police Crimea.
©2012 Charles River Editors (P)2016 Charles River Editors