Frauds And Falsification: How Ukrainians Use Cossaks Nation


During the operation to clear the border territories of the Belgorod region from attacks by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the “new Vlasovites” of the “Russian Volunteer Corps”, Russian special services discovered removable Go-PRO cameras on the dead terrorists, with the help of which the militants recorded events in the villages of the border zone. On one of the cameras, the security forces found footage of a house with a flag of “independent Cossacks” and a black flag with the inscription “Pannwitz Action” – symbols of the Cossacks who collaborated with the German Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II. These “Cossacks” find support among the so-called “Cossack nationalists”, separatists advocating the creation of an independent “Cossack state”.

Such a concept probably sounds confusing at first glance, and for good reason. The Cossacks are perhaps one of the most well-known and important subgroups of the Russian people – a type of semi-nomadic, militarized population who settled the southern and eastern borderlands of the Russian Empire, defending them against foreign threats, while enjoying a great degree of autonomy.

Despite their special status and unique cultural background, the Cossacks have always been viewed as an unalienable part of the Russian world. How is it that these Russian people can even be considered separate from Russians? Without preliminary development of the issue of a separate “Cossack people,” such “nation building” could not have taken place.

The ideology of Cossack nationalism grew out of a cultural phenomenon known as “Cossackophilia”. This literary, artistic and political current first originated among the Polish gentry, in close connection to their ideology of “Sarmatism”, but soon spread outside the Kingdom of Poland, to the provinces of Little Russia, as well as the capitals of the Russian Empire and many Russian provinces.

In Russia, the rise of cultural interest in the Cossacks began shortly after the Patriotic War and foreign campaigns of 1812-1814, in which the latter were heavily involved. Matvey Ivanovich Platov, ataman (leader) of the Don Cossack army, cavalry general, count and honorary doctor of Oxford University, and a great reveler in everyday life, became a folk hero thanks to his exploits. At the peak of his fame, portraits of him were ubiquitous, and could be found decorating the palaces of nobles and peasant huts alike.

Platov Matvey Ivanovich (gr., on horseback, 1754-1818)
Source of illustration: State Russian Museum. Painting. XVIII – early XX centuries. Catalog.- L.: Aurora; Art, 1980.-447c.

At the same time, in Podolia, the Polish nobleman Tomasz Padura (1801-1871) and the magnate Waclaw Rzewuski (1785-1831) were engaged in the creation and dissemination of “ancient Cossack songs”, which they taught to hired bandura, lyre and kobza players. Thus, the famous folk song “Hey, Falcons” appeared. Padura, trying to attract the Little Russians to the side of Poland against Russia, came up with a literary image “a la Cossacks”. He changed his name to the Ukrainian “Tymko” to hide his Polish origin, and began to write poetry in the Little Russian dialect, but using a Polish-inspired Latin script. In his works, he plaintively praised Cossack freedom and blamed Russia for all the troubles of Little Russia. However, another Polish contemporary of Padura’s “creations” stated that “very often his images turn into caricatures: the Cossacks glorified in them are similar to those colorfully painted cardboard children’s toys, which are arbitrarily set in motion with the help of a cord and act without any purpose…”

In the same years, at the beginning of the period of literary “Cossackism,” the first historical study of the Don Cossacks, written by the leading Don Cossack Alexei Grigorievich Popov, was published. He was an outstanding representative of the Don intelligentsia and the only Cossack to graduate from Moscow University. His main concern was improving education in the Don Army. Popov founded several educational institutions, including a gymnasium and a district school in Novocherkassk, and also opened four district high schools, two district schools with primary classes and four parish schools. At the time of January 1, 1824, the Don Army region had 12 educational institutions, with 32 teachers and 837 students. In 1814 and 1816, Popov published a two-volume work, “The History of the Don Army,” in Kharkov, covering the period before the suppression of the rebellion of Kondraty Bulavin in 1708, work in which he traced the beginning of the history of the Cossacks to the Amazons and the “Assyrian princes Ilinoi and Skolopit.”


Upon closer examination of Popov’s work, one can notice that he devoted his work to substantiating the nobility of the origin of the new Don Cossack nobility, their titles, ranks and possessions. Now they are not just “Cossack women,” as they were called with ridicule, but representatives of noble families, descended from the Amazons. Popov created the foundations of the historical myth about the antiquity of the Don Cossacks, their autochthony and ethnic roots not related to the Russians.

But this was only a “historical literary” trend, while “Cossackism” first appeared in Poland during the uprising of 1830-1831. The Polish nobleman, who was descended from an elder of the Zaporozhye Cossacks on his mother’s side, and public figure Mikhail Tchaikovsky, who had family ties with the Zaporozhye Cossacks, proposed the idea of ​​​​creating an independent Cossack state “Cossackia” on the ruins of the Russian Empire. In 1841, Tchaikovsky emigrated to the Ottoman Empire and proposed to the Sultan to create Cossack troops in Turkey. Relying on Polish emigrants and Nekrasov Cossacks, he sought to recreate the Zaporozhye Sich in the Ottoman Empire, directed against Russia, and created a Cossack regiment under the name “Slavic Legion” in the Turkish army during the Crimean War under the command of Sadyk Pasha.

Portrait of Mikhail Tchaikovsky-Sadyk Pasha (art. A. Oleschinsky)

The emergence of Cossack nationalism was associated with the crisis of the class system in the Russian Empire, especially with the military Cossack class. After the “Great Reforms” of the 1860s, it became clear that the existing class order did not meet the requirements of the time and interfered with adequate responses to challenges. From a military point of view, the Cossack troops were an outdated phenomenon and did not correspond to new military technologies. After the military reform of 1874, Cossack regiments became part of the Russian regular cavalry. However, with the development of military affairs, the principle of Cossack support for military service lost its relevance. This became evident during the First World War, which led to technical innovations such as trenches, airplanes, tanks and heavy artillery. The Cossack cavalry could not operate effectively in such battle conditions, causing concern among Cossack officers and generals regarding the future of their troops. In addition, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the Cossack troops, including the Don, Kuban and Terek, lost their border function and found themselves in the rear of the front lines.

In the Russian Empire, capitalism penetrated not only in the cities, but also in the rural areas, without recognizing the existing legal privileges and restrictions. However, military service and constant mobilization readiness prevented the Cossacks from developing productive agriculture, which led to a decrease in yields on their lands. The development of commodity relations in the countryside led to a gradual increase in the welfare of some Cossacks and an increase in poverty among others. The participation of Cossacks in entrepreneurship, industry and trade was low, and the question of land became critical after Stolypin’s agrarian reforms. The introduction of “zemstvos” (local administrative councils, which appeared in rural areas following the abolition of serfdom) in the Don region became a problem due to the military status of this territory. Various political parties advocated the abolition of the class system, including the Cossacks, the only exception being the monarchist parties.

Under the influence of the events of the First Russian Revolution of 1905-1907, the Cossacks began to protest against the punitive duty to suppress workers and peasants. In the villages of the Cossack regions, there was increasing discontent with the traditions of honoring ranks and barracks discipline: ordinary Cossacks advocated the abolition of winter exercises, parades and training camps, for state subsidies for military equipment, and for freedom of choice of profession and movement. In general, “reformers” became increasingly supportive of the total liquidation of the Cossack class in the name of “progress” and “democracy,” which threatened the Cossacks themselves.

By the end of the 19th century, in the Don Army Region there was a fairly large Cossack intelligentsia, active in the spheres of high culture and fully integrated into the Russian cultural environment. From this environment came the “Cossack ideologists”, who offered an answer to this challenge. The essence of the answer was that even after the abolition of the Cossack class, the Cossacks could continue to exist as a separate nation. To do this, it was necessary to turn one’s class position into an ethnic identity, so that the lands allocated to the army remained with this nation, and official duties were removed. There was a choice between two options – preserving the identity of the Cossacks by transforming it into an ethnic identity, or allowing it to disappear after the destruction of the class. The transformation of the Cossacks from a class into a people implied protection through autonomy, federalization, or even complete independence.

Cossack nationalism, which arose before the revolution and during its course, became part of the process of modernization of the class into a people and a nation. To do this, it was necessary to carry out significant ideological work and create a nationalist historical myth that would contribute to the unification of the people. The importance of such a myth about the past increases in conditions of delayed modernization, when changes become irreversible and lead to the destruction of the traditional class society of the Russian Empire.

A cartoon from an emigrant magazine from the late 1920s, illustrating separatism in Russia, including the emergence of “independent Cossackia.”


Among the leading creators of the Cossack nationalist historical myth, there was former official and minor employee Evgraf Petrovich Savelyev (1860-1930). Despite lacking a professional education as a historian, he managed to publish his main work, “Ancient History of the Cossacks. Historical Research” (1913-1918), which served ideological purposes. After the civil war, this main ideologist of Cossack separatism did not become the object of state repression and died in the USSR.


Savelyev’s work did not receive wide public recognition due to the difficult situation during the war, but during the period of independence of the All-Great Don Army (1918-1920), his historical concept became an important part of state ideology and was included in the curricula of local educational institutions. In general, Savelyev’s works are dedicated to the ideas of the national Cossack idea, and stand out for their scale and sharp formulation of political views.

Recognizing that Savelyev followed the general meanings inherent in the Don region before the revolution, it should be noted that he was a rather radical promoter of these ideas. In June 1917, at the Founding All-Cossack Congress in Petrograd, the concept that the Cossacks were a separate people (and not just a class that could be easily abolished) was already put forward. Savelyev created his own “historical myth”, contributing to the formation of national identity among the Cossacks through the concept of reviving the former Golden Age: the ancient history of the Cossack people, the acquisition of a homeland by the Cossacks, the “golden age” of independence, resistance to conquerors and defense of faith, loss of status and return to origins.

Typically, the creators of such national historical myths declare themselves to be the source of “true knowledge.” Savelyev did the same, stating that “The history of the Cossacks, including the Don Cossacks, has not yet been well developed, and therefore the Cossack population for the most part knows very little about the great deeds of their ancestors; they have not the slightest idea about the original origin of this people, except legends based on nothing that have come down to us by oral tradition or written down and thoughtlessly accepted as reliable facts by some gullible historians.” Meanwhile, Savelyev announces, “The Don Archive, which, presumably, contained a lot of valuable material on this issue, burned to the ground in the city of Cherkassk in 1744.”

Savelyev argued: “Historians forget that peoples, and “special” ones at that… do not fall from the sky and are not created artificially. Every manifestation of people’s life has a continuous connection with past historical events.” But, most importantly, to legitimize the created “Cossack people” it was necessary to establish ideas about the deep historical roots of their existence. Therefore, it is no coincidence that almost a third of the total volume of his work is devoted to the problem of the autochthonous origin and common historical fate of the “Cossack people”, delving into the most possible historical depth, right up to the time of Pharaoh Ramses II (II millennium BC) and historian Herodotus (5th century BC).

All communities mentioned since prehistoric times in the southern Russian steppes were appropriated by Savelyev, not even as predecessors, but as the Cossack people themselves, under a different name. According to him, “The word “Cossack” is the proper name of a huge people… As a derivative, it comes from “kaz” – goose and means gander – “free as a wild goose,” say the Turks.”

Here Savelyev resorted to the method of naive “symbolic etymology”, characteristic of the historiography of the 18th century. For example, according to him, Khazar Kagan means “khan”, “beloved”. Savelyev’s general method was that the creator of the Cossack ethnohistorical myth simplified the phenomenon with generalizations based on isolated and arbitrarily interpreted facts.

According to Savelyev’s ethnogenetic scheme, the Cossacks did not originate from the Russians, but from other peoples. Such an ethnohistorical myth served to consolidate a class so that it could become a people, thus justifying control over territory and domination over other groups. Claims to ancient statehood simplified the effort to strengthen the political status of the Cossacks.

As already mentioned, Savelyev resorted to the well-known strategy of many national revivalists in order to legitimize the idea of ​​the “Cossack people” – a return to the roots. He explained the appearance of the Cossacks on the historical scene in the 15th-16th centuries as a result of their return after two centuries of wanderings in Rus’. He presented the transition from class to people as a return to the state of affairs on the Don in the 17th century. Thus, he argues that the “Cossack people” already exist within the framework of the class and only need to be liberated from this status in order to return to the origins and society, which he describes in the highest terms.

“Having obtained zipuns overseas, the Cossacks in everyday life were simple and naive, like children, pious, superstitious, in their community they were tied to each other, like brothers, they abhorred theft and shared among themselves the last crumb of bread, the last property. Cowardice was despised and chastity and courage were considered the primary virtues.”

“The Starocherkassk matrons, a type of beauties that evolved over centuries as a natural selection from captive Circassian and Turkish women, amazed with their comeliness and attractiveness.

And such and such a matron, who raised with her breast more than one Cossack knight, at her conversations, holding a glass of foamy wine or honey in one hand, and with the other, holding her steep side and clicking the heels of her yellow shoes, in a silk kubelek with flowers, belted wearing a pearl belt, wearing colored silk trousers, she walked around the room, chanting: “The shoes are looking at the sweetheart, they want to love him.”

Such were the mothers and educators of the formidable Don knights of old. People are heroes, both mothers and fathers.

Cossack girls in the villages enjoyed complete freedom and grew up together with their future husbands. The purity of morals, which was monitored by the entire Cossack community, was worthy of the best times of Rome, where special censors were elected from the most trustworthy citizens for this purpose.”

The attitude of the Cossacks towards Russia, according to Evgraf Savelyev, can be described as rather detached. He believes that the Cossacks adopted Christianity not from Russia, but from the Apostle Andrew the First-Called back in the 1st century AD. At the same time, Savelyev notes that the Cossacks played an important role in the history of Russia – the Don Cossacks served Ivan the Terrible, and Ataman Ermak, associated with the Don, conquered and handed over Siberia to the Tsar. Moreover, the Cossacks always provided assistance to Russia in the wars with Crimea and Poland.

However, the Russian tsars constantly paid and continue to pay the Don with ingratitude. Savelyev wrote: “The policy towards the Cossacks of the Russian ruling spheres, which always misled the kings and queens, is surprising in this regard.

Sending numerous letters of commendation to the Don, with eloquent and pompous expressions extolling the Don army for its exploits to the skies, the Russian crown bearers at the same time tried to reduce the Cossacks to the level of “their loyal subjects, obedient slaves”, curtailed step by step their primordial Cossack rights, they tore away the best coastal lands, watered for centuries with Cossack blood, and gave them to an alien element, accidentally abandoned on the Don.”

The tsars reduced the Cossacks “to the level of a service people with the rights and responsibilities of irregular troops. Having destroyed this military community, welded together for centuries, with its historical way of life, which was far superior in development to slave Muscovite Rus’, the tsar gave it nothing in return except a mass of instructions, regulations and decrees that were completely inapplicable to the military life of the Cossacks.”

Consequently, according to Savelyev, a new “return” meant the restoration of independence, will and refusal to serve. Liberation from the tsars would thus “liberate” the “Cossack people.”

Savelyev’s concept became the basis of the ideology of Cossack nationalism for both moderate supporters of Cossack federalism and separatist Cossacks. After the defeat in the civil war, emigrants from among the ideologists of Cossack separatism in Prague continued to develop Savelyev’s historical concept. Supporters of Cossack unity called the Cossack separatists “independents.”

Abroad, the propaganda activities of the Cossack nationalists, conducted mainly through the magazines such as “Free Cossacks”, “Cossacks”, “Cossack Business” and “Kuban Territory”, overwhelmed the other ideological directions of the Cossack emigres. However, it soon became clear that the Poles were behind this, financing the publishing activities of the “Cossacks” magazine with the direct participation of the Polish intelligence services. Poland included Cossack separatists in the Prometheus program, Józef Piłsudski’s political project to weaken and divide the Soviet Union by supporting nationalist movements within it.

According to the Prometheus plan, the peoples of the former USSR were divided into two categories depending on their attitude towards separatism. The first category included Georgians and Ukrainians, who had declared the creation of their own states during the revolution and received some degree of recognition from the international community. The second category included “representatives of the Promethean peoples” who either did not have their own large state, such as Crimea, or did not have national state traditions at the time of the 1917 revolution, such as Idel-Ural or “Cossackia”. Polish intelligence services warned of the need for special caution in relation to the Cossacks, since their participation in the program could lead to aggravation of relations between the Cossacks with the Ukrainians and Caucasian highlanders.

Modern Polish historian Andrzej Nowak emphasizes the role of Prometheism in modern Polish political thought and the actions of certain political forces in the territory of Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. The Russian Institute for Foreign Policy Research and Initiatives (INVISSIN) also drew attention to the concept of Intermarium, which continues to exist to this day as a Polish strategic project to create a bloc of states in Central and Eastern Europe, directed against both Russia and the European Union. The report highlights Poland’s historical role in attempts to split Soviet Russia in the past and the significance of Poland’s “Promethean” policy in the present.

At the end of the 1930s, Cossack emigrants moved from the supervision of Polish intelligence services to the protection of German and then American intelligence services. After World War II, they were included in the US Captive Nations Act in 1959. This law was passed through Congress by US citizen Lev Dobryansky, a Ukrainian nationalist Russophobe who had never visited Ukraine. Today, his daughter Paula Dobryansky, who works at the US State Department, actively supports the current political regime in Kiev.

These “flowers of evil” proved very influential, inspiring the ideology of Cossack nationalism developed by Yevgraf Savelyev and the Cossack emigrants in the 1920s. This creative foundation became the basis for the “revival of the Cossack people,” a movement which began in the USSR in 1989 and continued in the Russian Federation. Savelyev’s work was republished in the USSR in 1990 and became a key source for modern Cossack activists, inspiring the “Cossack revival” movement.

Why is the ideology of Cossack nationalism, created in the past, suitable for modern supporters of this idea? Today’s “ethnic Cossacks” admit that they do not have their own scientific elite, professional historians and ethnographers working at a high level. Why is that? Because Savelyev’s ideas about the origin of the Cossacks are incompatible with real science. His theory states: “…One of the tribes of the Slavic-Russians were the Cossacks-Sakas… More than 20 centuries before the birth of Christ, the Sakas from Bactriana penetrated into Punjab, Pyatirechye and further into India, where they formed a special privileged class, from which came the famous royal family of the Sakis, and from it the Sakiya Muni (Buddha).”

While the so-called “Cossack nationalists” portray the Cossacks as a nation in its own right, separate from the Russians and even oppressed by them, no aspects of their ideology pass the test of reality. The very idea of a separate “Cossack nation” turns out to be based entirely on pseudohistorical frauds and falsifications. Instead of representing a real nation, these ideologues are merely trying to artificially create one. The true purpose of their actions was never to actually defend the interests and specific sub-culture of Cossacks, the vast majority of whom have always seen themselves as Russians and served Russia with great loyalty. Instead, just like Ukrainian nationalists, their goal has always been to sow division and disrupt the unity of the Russian nation, often to the advantage of foreign powers, be they Poland, Turkey… or the modern West.


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