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Zaporozhian Cossacks

Zaporozhian Cossacks

The Zaporozhian Host or Zaporozhian Voisko, also called by the name of its fortified capital Zaporizhian Sich, was a political, social, and military organization of the Dnieper Cossacks of modern day Ukraine. While the Ruthenian Cossackdom have existed earlier, the organized Host, centred in Zaporizhzhian territory (literary "behind the rapids" (of the Dnieper river), have existed from sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

The independence of the Zaporizhian Sich challenged the authority of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, contemporary Russia, and the Ottoman Empire as well as Khanate of the Crimean Tatars, largely a proxy of the latter. It went through a series of conflicts and alliances involving the three before finally falling under the influence of the Russian Tsar after the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654.

The Zaporozhian Host was led by a Hetman and the supreme government body called the Sich Rada (council). The most famous hetmans were Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Petro Konashevych, Pylyp Orlyk, and Ivan Mazepa.

Some sources call Zaporizhian Sich a "cossack republic", as the highest power in it belonged to the assembly of all its members and all leaders (starshyna) were elected. Cossacks constituted a society (hromada) consisted of "kurens" (several hundreds of cossacks). There was a cossack military court, which severely punished violence and stealing among the compatriots, bringing women to the Sich, alcohol drinking in wartime etc. There were active Orthodox churches and schools, providing religious and secular education for children.

Zaporizhians did not have divisions of infantry, horsemen and fleet, as regular Army. Each cossack was expected to be an able fighter either on foot, or on horse or on boat ("chaika" (seagulf) or "baidak") with equal skill.

After the Treaty of Pereyaslav in 1654, the territory became a suzerainty under the protection of the Russian Tsar, although for a long time it enjoyed nearly complete autonomy. After the death of the Cossack leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1657, his successor, Ivan Vyhovsky, alarmed by a string of Russian victories against the Poles in the ongoing Russo-Polish War, initiated a turn towards weakened Poland. An attempt was made to implement a three-constituent Commonwealth of nations with the Cossacks joining the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth into a political entity by a Treaty of Hadiach (1658). However, the treaty ratified by the Polish Sejm or parliament was rejected at the Hermanivka Rada by the Cossack rank and file who could not accept the union with the mostly Catholic Poland by that time largely perceived by them as an oppressor of the Orthodox commoners. The angered cossacks executed Polkovnyks (colonels) Prokip Vereshchaka and Stepan Sulyma, the Vyhovsky's associates at the Polish Sejm and Vyhovsky himself narrowly escaped death.

As the suzerainty of Russia, the Host comprised the Cossack Hetmanate of Left-bank Ukraine, and Zaporozhia, centred around the fortress, Zaporizhian Sich. After Khmelnytsky's death the Zaporozhians maintained a separate government from Kiev, where the Hetmans ruled in Kiev's autonomous cossack state. The Zaporozhians elected their own leaders, known as Koshovyi Otaman to one-year terms. During this time, there was frequent friction between the cossacks of Kiev and the Zaporozhians.

Cossacks who in the past fought for their independence from Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which attempted to turn them into serfs, now began several uprisings against the Russian Tsar, in fear to loose their privileges and autonomy. In 1709, for example, the Zaporozhian Host led by Kost Hordiienko went along with Hetman Ivan Mazepa against Russia. Mazepa, despite being viewed by the Tsar Peter the Great a trusted adviser and even a close friend, allied himself with Charles XII of Sweden against Peter. Despite the majority of Cossack rank and file refusing to follow Mazepa, who was supported by the leadership, Peter, "angered and surprised" by Mazepa's actions ignored this and ordered the retaliatory destruction of the Sich.

Upon the death of exiled Mazepa in Bessarabia, the part of Starshyna who followed him, "the Mazepists", in 1710 elected his former general chancellor Pylyp Orlyk, as his successor Hetman-in-exile. Orlyk issued the project of the Constitution where he promised to limit the authority of the Hetman, preserve the privileged position of Zaporozhians, take measures towards the social equality among them and take steps towards the separation from Russia should he manage to get the real power in the Ukraine. With the support of the old Russian foe, Charles XII, Orlyk made an alliance with Crimean Tatars and Ottomans against Russia, but following the early successes of their 1711 attack of Russia, their campaign was ultimately defeated and Orlyk fled to another exile. The Zaporozhians built a new sich under Ottoman protection, the Oleshky Sich on the lower Dnieper.
Although many cossacks sought a return to Moscow's protection, their leader Kost Hordiienko was resolute in his anti-Russian attitude and no rapproachment was possible until the leader's death in 1733.

Over the years the friction between the Cossacks and the Tsarist government lessened, and privileges were traded for the reduction of the Cossack autonomy. The Cossacks who did not side with Mazepa elected Ivan Skoropadsky, one of the "anti-Masepist" Polkovnyks (Colonels) as their Hetman. Measured Skoropadsky, while advocating for the preservation for the Hetmanate autonomy and privileges of Cossack nobility, was careful to avoid open confrontation and remained loyal to the union with Russia. With the Russian military needs, the Skoropadsky allowed for stationing of ten Russian regiments in the territory of Hetmanate. At the same time Cossacks took part in the construction, fortification and channel development projects, not only locally but in Saint Petersburg, the new Northern capital of the empire. (Although given the lack of advanced medicine, professional training and construction methods many did not return).

In 1734 as Russia was preparing for a new war against the Ottoman Empire, an agreement was made with the Zaporozhian cossacks. Under the Treaty of Lubny, the Zaporozhian cossacks regained all of their former lands, privileges, laws and customs in exchange for serving under the command of the Russian army stationed in the Hetmanate in Kiev. A new sich (Nova Sich) was built to replace the one that had been destroyed by Peter the Great. Concerned about the possibility of Russian interference in Zaporozhia's internal affairs, the cossacks began to settle their lands with Ukrainian peasants fleeing serfdom in Polish and Russian-controlled territory. By 1762, 33,700 Cossacks and over 150,000 peasants populated Zaporozhia.

By the late 18th century, much of the Cossack officer class in Ukraine was incorporated into the Imperial Russian nobility (Dvoryanstvo), but many of the rank and file Cossacks, including a substantial portion of the old Zaporozhians, were reduced to peasant status. They were able to maintain their freedom and continued to provide refuge for those fleeing serfdom in Russia and Poland, including followers of the Russian cossack Yemelyan Pugachev, which aroused the anger of the Russian empress Catherine II. Also tension rose after the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, when the need for a further southern frontier was gone after the annexation of Crimea. However as the colonisation of New Russia began, this created tensions with the Cossacks, and numerous Serbian colonisers were attacked by the Cossacks.

Finally in May 1775, General Pyotr Tekeli received orders to occupy the main Zaporozhian fortress, the Sech, and liquidate it. The order was given by a "Zaporozhian Cossack" Hrytsko Nechesa, more famously known as Grigory Potemkin, who was formally admitted into Cossackdom a few years prior. Potemkin, from his side, was given direct order from Empress Catherine.

On June 5 1775, General Tekeli surrounded the Sech with artillery and infantry. The lack of southern borders and enemies in the past years had a profound affect on the combat-ability of the Cossacks, who realised the Russian infantry was to destroy them only after surrounding. The surprise effect put a devastating blow to the morale of the Cossacks. Tekeli, however, postponed the storming and even allowed joint visits, whilst the head of the Host, Petro Kalnyshevsky was deciding on how to approach the Empress's ultimatum. Under the guidance of a starshyna Lyakh, behind Kalnyshevky's back a conspiracy was formed with a group of 50 Cossacks to go fishing in the river Ingul next to the Southern Buh in Ottoman provinces. The pretext was enough to allow the Russians to let the Cossacks out of the siege, who were joined by five thousand others. The fleeing Cossacks did go to the Danube Delta where they formed the new Danube Sich, under the protectorate of the Ottoman Empire.

When Tekeli realised of the escape, there was little left for the remaining 12 thousand Cossacks. The Sich was razed to the ground. However, the operation was bloodless, and even though Petro Kalnyshevsky was arrested and exiled to the Solovki (where he lived to 112 years of age to his death despite a latter pardon from Emperor Alexander I), most of the Cossacks were spared from sanctions or repressions. Though the Encyclopedia of Ukrainian Cossackdom claims that most (or even all) high level starshynas were repressed or exiled. Lower ones were allowed to join Husar and Dragoon regiments.


Ukraine, 1992, Vishnevetsky with two cozaks

Ukraine, 1994, Ilya Repin, Kossack

Ukraine, 1998, Bogdan Khmelnytsky

Ukraine, 1999, Chaika

Ukraine, 2002, Vishnevetsky with two cozaks

Ukraine, 2006, Traditional costumes of Zaporozhie

Ukraine, 2006, Ivan Podkova and Ivan Sirko

Ukraine, 2006, Cossacks and Haidamaks

Ukraine, 2007, Bogdan Khmelnitsky and Cossaks

USSR, 1944, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1944, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1944, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1956, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1969, Zaporozhian Cossacks

Ukraine, 1993.12.10, Zaporozhie. Zaporozhian Cossack

Ukraine, 2006.08.8, Kiev. Weapons

Ukraine, 2006.11.03, Kiev. Zaporozhian Cossack

Ukraine, 2006.12.15, Kiev. Zaporozhian Cossack

Ukraine, 1992, Arm of The Zaporozhian Host

Ukraine, 1993, Arm of The Zaporozhian Host

Ukraine, 1993, Arm of The Zaporozhian Host

Ukraine, 2001, Zaporozhian Cossacks

Ukraine, 2002, Yakov Zatenatsky, Cossaks

USSR, 1987, Zaporozhie. Museum of Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1990, Museum Tombs of Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1991, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1991, Cossack Mamay

USSR, 1929, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1930, Zaporozhian Cossacks

USSR, 1971.05.11, Monument to Zaporozhian Cossacks in Taman

USSR, 1981.12.11, Monument to Zaporozhian Cossacks in Taman

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