Slavic-speaking Orthodox Christian people originating in the Pontic steppe

The Cossacks (Ukrainian: Козаки) (from Cuman cosac, meaning "free man")[1] were a group of nomadic East Slavic Orthodox Christian warrior people originating in the steppes of Ukraine. They are famous for their sense of being free. They are also well known for their military skill, mostly as cavalry swordsmen and archers.

A painting showing some Ukrainian Cossacks. Painted by Ilya Repin from 1880 to 1891.

The Ukrainian Cossacks first rose as a warrior group of East Slavic Orthodox Christian horsemen who took up a military tradition and eventually created a Cossack Federation in the steppes of Ukraine. They first rose up in the 15th century in response to the raids of Tatars and the conquests of the Ottoman Empire. During Ottoman occupation of the western bank of Ukraine, the Cossacks rebelled against the Ottoman Empire and were responsible for destroying Ottoman influence in the region. The Ottomans lost control over Ukraine and parts of Romania also due to the Cossack rebels and raiders. The Cossacks captured many Ottoman outposts in the Ukrainian steppes and created a Cossack Hetmanate (state). They sometimes served the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth forces and later fought against them, taking Ukraine. Thus, the Cossacks are considered in Ukraine to be the founders of modern Ukraine since they expelled the Ottomans and Polish from Ukraine and created an independent state for themselves.

The name Cossack itself literally means "free man". The term was first used in the year 1395.[source?] The most well known Cossacks are the Ukrainian Cossacks from Zaporizhzhia and the Russian Cossacks (Kazaks) from Don, Terek, Kuban and Ural areas. They started after the Mongols attacked Kievan Rus. Eventually Russian Cossacks guarded land for the Russian government. Cossacks were in the Russian army in some wars throughout the 1800s and 1900s. They were mostly responsible for conquering land in Central Asia and the Caucasus for the Russian Empire. In behalf of the Russian Imperial Empire, they conquered lands as far east as Siberia and even in Alaska which they conquered. Alaska was later sold to the USA however the lands they conquered in the far east Russia such as Siberia are still part of Russia today making Russia the largest country in the world by land size. They conquered places in Caucasus too for example the rebellious states of Chechnya and Dagestan. They were also responsible for destroying many Turkic states in both the Caucasus and Central Asia due to their conquests for the Russian Empire. They subdued Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and were responsible for adding these states to the huge Russian Empire. They also invaded Armenia due to calls of support by the Armenians against the Ottoman Empire and in doing so, they conquered Azerbaijan and annexed both Armenia and Azerbaijan to their empire and defeated the Ottomans many times in northeastern Turkey. In the Russian Civil War most fought against the Red Army but some were "Red Cossacks" who fought on behalf of the Bolsheviks. In Soviet times, the Cossacks' life was subject to a lot of Bolshevik attacks and Cossack lands survived several famines. Cossack armies fought on both sides in the Second World War. In Russia today, Cossacks are ethnic descendants or are in the Cossack army and often both.


  1. For a detailed analysis, see Pritsak, Omeljan (2006–2007). "The Turkic Etymology of the Word Qazaq 'Cossack'". Harvard Ukrainian Studies. 28 (1–4): 237–XII.