Encyclopedia Article


The Cossacks are peasant people of various Eastern European ethnic origins (mostly Ukrainian and Polish) who, in the 15th century, formed independent, military communities as a rebellious response to Russian imperialist practices of oppressive feudalism and slavery. Over time the rebel warriors of these communities became known for their fierce spirit and fighting skills, and were hired by the Russian army as special forces to fight in the European wars of the 18th-20th centuries.

In the West, the term Cossack came to colloquially refer to hired soldiers or law enforcement units, often indicating a derogatory connotation of barbaric and cruel intimidation and fighting techniques.

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"Siberian Cossak, c. 1890s" by Gnomsovet (Family archive) is licensed under CC BY-SA.

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