Ukrainian Cossacks

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ukrainian Cossacks


(also Little Russian Cossacks), the collective name of the cossacks in the Ukraine, including on the one hand the free cossacks (who arose in the second half of the 15th century in the southern Kiev area and in eastern Podolia) and the cossacks of the Zaporozh’e Sech’ (Lower Zaporozh’e Host) and on the other hand the registered cossacks (originally a unit of the Polish Army).

The cossacks of the Left-bank Ukraine, or Hetmanate, after its unification with Russia in 1654, were officially called Little Russian Cossacks. The Hetmanate was divided into ten “regiments” (polki): the Kiev, Chernigov, Starodub, Nezhin, Pereiaslav, Pri-luki, Lubny, Mirgorod, Poltava, and Gadiach regiments. The regiments were divided into sotni (“hundreds”), and the sotni into cossack gromady (communes).

In 1654 the Russian government by means of special gramoty (documents) limited the number of Little Russian Cossacks to 60,000 and recognized their personal freedom and right to land-ownership. Their main duty was military service, which had to be performed without compensation. At first it proved impossible to limit the number of Little Russian Cossacks to 60,000 because many peasants and meshchane (petty tradesmen and craftsmen) considered themselves cossacks and the government was afraid to provoke their discontent by depriving them of this title. The number of Little Russian Cossacks subsequently declined, however, because with the growth of feudal landownership some peasants and cossacks became feudally dependent on the starshina (higher cossack officials) and the monasteries. By the late 17th century it had become difficult to transfer from peasant to cossack status.

The oppressive burden of military service, the seizure of cossack lands by the starshina, and the tsarist policy of national oppression provided the basis for the class struggle of the Little Russian Cossacks. Under Hetmán D. P. Apóstol (1727–34) the number of Little Russian Cossacks was reduced to 10,000 “elect cossacks.” The remaining cossacks were classified as “helpers.” They were obligated to support the elect cossacks’ military service with material assistance.

In 1783, with the abolition of the autonomy of the Ukraine, the category of Little Russian Cossacks was also abolished, and the cossacks themselves became a special category of the podatnoesoslovie (poll-tax-paying estate); their status was similar to that of the state peasants.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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