History has always been murky in terms of determining the origins of the Slavic people. To modern Ukrainian historians, the Cossacks are considered to be the most important people in defining Ukraine as a nation. The Cossacks played an absolute key role in the seventeenth-century Ukrainian Revolution; a national uprising that ultimately led to the creation of a Ukrainian Cossack State in 1648. This is undoubtedly of "crucial importance" to the development of Ukrainian national identity.
The word Cossack come from the Turkic word qazaq, meaning "free men" who took advantage of the wild field. According to experts, early Cossacks were fleeing from serfdom and religious persecution but this idea became an attraction to many in the area. The Cossack civilisation came from both Muscovy and Ruthenia. This is a factor that makes it difficult to distinguish between Russian Cossacks from the north and Ukrainian Cossacks from the south & west, the latter being centred beyond the rapids (hence, in Ukrainian, Za-porozhian) on the river Dnieper. The Ukrainian Zaporozhian Cossacks were defined by two distinct characteristics: their Orthodoxy and their democratic/demotic political culture (the Cossacks would elect their leaders, the title being Hetman). Moreover, the Zaporozhian Cossacks welcomed recruits from far away lands such as present day Moldova, Poland, Greece and even renegade Tatars from the former Ottoman Empire. The 1648 uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led by Bohdan Khmelnytskyi (1595 - 1657) marked a significant turning point in history. By the following year, Khmelnytskyi had taken control most of the Kiev, Bratslav and Chernihiv palatinates despite numerous attempts from the commonwealth. Soon afterwards, Khmelnytskyi installed himself as Hetman and his territories were christened the Hetmanate. What followed was a flourishing of activity: the defence at the sich located on the island of Khortytsia was improved, arrangements were made to acquire & make weapons & ammunition, and emissaries were sent to the Kham of Crimea at the time. Ukrainian historians have argued that Khmelnytskyi had ambitions to conquer all of Ruthenia but the nature of his ambitions in the west remains to this day a controversial matter. Despite initial success, the great Cossack leader was frustrated by circumstance due to the recovery of Polish power in the 1650s. After a series of negotiations, Khmelnytskyi signed the Treaty of Pereyaslav which obliged them to accept the Russian Tsar's Lordship. Although the idea of an independent Cossack nation state failed, Khmelnytskyi is depicted as the "saviour of a nation reborn" rather than the "mere leader of a social revolt."
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Russian Empire developed expansionist ambitions and to follow through with their idea, it relied on the loyalty of the integrated Cossacks. Instead of helping the Russians with their agenda, the Cossacks' ideology of traditional independence and freedom caused a rift which ultimately led to anti-imperial rebellions lead by figures such as Stenka Razin, Kondraty Bulavin and Yemelyan Pugachev. Furthermore, there was also the rebellion of Ivan Mazepa, the Hetman who ruled between 1687 and 1709. In spite of their spirit, the combined army of the Ukrainian Cossacks and the Swedes were outgunned by the Moscovites, who were aided by their loyal Cossacks. Following the unfortunate defeat, Mazepa was exiled and died three years later after his sentence. The rebellion did more harm than good and it lead to the dissolution of Slobidska Ukraine in 1765, the Zaporozhian Sich in 1775 and finally the Hetmanate itself in 1785. It was only after the dissolution of the former USSR that the Cossacks were officially identified as an ethnicity. Today, there are Cossack organisations in Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland and the United States.
Khortytsia is an island located away from the Zaporizhzhya city centre. To get there, one needs to take the Marshrutka number 46 or 93 from the McDonalds located on Metalurh street. As mentioned above, this 12km X 2.5km island has played a significant role in the history of Ukraine, in particular the history of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Khortytsia is a popular hangout location for locals and tourists alike (especially lovers). It is even argued that the island is the most romantic location in the whole entire city of Zaporizhzhya due to the spectacular view one gets of the city from the island. Furthermore, the island contains some unique flora and fauna as well as rocky parts especially in the north.
The Museum of the Zaporozhian Cossacks is a modern building (it was built in 1983) and is an attraction that cannot be missed. Entrance into the museum cost UAH 9.00 and the exhibits are well worth looking at. It explains in detail the history of the Ukrainian Cossacks in this area as well as a special exposition of the German siege of the city during the Second World War. It would be helpful to obtain an English tour guide for this museum since the descriptions are not at all sufficient!
The remains of the Zaporozhian Sich is also a very interesting site to visit on the island. Due to its historical significance, it attracts many visitors to the island. The Zaporozhian Sich had six significant periods of time:
- The appearance of the Sich (1471—1583).
- The struggle with Rzeczpospolita for religious, national independence of Southern Rus'(1583–1657)).
- The struggle with Rzeczpospolita, Ottoman Empire, and Crimea Khanate for the religious and national independence of Ukrainian part of Rzechpospolita (1657—1686).
- The struggle with Crimea, Ottoman Empire, and Russian Empire for the unique identity of Cossacks (1686—1709).
- The creation of the Danubian Sich outside the Russian Empire and finding ways to return home (1709–1734)
- The standoff to the Russian government for its attempts to cancel self-governing of the Sich and its fall (1734—1775).
Unfortunately it is closed during winter so it is best to go in the summer.
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