Japan had its samurai. Western Europe, its knights in shining armor. North America, its cowboys of the Wild West. Ukraine, its Cossacks toward the western end of the great Eurasian Steppe. All different, each distinctive to its country or region, these figures of history and legend still shine through their respective cultures.
Cossacks (Turkic for “free man” or “adventurer”) moved from many directions into the sparsely populated grasslands north of the Black Sea, starting in the 1500s or earlier. Some were fleeing serfdom. Some were criminal fugitives. All were welcomed as equals without reference to personal history. Living as a democracy, bound by resistance to authority, they became known as fierce warriors and brilliant horsemen. Legend said a Cossack could catch an approaching bullet with his bare hand.
I’ve read that to tell a child to be brave, Ukrainian parents may say, “Be a Cossack.” If that’s true, recent events suggest Ukrainians have taken that saying to heart.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.