Saturday, May 21, 2022

Ukrainian Cossacks and their Role in Modern Geo-ID Politics (or, "An Offensively Brief History of the Wild East in Medieval Cossack Ukraine")

Like many, I've spent my life entertaining romantic ideas about the American wild west, or the "olde west" -- so last week, my jaw dropped when I learned for the first time, about the wild east. (I thought I was a curious person but for some reason, I never thought to check!)

There's a vast belt of grassland that starts from the heartland of present-day Ukraine, stretching all the way out to the Mongolian far east, and this is called the Eurasian steppe. It brims with staggering beauty as it does with mortal dangers, just like the olde west. 

It was known as the Golden Horde under the Mongol empire, but after the fall of the Mongols by the 14th Century, it became an ungoverned terrain, inhabited by nomadic tribes of turkic, slavic, and Eurasian descent. 

These tribes had unique identities, and they didn't always get along. Despite their differences and inherent risks, they were engaging in trade so they were connected through their economy, which was made possible by the ecosystem of the steppe.  

This is important to remember because this depicts the epitome of terrestrial freedom -- the exact thing that American colonists were after, when they ventured into the dark unknown of the olde west. 

Both of these places called out to the hearts of pioneers and marauders alike, making frontiersmen out of those that survived.  

By the 15th Century, a new form of settlements began appearing along the eastern edges of the steppe. On modern day maps this area is labeled Zaporozhzhia, west of Donbas which encompasses Donetsk and Luhansk -- names that I had never heard prior to Putin's decision to recognize their sovereignty at the start of this current Russian-Ukranian-NATO conflict.   

At the time of these new settlements, the steppe was scarcely populated. Conditions in the wilderness gets progressively more severe as one moves further inland, and thus, a nomadic tribe known as the Cossacks (or "Kazakhs") were realizing their fundamental need to live on the edge.  


From what I gather, the exact origins of the Cossacks are unclear, but it's evident that they moved through Europe, past the Ottoman empire, and through the Polish crown, to finally arrive at the eastern edge of the Eurasian steppe. 

Through the 15th and 16th Centuries this area was known as Ruthenia, and the Cossacks made up a majority of its population. These were the dark days of feudal Eastern Europe. Muscovite Russia was to the north east and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was to their west

Cossacks in the western bank lived as second class citizens under the rule of Polish nobles. Unsurprisingly, the ones living in the northern and eastern parts were suffering under Russian rule. The Cossacks were escaping persecution by turning to the Wild Fields of the eastern edge.  

They became known far and wide, for their unmatched expertise in ship building and logistics, pioneering and horsemanship, weapons and warfare, as well as raiding and plundering. 


They are sometimes affectionately referred to as "vikings of the east". The term "cossack" translates to "free man" (or vagabond, depending on who's making the translation)

Their ways of living made them a formidable military force, and Cossack mercenaries were highly sought by foreign armies to fight for them. 


The fame they garnered across greater Eastern Europe over the 16th and 17th Centuries was based on the the relentlessness of their resistance.    

As more people traveled to this area, attracted by the Cossack way of life, the settlements matured into a coherent "Host": a loose confederation of free people, living on a free land -- is this not the meaning of being American

Internally, they employed the mechanics of representative government, and every individual was equally free. 

Externally -- as you can imagine, such an entity would be the thing of nightmares for kings and despots -- they continued to boldly confront the ceaseless pressures they were receiving from their authoritarian neighbors, who never stopped jockeying for control.  

During this period, the borders of [the east and west banks of] Ruthenia repeatedly changed hands through acts of military aggression. For many, the pressures of living within the states was escapable by migrating to the Host.  

Their history is fully loaded with organized revolts: as freedom loving people, they were no strangers to violence in self defense. 

In the mid 1600s, they selected a new hetman (or "leader"),  faced off against Polish aggression and succeeded. This event was historic because it catalyzed the existence of the Cossack Hetmanate. 

Based on my understanding, the Cossack Hetmanate facilitated a formalized method [for foreign interests] to recognize and communicate with the Host. 

Remaining true to their principles, this too, was loosely confederated and egalitarian. Unlike the Host, which was as [treacherous and lawless] as the high seas (in the minds of their foreign friends), this updated (more civilized) Cossack Hetmanate was semi-autonomous. 

It lasted for a total of 116 years, which may not seem that long to an American -- we've existed for over twice that length of time Therefore it's important to remember that they were at the receiving end of continuous threats, so they were fighting the whole time and never really allowed to rest. 

In the end, by the 19th Century, the Cossack Hetmanate was dismantled as Zaporozhzhia fell into the hands of Czarist Russia's Catherine the Great. She divided the people of the Host and repopulated the land for the coming waves of Russification

As nomads, Cossacks who remained continued on eastward -- but this is where my historical knowledge begins to flatten. They eventually settle in a place that is know today by the name Kazakhistan, the "land of free men", or the "land of the free" -- ringing any bells?    

"Home of the brave" was where ever they stopped, and their principles traveled with them because they adhered to them every day. By holding steadfast to their principles, the Cossacks never stopped in their pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness. 

The similarities we share with them include some of our highest held and most sentimental values. Therefore, it makes sense that, as  Americans, we feel a yearning to try to help our Ukrainian friends. The current chaos between Russian, NATO, and Ukraine has left many -- myself included -- wondering, 

"What is a Ukrainian? Are they some type of Russian, or are they really their own unique group?" 

Our American government has been supporting Ukraine, militarily and financially. With each additional tax dollar we lose to this eastern confrontation, it becomes all the more urgent for us to understand who it is that our government is "backing".    

The impressions the Ukrainian Cossacks left, in the lands and the minds of others, have never been forgotten. To this day, the area of Zaporozhzhia is considered the birthplace of the Ukrainian identity. 

The compassion we feel is a sign that the force of humanity continues to thrive in the hearts of modern Americans. This humanity is the internal force with which the Cossacks were tightly linked. Making this connection within ourselves is how we can begin to figure out the way for us to truly help them.   

Much like the founders of the United States, the Cossacks knew that freedom is no trivial requirement. They were protecting their own inalienable rights till the last days of the Cossack Hetmanate. 

In contrast, the surrounding fascist states were extravagant, polarized, held up by hidden hierarchies full of spies, corrupt transactions, and isolated points of failure. (This never seems to get old, especially given how it sounds like a description of our own government.)   

The growth of such states depend on the subjugation of others, along with endless militarized and economic expansion. This is the very antithesis of the  Cossacks who fought to the death just to be able to continue minding their own business. 

The difference between such states and the Cossacks rest on the status of the people's internal connection. It is how our humanity gets integrated with our actions. It is how an individual can begin living a principled life, just like our historical Cossack Ukrainian friends.   

Being disconnected from our own humanity predisposes us for deterioration  -- that's not good for us or them. Existence is a game of growth.  You may be wondering, 

"Isn't that what Poland and Russia were doing, fighting over those northwest regions of Ruthenia, while also constantly targeting the Cossacks to limit their freedoms?? Growing...?"  

It seems likes the concept of growth becomes very literal in the minds of those who neglect this internal connection. This limits growth down to observable indicators, while any concept of immaterial growth is made irrelevant. In other words: if we can't see it, it never happened. 

If we have to see it to believe it, the meaning of growth is now about flash, dominance, aggression, mass wealth accumulation, an expanding money supply, not to mention the unending wars destroying our horizons.   

As humans we fall into this material trap at almost every opportunity -- a trap that the Cossacks are globally acclaimed for knowing how to avoid. They were free regardless of their location because the freedom is internal, just like the connection. 

As a unified group, they shared a collective identity that had a healthy constitution. To be resilient and continue on the path of growth and liberty and prosperity and happiness, as Americans, what we are finding in the Ukrainian Cossacks is our own (much needed) source of inspiration.   


As we watch our government franticly send gratuitous amounts of money and weapons to Ukraine, our own infrastructure, savings, and personal freedoms are all in rapid decay. 

By the time an oppressor gets to power, or a "democracy" starts deceiving and monitoring its own people, what we are witnessing is the unit level disconnection being publicly expressed at the level of the human collective. 

This highlights the importance of this private connection. It needs to be set by every one of us individually in order to  revive our own collective identity and self respect.  

It's important for us to see that Ukrainians are very likely suffering from their own internal  disconnections. I say this based on the recent demands made by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, at the US government. 

The Cossacks would be appalled! The idea of soliciting foreign intervention would have them turning in their graves! By doing this Zelensky is attacking Cossack principles, the very basis of what it means to be Ukrainian.  

As an American who identifies with the Cossacks and cares deeply about the lives of modern Ukrainians, I am skeptical that Zelensky is working in their best interest.  

By attacking these principles (directly or indirectly), he is weakening the link between the principles and his citizens. This ultimately pollutes the collective constitution, damaging their ability to unite, leaving his own people vulnerable as Russia advances in Donbas.    


Like the Cossacks, the founders of the United States would be equally displeased. By actually fulfilling Zelensky's demands, our current government is propagating [his attack on Cossack principles] in the name of "helping Ukraine". In the mean time, there's no way for us to know where exactly the money and weapons are going. 

While our governments play pretend, the moral responsibility falls on our own personal shoulders. As a resilient, freedom loving population, like the great Cossacks, we are capable of accepting this responsibility -- we must be able to help ourselves, especially if we want to also help our friends.  

Individually, we must harden ourselves for what's to come. Preparation begins with looking at ourselves, and accepting that the reason for our governments malignancy is within our own personal inner conditions.  

A collective identity based on shared principles is as a source of guidance, encouragement, and inspiration. Having access to it is important for the health of a person, especially when life gets tough. 

We need access to our collective identity, now more than ever, as much they need access to their Cossack principles. Having access to the Ukrainian identity is what will help our Ukrainian friends, more than anything that we can send to them.   

This is not an easy time in history to be American. What will help us is the same thing that will help them, and it's the internal work that must be done by each individual, improving our collective constitution. 

The act of sending support (through NATO or otherwise) is a disservice hurting both populations, striking us at our roots, damaging our identities -- what does it mean to be American? By the looks of it, we might have to connect with our inner Cossack -- learning about them is undeniably invigorating for the American spirit, something I highly recommend. I also strongly suggest contacting your local congressmen, and urging them to stand against sending any further aid to Ukraine.  


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