New Cossack Societies to Open in Ukrainian Oblasts

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 55


Executive Summary:

  • The All-Russian Cossack Society continues to establish outposts in the occupied territories of Ukraine under Moscow’s direction. 
  • The state-registered Cossack movement is working to deepen the control of loyal structures in the occupied regions and take advantage of existing social beliefs, particularly through youth “military-patriotic” education.
  • Moscow has demonstrated that it is not above exploiting the transnational nature of Cossack allegiances as a vector of its foreign policy.

On March 30, a meeting was held at the headquarters of the All-Russian Cossack Society (VsKO, vserossisskoe kazach’e obshchestvo) to discuss the structure of Cossack formations in the territories of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR), Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. Representatives from the Russian Presidential Administration, Russian Federal Agency for National Affairs, Russian Ministry of Justice, VsKO and Cossack troops of Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, and deputies of the Russian State Duma attended the meeting. Discussions centered on the legal components of creating Russian state-registered Cossack societies in the occupied territories (, March 30). Earlier, on February 13, Denis Pushilin, leader of the DNR,, met with the VsKO Ataman Vitaly Kuznetsov. The two leaders discussed the Cossack units defending the DNR and the “creation of a new Cossack society in the DNR that would go into the state register.” Upon joining the register, the Cossacks would perform acts of public service and “guard social order and state borders, participate in territorial defense, deal with the consequences of emergencies, and protect against environmental events” (;;, February 13). The proliferation of Cossack societies in the occupied territories of Ukraine points to the central role that the state-registered Cossack movement plays in consolidating Russian control and re-educating Ukrainian youth. 

Surprisingly, moves to institutionalize a state-registered Cossack presence in Ukraine are coming only now, despite the fact that Donetsk Oblast has been under the control of Russian separatists for nearly ten years. Consolidating Russian power in the region would be consistent with what has taken place in other territories that have been targeted by the All-Russian Cossack movement. Beyond moving Cossack voiskas (forces) into Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, one of the main declarations of the Second Great Cossack Meeting on February 28 was “to support the initiative of Cossacks for the rebirth of the historical Zaporozhian host” (see EDM, January 25;, March 4). The voiskas both deepen the control of local structures in the occupied regions of Ukraine and amplify existing social beliefs that were there before. 

In consolidating Russian control, structures are created that discipline society, including re-education programs. For example, а Cossack Cadets Corps for girls will soon open in Luhansk Oblast. Viktor Voldatskii, a member of the Presidential Council for Cossack Affairs and a hero of the LNR, said, “For the LNR, this is an important educational institute where girls whose parents were killed defending the Luhansk land from ‘Ukro’fascists,[ will study.” Notably, very few of these organizations for girls exist in Russia—with only two in Moscow, one in Arkhangelsk, and one named for Alexander Nevsky (, February 16 [1], [2]).

The creation of a girl’s Cossack Cadets Corps is not as strange as it might first appear. It seemingly comes as part of a broader effort to include more women in the state-registered Cossack movement. These efforts are exemplified by the project “My [Female] Cossack,” which tells the stories of women and girls associated with Moscow’s Cossack movement. (See, for example,, January 14.) The announcement about the girls’ Cossack Cadets Corps goes on to report that, “on the territory of the LNR, five Cossack Cadets Corps operate, and 52 Cossack classes have opened in 28 general educational organizations, where nearly 1,300 pupils study” (, February 16). Moscow’s exploitation of the Cossack movement during its war against Ukraine and the militarization of children is a clear sign of how the Kremlin is trying to shape the next generation of youth to be loyal to the Kremlin’s army (see EDM, February 27, March 25). 

Simultaneously, the Cossack hosts connect with prevailing social archetypes and folk histories already present within the occupied territories. The Cossack archetype has relevance across multiple countries and in many regions. An interview with Alexander Kalinin, a Moldovan fighter from the Cossack “Dnestr” battalion, confirms this. Although the brigade is multinational and contains some Russian citizens, “priority is on the citizens of Moldova and Transnistria.” He and his colleagues decided to join Moscow’s side because, “in the present day, Russia defends everything that for us is valuable—Orthodoxy, our religion, family values. And everything imposed on us by the West is alien.” When asked if he feared having his Moldovan citizenship stripped as a result of fighting in the war, Kalinin answered that “everything happening in Moldova from the country’s leadership is aimed at the destruction of Moldova’s statehood” (, February 12). Should Russia decide to annex Transnistria, the presence of such sentiments will be used to legitimize Moscow’s actions in the eyes of its new citizens. 

Russia is not above exploiting the transnational nature of these allegiances as a vector of its foreign policy, particularly in supposedly historical lands. The Astrakhan Cossacks signed a cross-border agreement with the Cossacks in Azerbaijan, demonstrating the increasing ties between Cossack societies, including “military-patriotic” upbringing (, December 23, 2023). Additionally, on April 1, Kuznetsov met with Vladimir Shikhotov, the ataman of the Semirechye Cossack Union and chairman of the Association of Russian, Slavic, and Cossack Organizations of Kazakhstan, in Almaty. They discussed developing relationships and cooperation between their Cossack organizations (, April 1). Furthermore, personal correspondence between this analyst and a Finnish journalist indicates that there are Russian connections to small Cossack organizations in Finland.

The use of the Cossack image, however, is also replete in the Ukrainian army, many members of which use Twitter handles containing the word “Kozak” or a close equivalent. Volunteer Cossack groups were among the first to come out in defense of the Ukrainian state in 2014. Dmytro Gora, leader of the Ukrainian Patriotic Cossacks for Euro-Atlantic Integration, wrote on his Facebook page that, “in order to resist terrorists and criminal offenders, we launched the operations ‘Watch’ and ‘Interception’ to help the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Security Service of Ukraine, and later Cossack Volunteer, to aid the Armed Forces of Ukraine” (, September 12, 2023). 

The Ukrainian army today is saturated with Cossack imagery. However, given the link between Cossack voiskas and Cossack Cadets Corps, the establishment of new Russian state-registered hosts on the occupied Ukrainian territory represents a significant new source of ideological control for Moscow. Yet, not all Cossacks are equal, and the contest over which nation authentically owns the Cossack image is illustrative of the cultural dimension of this war.