For almost 300 years the history of Europe and Middle East was connected with the history of the Ukrainian Cossacks, who came into being at the end of the 15th Century. From the very beginning of their existence they presented a willful force which neither Polish nor Turkish sovereigns were able to subjugate. They were born together with the people who had been enslaved; therefore they sought to be free and struggled for their freedom.

In the 15th Century inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and villages seeking to escape the yoke of serfdom and feudal oppression began to run to the low reaches of the Dnieper River and settle there. The fugitives called themselves “Cossacks” that is free people. Nothing but an age-long aspiration for being free made them abandon their dwellings and open up new lands, cultivate them by the sweat of their brow and defend them. The Cossacks fought constantly for their right to exist against Turkish and Tartar conquerors on the one hand, and the Polish gentry, which had turned Ukraine into a Polish colony, on the other.

The continuous threat of being attacked caused the Cossacks to build fortifications and defend their dwellings by force of arms. The fugitives united into a military organization which was named the “Zaporozhskaya Sech”. Zaporozhskaya Sech presented a unique phenomenon – that being protest against any oppression. Whoever came to the Sech, no matter what his origin or property status, was considered to be a free man.

In their struggle against their enemies, the Cossacks created a distinctive military art. Severe living conditions, along with the continuous threat of annihilation, cultivated such moral and physical qualities as courage, endurance and quick wit. They easily endured hardships of military life, and learned to make due with little. When waging war they subsisted from basic foods found in nature. Their resolution and valor in battle excited even their enemies' admiration. G. S. de Boplan, a French historian from the second half of the 17th Century, left a description of the Dnieper Cossacks' traditions and mode of life. He highlights their wit and exclaimed that they did not seek riches, but rather valued freedom most of all.

The Cossacks were armed with many types of blades weapons and fire-arms, and used them equally to perfection. They held the saber in high esteem, calling it lovingly “Saber-Sister.” Cossack sabers were suspended from the belt by means of leather straps. Battle axes and knives were used widely as well. Powder and bullets were kept in powder-flasks made from wood or bone. In their battles with Crimean Tartars and the Turkish military, the Cossacks often acquired knives and sabers richly adorned with ivory, silver, coral and mother-of-pearl. In fact, this may have inspired some of their knife making traditions.

The Dnieper Cossacks were famous for both for their courage and comradeship, as well as for their constant readiness to rescue one-another. Unwritten laws of brotherhood in arms did not allow them abandon a comrade in trouble. To perish, sacrificing oneself for the common cause was considered a matter of honor. At the most critical moments their innate intelligence, wit and experience acquired during the course of many years of battles came to their help.
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