So my Fedex driver tells me he’s from a little city in the Ukraine, called something frickin’ unpronounceable. So I Google Earth it, then I google it. Wow. Named for Felix Dzerzhynsky, the founder of the Cheka, the Bolshevik Secret Police. Heavy industry, mostly ferro-metallurgy and chemical processing, as the picture shows. Leonid Brezhnev was born there.
But the most interesting part was that it was originally two villages founded by the Zaporozhian Cossacks. Now, these guys grew out of the Ukrainian people’s need to defend themselves against slave raids by the Crimean Tatars, who sold as many as three million Ukrainian men, women and children into slavery to the Ottoman Empire. The Ukrainians created the Cossacks as a professional military force, and built a fortress on the island of Khortytsia, in the Dnieper river, and forming what they called a Sich, or ruling council. The Tatars razed this fortress, and the next, and the next after that. They considered the Ukrainians to be fair game, and called the practice ‘harvesting the steppes.’ This was business, and they would tolerate no resistance.
But the Cossacks became fierce horsemen, merciless and tough, and they eventually grew strong enough that they began to actually prey on the Tatars. The Ottoman Empire eventually got involved in the conflict, and there is a famous painting of the Cossacks drafting their reply to the Ottoman Emperor’s demand that they submit to his will:
Apparently the reply was quite rude. They were famous for their military prowess by this time, often serving as mercenaries for other European powers, including the Hessians.
Well, the Cossacks end up in a long-running feud with the Tatars and the Ottomans. Whole lotta human pain on both sides. Although the Cossacks remain fiercely independent, they eventually align themselves with Russia, who annexes them, incorporates the officer class into the nobility, and reduces the remainder to peasant status. Still, they remained free, and were able to provide shelter for refugees fleeing serfdom in Russia and Poland.
Which pisses off Catherine the Great. So, in 1775, she orders the Zaporozhian fortress and leadership liquidated:
With this we would like to let our Empire and our faithful subjects be known that the Zaporozhian Sich is now destroyed and the name of Zaporozhian Cossacks is to be no more as well, mentioning of whom will be considered no less as an affront to our Imperial Majesty for their deeds and insolence for disobeying the will of our Imperial Majesty.
The Russian military succeeds in carrying out this task, which breaks up the Cossack nucleus, but fails to defeat the Cossacks themselves, which still dominate the area to this day.
Now, they’ve come to California. I do so love the melting pot.
So today, I got a movie idea from Martin Gilbert’s great World War One book. It’s about Thomas Masaryk, the Czech patriot. In 1916, he and a force of ten thousand Czechs left the Austrian empire and travelled to Russia to fight on the side of the Russians against the Central Powers, Germany and Austria. After the Russian Revolution began, the Czechs watched in horror as their Russian commander, General Dukhonin, was beaten, stomped, and shot to death by the Bolsheviks. They were now leaderless, a long way from home, and the Bolsheviks were acting suspicious and hostile toward them.
Masaryk thought fast, and the highly-competent Czech force seized a train from the nearby rail station, boarded it, and fought their way five thousand miles across Russia to Vladivostok, which had the only port that could carry them home. The Bolsheviks and the Red Army tried to stop them at every turn, blocking the tracks, ambushing them — but the Czechs kept going. Took them seven months of serious fighting to make it home.
Masaryk would eventually convince Woodrow Wilson to help him found the Czech Republic, of which he served as President for many years. He died in 1937, and so didn’t live to see the Nazis conquer his nation — although he had frequently voiced his concerns over the growth of the Nazi movement.
That’s a god-damned good story, and I want to see that movie. I’m writin’ it, right after ‘Albik Trizz’.