How sharp is Kate’s sword?
Here is Mihail Abramchik. He will dance and pray a bit before he gets to the cutting part. He also makes the sword sing at some point. To be able to cut through a water bottle the way he does, you have to hold the sword at a right angle and do it very fast. It’s the same technique that makes shaska sing through the air.
Why do they have different outfits in the videos?
Cossacks are not unified. There are several different groups depending on geography. Prior to Russian revolution of 1917, they were organized into nations.
These are the guys you saw in the video in the previous post. They lived around Dnieper, in the Wild Fields. You can read about them in detail here. They served as a buffer between Russian and Ottoman Empires and were self-governing. When Russian serfs ran away from their owners, they tried to make it to one of nations, because if they did, the cossacks wouldn’t give them back. Eventually Zaporoshian Cossacks had a massive falling out with the czar in mid 18th century and an army came and took away their land. They split and some of them went to Danube and formed a new nation under Turkey. The Russians got pretty alarmed by this development and they resettled the remaining cossacks at Kuban. Each of these cossacks was given a gramota, a writ from the czar, proving their special status.
My grandmother, pictured here with her first husband, had one of these writs. She was an actual Kuban cossack.
Donskie Cossacks are concentrated around river Don. They’ve existed in that location since about 6th century. They are the result of mixing of many races, namely Khazars, Russians, Turks, Mongolians, Jews. They would take anyone. They were also self-governing. They raided everyone and rebelled against Russia with ridiculous regularity.
Stepan Rasin, raising the Caspian sea. He also raided Persians and eventually led a massive uprising against the czar, for which the patriarch of Moscow anathemized him, which is like excommunication except worse. Basically, the patriarch expelled him from faith and cursed him. Because Russian Orthodox priests don’t play. The curse came true and Razin was captured, dragged in chains to Moscow, and quartered in 1671. His chains were placed in Starocherkasskaya Stanitsa, a gathering place for the cossacks, as a warning and can be viewed there today.
Czar slowly whittled at Donskie Cossacks until they all but lost their independence. Eventually, they began to look like this, as they were incorporated into Russian Army. They were used as shock troops. When czar wanted to quell and needed someone to commit and atrocity, he used cossacks.
They were nearly exterminated by Bolsheviks, which is how my family ended up in Rostov-on-Don. At some point my grandfather’s side abandoned everything and fled to the city, while on my grandmother’s side, my great grandmother, the one in the picture, refused to marry the head bolshevik in their village and he jailed her to change her mind. After a few months she decided to marry him, but that’s a different story.
After the fall of USSR, there was a revival, and now Putin once again is trying to use them as a buffer with Ukraine.
Here is a Wikipedia article that lays out the history and different Cossack organizations. It’s pretty accurate. There you go, more than you ever wanted to know about cossacks.
Mary Beth says
Thank you, this is fascinating.
Love to see the ‘behind the scenes!
And I actually laughed out loud at ‘rebelled . . . With ridiculous regularity.’
Christina S says
Agree! I loved that comment! This was such a great and interesting post.
Kat from Australia says
Ditto to these two comments – I feel like my knowledge of Russian history just quadrupled… which is really sad, actually. But thank you! And we’re all very interested in Great Grandma’s story. Hint hint. 😀
Thank you for sharing this! Facinating information I should already know which improves my minds eye for Kate’s awesomeness.
Thanks Ilona – this was fascinating…. and now I am very curious about your great grandmother’s story 🙂
The sword play videos are pretty cool. This one, featuring a young woman, popped up in the YouTube stream. I can’t tell if she is actually good but I was impressed by what she was doing, especially wearing a long dress and a headscarf. What do you think?
oops … forgot the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6pRt2uIk-8
Wow! Thanks for sharing this – amazing.
This is so interesting; thank you for sharing! I love seeing the background behind the story.
Karen Bors says
Wait wait. He jailed her and she married him a few months later?
Yo. What? Now THAT sounds like a story to ME!
This short course on Cossack history has been great and if I didn’t mention it last time, your grandmother looks like she could kick some serious behind.
“…but that’s a different story.”
That sounds like an excellent story! I would love to hear about your great grandmother. This was terrifically interesting, thank you.
You had to know that a lot of these readers would key in on this phrase and just writhe with curiosity. ?
Kathryn the almost Great says
Ilona, can you sword dance? It never occurred to me before seeing the photo of your grandmother, but I was wondering if you know how swords work through personal experience, not just research.
Your great-grandmother’ s story sounds very interesting…
That’s amazing! Kate is so bad ass! Thanks for the visual. I’ll go back and reread everything again… For the billionth time. ?
I’m impressed you know so much of your family’s history. I don’t know our history past my grandparents. Maybe we’re just a boring family.
No family is boring. If you can, I encourage you to talk with your grandparents and any surviving siblings that they have. Also talk to your parents and aunts and uncles for family stories.
I knew from my dad that both of his grandmothers visited from England, but it wasn’t until I spoke to my aunt this year that I found out why neither of his grandfathers came for a visit. Both gentlemen were killed on the same day during a German bombing run during WW2. It turns out that my grandparents hometown was at the end of the bombing run, so that all the bombs that hadn’t been dropped yet were dropped there. This was something that my grandparents didn’t talk about to any family members. My aunt only knew because she walked in on her mother crying over a telegram announcing the deaths of her grandfathers.
Sometimes you print the neatest stuff,,, that one brought back a memory from almost 70 years ago, of my dad dancing before the fireplace during a winter storm white-out,,, as mom said patiently, “Now Eric, you’re going to hurt yourself if you keep that up.” Of course then he had to keep going just to prove he could.
Wow! Love hearing about your family’s history how fascinating!
Thank you for the fascinating video links, both these and the previous post.
You were right the sound tracks were a big bonus. I forget how good Russian choirs are. I do wish I spoke Russian, however. Understanding the words would be neat.
Angela Shikany says
I really enjoyed this. Thanks for taking the time to share.
Have you read the Tomoe Gozen trilogy by Jessica Salmonson? If not I recommend it, the end sword battle of the first book starts with you.
Ms. Kim says
Your grandmother looks formidable.
All this talk about Cossacks and not a word about their horses?
Shame on you!
From wiki: Don Cossacks are credited with playing a significant part in repelling Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia. Under the command of Count Matvey Ivanovich Platov, the Don Cossacks fought in a number of battles against the Grande Armée. In the Battle of Borodino, Don Cossacks made raids to the rear of the French Army. Platov commanded all the Cossack troops and successfully covered the retreat of the Russian Army to Moscow. The Don Cossacks distinguished themselves in subsequent campaigns, and took part in the capture of Paris. Napoleon is credited with declaring, “Cossacks are the finest light troops among all that exist. If I had them in my army, I would go through all the world with them.”
I can’t find any articles in English but in 2012 for 200th anniversary of the Battle of Borodino, group of 50 Don Cossacks repeated the long ride from Moscow to Paris (3000 km) on their Don horses – celebrating the great battle and the great horse.
Among all armies Don Cossacks were the only one to ride their horses for so long – all the other armies had to frequently exchange horses or face tremendous loss among animals used.
Wow! Learned something new. Thank you!
Well, I just spent a ridiculous amount of time prospecting around Wikipedia. One thing leads to another!
Patricia Schlorke says
What an interesting insight to your family’s history. It is a treasure that you know so much. Not everyone does know about their family’s history. I do know about my mom’s parents since I got curious about her side of the family. My dad’s side, I wasn’t interested.
Thank you for sharing.
You two have the best blog! You just never know what you will get. I met my husband fencing. The first time I saw him he was all stretched out in a textbook lunge, and I thought, Huh! He’s cute, too bad he is so short! It didn’t matter, we have been married 34 years and shacked up 37.
Got to love a good fencer! Thank you for the fencing post!
That’s so cool. Thanks for the history lesson and video.
The Cossacks Anthology and The Cossack II Anthology are on sale at GOG. 80% off.
Very interesting. I love your blog posts.
Feel free to tell us more about the grandmother who got jailed.
Why is it not surprising that you descend from Cossacks? Thanks for the great history lesson
Clearly my American education was sorely lacking in fascinating Russian history.
Why couldn’t we learn about Cossacks instead of covering only Communism?
Well, and somewhere I learned that exhiling criminals to Siberia was a Thing in Russia (in retrospect not sure how prevalent this was in history) and as a kid I REALLY wanted to visit Siberia and I couldn’t understand why it was so horrible to be sent there.
Cossacks were just people. Some perpetrated pogroms against Jews, some were feared by peasants. It would be like following just the Swedes, Italians, French, Irish or other group in this country, different individual groups had varying experiences, although the Cossack period may have lasted longer than it took for European immigrants to assimilate here.
I am interested in people and cultures, traditions and beliefs and how they evolve over time. My education jumped around too much, the focus being on political upheaval and its proximal cause, but not the long-term context where that cause developed.
Give me a history of “just people ” any day.
Thank you Ilona for this post.
Not only is this a fascinating recap of cossak history, but its very interesting to see how the topic one talks about has an influence on ones thinking process. Its quite obvious that you thought more in russian than in english while writing this post, that’s neat to “watch”!
I loved this! I also love how you use Russian history gor Kate’s past. Not many authors i read give their characters such backgrounds and immense knowledge of it. I always feel like I learn stuff from Kate. Lmao
That was so interesting. Love the music that accompanied the videos too. Please tell us more. I love the background history that is not in the books. Would love to hear about the second marriage story.
Great grandma’s story<3
I certainly have a backdrop for Kate’s dad-person and his pre-attack methodology of razing a city (town, village, community).
Very fascinating information! Thank you!!
Ilona, your blog is such a joy! I check it everyday because your posts always make me happy. Amazing history lesson and very interesting videos.
It’s funny that you (and Gordon) are my favorite authors. I didn’t quite realize until now, but I’ve always LOVED Russians and your history. I think Russians are the most badass people in the world. You guys are amazing.
I remember in school when studying history (my favorite subject) that I always exclaimed: “Why do people keep trying to invade Russia? Especially during the winter? Are they all crazy or just plain dumb?” It has always been pretty clear to me: DO NOT TRY TO INVADE RUSSIA! Russians are the most resilient and just plain badass people. I really admire your people.
I actually always wanted a Russian boyfriend/man. But I’m Brazilian and live in Rio, not a big Russian community here. I also really am amazed by your capacity to endure the cold. I’m from Rio de Janeiro, I’m cover in wool and leather when it’s 20C degrees (sorry, don’t know the F equivalent).
I also remember on of my favorite movies growing up: White Nights. Which takes place in Siberia, and ever since that movie I’ve been dying to visit. Although if I do I might actually freeze to death with my Brazilian ass. I loved the dancing in that film. Mikhail Baryshnikov (Best dancer ever!) and Gregory Hines.
Oh yeah, and you guys also have the best dancers in the world. I saw the Kirov Ballet in NY when I was 15 with my mom. Unforgettable!
So, to me Russians are my favorites. And since I grew up in Rio and was born in 79, all that cold war bullshit didn’t really reach me.
It did and does get tiresome when all the villains in the movies are Russian. I think they should be the heroes, at least some of the time.
I’d also would love to learn Russian!
It makes sense you’re my favorite author. 🙂
PS: I’m extremely curious about your great grandmother story! Can you tell us? Please?