The Ukrainian Cossacks
In the mid-16th century, the two most powerful states of Eastern Europe, the Tsardom of Muscovy and the Kingdom of Poland, set out almost simultaneously for the east. In the brief period between 1552 and 1556, the Muscovite forces managed not only to defeat and subjugate the two largest Tatar khanates on the Volga, those of Kazan and Astrakhan, but also to subordinate the Siberian khanate and the Circassian and Kabardian princes. The steppe expanses of southern Ukraine were not fully controlled by any of the states bordering on them. From the time of the Mongol invasion, the steppe became an area of nomadic wandering and foraging, subject to no official regulation, by bands of fishermen, hunters, and freebooters who began to be called Cossacks. Cossackdom would later be recognised as a distinct corporate order with privileges, liberties, and prerogatives of its own. Religion, especially Orthodoxy, played a key role in the history of the Cossack movement.
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