Cossacks from 1917
 through the 
World War II

During the Russian Civil War (1918-20), Cossack lands became a cradle of the White Movement and main centers of resistance to the Bolshevists. However, some Cossacks "bought" Lenin's propaganda and fought for the Red Army. But most of the Cossacks were fighting against the bolshevists. It was a very bloody war, and the Cossacks, who fought in the most active units on both sides experienced particularly heavy losses. For example, The Ural Cossack Host lost ѕ of male population during the Civil War. Tens of thousands of Cossacks and their families left Russia and the Ukraine with the White armies and now you can meet descendents of Cossacks in the US, Germany, Canada, Australia, etc. (Read about Kuban Cossacks of New Jersey). Bolshevists saw the organized and armed Cossacks as a threat to the communist state, and and under the Soviet rule the Cossack communities ceased to function as administrative units. The land and property were confiscated, millions of Cossacks were repressed, over 1.5 million were killed. Cossack traditions and unions were associated with the pre-communist Russia and were abolished. It seemed like the Cossacks simply seased to exist. But it would be a wrong assumption.

As it was becoming more and more clear that Hitler had serious intentions in the East, Stalin realized that he has to at least imitate return of certain military traditions of Russia. Perhaps, he realized that he could not fight the war with ideology only. In 1936 Stalin ordered to introduce Cossack units in the Red Army, to dress them in the Cossack uniforms. One of the first Soviet Cossack units was lead by future marshal G.K.Zhukov, who was at the time the commanding officer of the 4th Cavalry Division. The division was renamed into 4th Don Cossack Division, the soldiers received traditional uniforms with the stripes on the side of uniform trousers and colored cap-band on the service cap. Zhukov put the Cossack uniform on too. I have to stress here, that even though the division was called "Cossack", many soldiers there not of the Cossack origin. Stalin tried to form Cossack units without re-creating the Cossack structures and principles of the unit mobilization.

During WWII Cossacks were again, as they were during the Civil War, fighting on both sides. Some of the Cossacks formed cavalry units and supported the Germans, sincerely believing that the German mission in the war against the Soviet Union was to free the people of Russia from Stalin's tyranny. Others courageously fought against the nazis with the cavalry units of the Red/Soviet Army, considering that the war was first of all a war against Russia and the people living there. It was a tough choice - to pick sides in a fight between Hitler and Stalin. The Cossacks who fought on the Soviet side never got their liberties and special status back. And those who supported the Germans, in 1945 tried to surrender to allies instead of the Soviet Army, knowing that otherwise they would be sent to Siberian GULAGs by Stalin. Unfortunately, Cossacks were sordidly betrayed by the allies who didn't hold their promises not to give POW Cossacks to Stalin. Most of the Cossacks who were against their will returned to the Soviet Union were executed or died later in GULAGs. Read an article written by the Cossack Ivan Zhukov, who witnessed the repatriations.


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