On 27 May, 52-year old Oleh Postolaki, Lieutenant General and Otaman of the so-called Grand Don Army, was assassinated in Donetsk. The police found his body in the boot of his Chevrolet Aveo, parked in one of the city districts. The floor of the office rented by his cossack organization was covered in blood. According to the press-service of Donetsk Oblast police, the Cossack leader had several gunshot wounds and was finished off with a control shot to the head. The assistant of the late Lieutenant General of Donetsk Cossacks was arrested as a suspect. He confessed to the murder saying that his motivation was salary indebtedness in the amount of UAH 40,000 that Mr. Postolaki had not paid him. How a non-profit Cossack organization can afford to pay a salary this high to a volunteer is a mystery. Another possibility is that the murderer was also helping Mr. Postolaki with his business, not just the Cossack cause. Such criminal story is not a rare occurrence in the Cossack world. The so-called Cossack organizations are weltering in fraud and criminal deals.
Law enforcement officers say that all these Cossacks are giving them a lot of trouble. They often try to fool foreigners, pretending to be police or traffic police on international highways and ripping off fake fines. As a rule, such bandit Cossacks wait in private cars wearing a uniform that looks like police uniform with fake traffic police badges on their sleeves. They usually pester drivers with carbon dioxide emission meters.
“We recently arrested a couple of these fraudsters on the Zhytomyr highway,” Mykola Zhukovych, a spokesman of police headquarters in the Kyiv Oblast tells us. “They usually stopped Russians, Poles and Belarusians. Taking advantage of the fact that foreigners know little about the uniforms of local law enforcement agencies, the rogues forced them to measure the level of carbon dioxide in their emissions. They used a real meter but it was fixed in such a way, that it always showed indices that exceeded the norm. They proposed that the drivers pay an on-the-spot “fine” of several hundred hryvnias, which most of them did.”
The fraudsters earned several thousand hryvnia each per day, using these means. In addition, the Cossacks sometimes played funnier tricks. Last year, Dnipropertovsk police arrested several “patrolmen” who had identification cards from cossack organizations. They measured speed using a hair dryer with an electric clock attached to it with duct tape.
“In recent times, Cossacks disguised as traffic police have become so brazen as to wait for their victims next to the real traffic police,” Mr. Zhukovych continues. “One such group of “patrolmen” stopped me on the highway near Zolotonosha, Cherkasy Oblast, and tried to measure my car’s carbon dioxide emissions. They had no idea that I worked for the Ministry of Internal Affairs, because I was wearing plain clothes and driving a private car. Real policemen were standing nearby, so I called them over, but the fraudsters kicked up their heels and ran off before they arrived.”
Law enforcement officers lament that the Criminal Code does not provide for severe punishment for this kind of fraud. After paying an insignificant fine, the Cossacks move on to another highway. Quasi-policemen in Cossack uniforms only go behind bars if they are caught wearing real police or traffic police uniforms or driving vehicles made to look like police cars with ‘police’ signs stuck on them.
The fifth column
The Kremlin uses quite a few Cossack organisation in Ukraine as a fifth column, blatantly conducting pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian activities. More specifically, the website of the “Free Cossacks of Ukraine” says in Russian that “in the denationalized state that is Ukraine, the Free Cossacks of Ukraine issue the Certificate of Nationality to confirm the Cossack nationality”. At the same time, “according to item 6.2 of the association’s charter, “any citizen of Ukraine who was born in Ukraine, has Cossack roots or applies to the Free Cossacks of Ukraine his/her recognition as a cossack national, is eligible to be an ethnic Cossack.” (!).
However, the flow of Russian cash to many Cossack organizations has dried up recently. “Under Mr. Yanukovych, public policy has become so pro-Russian that even the Kremlin no longer needs to support numerous ukrainophobic Cossack associations in Crimea”, explains Yevhen Korol, Otaman and Head of the General Secretariat of the United Hetman Cossacks NGO. According to Mr. Korol, the International Union of Tavrida Cossacks, known for its anti-Ukrainian and anti-Tatar focus, has recently moved out of its fancy office because it could no longer afford the rent.
“Clearly, the cossacks of today are in no way related to the historical Cossacks,” says Stanislav Kulchytsky, Deputy Director of the Institute of History at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. “After the overthrow of the Cossack Hetmanate led by Pavlo Skoropadsky, Cossacks virtually disappeared, since there were no historical reasons for them to develop at that time. The same can be said about the Cossack organizations, which emerged in the late 1980s. They were so-called informal organizations that required an authorization from party committees of the Communist Party and the relevant KGB departments in order to operate.”
Professor Kulchytsky claims that the first signs of unhealthy rivalry between cossack organizations appeared at the end of the soviet era. Anyone who had money, and who was able to gather people around him, became an otaman. “Once they ran out of cash, the otaman was overthrown because he who pays the piper calls the tune,” concludes Mr. Kulchytsky. “Of course there is no benefit from such Cossacks.”
Otamanate in law
The representatives of some Cossack organizations admit that their movements are in total chaos, with a lot of sharovarshchyna (a type of distorted patriotism), the selling of decorations and titles. The numerous associations, growing like mushrooms after the rain, make up their own charters where they sometimes include wild provisions, such as arbitrary authorization to carry cold arms and firearms. They also put their trusted people in charge and refuse to be subordinate to any all-Ukrainian councils of otamans or hetmans. Numerous efforts were made to bring order to the Cossack movement when President Yushchenko was in power, who himself at one time was proclaimed Chief Hetman at a dubious Cossack council. Relevant draft laws were submitted to parliament, but Ukrainian politicians were so busy fighting for power that they never resolved the issue with Cossacks.
“The Cabinet of Ministers approved a concept for the development of the Cossack Movement”, says Stanislav Arzhevitin, former secretary of the now disbanded Council for Cossack Development under the President of Ukraine. “Acter the approval of the concept, it was necessary to draft a legislative framework in parliament. The drafted laws described how a Cossack organization should be established and operate and how many members are required for its establishment, which in rural areas was 30 members, while on a nationwide scale – almost 4,000. Specially-established sub-divisions of the Ministry of Defense were to supervise Cossacks and keep a register. Cossacks could have been used for the protection of public order, the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters and search operations. But ultimately, no laws concerning Cossacks were passed. As regards their activity, they continue to be guided by the Law “On Public Associations”.
According to Mr. Arzhevitin, when Viktor Yanukovych came to power, he cancelled the concept for Cossack development, as well as most decrees on Cossacks issued by Mr. Yushchenko, and dismissed the Cossack Council under the President, thus deepening the legislative vacuum for cossacks.
At one time, MP Hennadiy Moskal initiated the passing of a law banning the wearing of military-like uniforms by representatives of public organizations. “Do you know why I got the idea to submit this daft law?” explains Mr. Moskal, himself a retired police General. “I was wandering around Uzhhorod (Zakarpattia) one day and a person in uniform was coming towards me, I looked closer at his shoulder straps – he appeared to be an Army General – the highest military rank in Ukraine. “Why aren’t you saluting someone of a higher rank than yours?” he asked. “Who are you, brother?” I asked him in return. And he answered, “I am the leader of the local Cossack organization.” Then I remembered where I had seen this man: he used to be a First Lieutenant at a sobering-up facility, who was dishonourably discharged for stealing money from a drunk.”
But parliament rejected this document. Apparently, for many, it is convenient for the Cossack movement in Ukraine to be in chaos. Such anarchy makes it easier to use cossacks for personal needs, both in business, and in politics.
Any three adult citizens of Ukraine can establish a Cossack association. Registration at the local justice office requires the submission of the minutes of a meeting, details on the founders including addresses, identification codes and passport details; as well as a charter which is the document that lists the public organization’s activities. The authorities must provide an answer within three days for a local public organization and a month for a nationwide one. This is followed by registration with the statistics service, tax administration and pension fund, as well as getting a stamp, and – voila – you have an “army”!
Historically, the current territory of Ukraine was home to two Cossack formations. One was the Viysko Saporozke (Zaporizhia Army) comprised largely of ethnic Ukrainians. The other was the Donske Kozache Viysko (Don Cossacks) based on Russians, both of which were incorporated into the military system of the Russian Empire in the early 18th century. Since Zaporozka Sich (Zaporizhia Sich) was ruined in 1775, Catherine the Great demolished (Russian historians claim that this happened because “There was no longer a need to keep Cossacks in their historical homeland to protect the southern border of Russia”), the remaining Cossacks were moved to Cuban as the Black Sea Cossacks and as of this time, (1793), the russification of one-time Ukrainian element of Zaporizhia Cossacks was begun.
There were no Cossack structures in Crimea before WWI, although in 1914 there were 12 Russian cossack armies elsewhere, including the Don, Cuban (merged with the Black Sea (one-time Zaporizhia) and Linear (Russian) Cossacks armies, Terek, Astrakhan, Ural, Semirechensk, Orenburg, Zabaikalie, Siberia, Amur, Ussuriysk and Yenisei groups. A Crimean Cadet Unit was established in 1920 during the time when the army of General Piotr Vrangel was in Crimea. It was revived in 2004, as the Crimean Cossack Cadet Unit
Currently, there are more than 22 pro-Russian Cossack organizations in Crimea, including the Union of Crimean Cossacks, Loyal Cossacks, International Cossack Union, Border Cossack Patrol, the Union of Crimean Otamans and many others.
The ideology these organizations follow shows in the events they organize. For example, during the celebration of the anniversary of the Council of Pereyaslav , Serhiy Yurchenko, the Otaman of the Bakhchisarai Unit of the Zaporizhia Cossacks, announced that Crimeans should support the choice made back in 1654. “Crimean Cossacks have proven that they are in the forefront of the “Russian World”, not only in the Crimea, but also in the whole Malorossia ” said Mr. Yurchenko. Another Cossack community, Sobol, hung two huge 50-meter wide flags on the cliffs near Sevastopol on Russian Police Day in 2008. One was Russian tricolor and another one was Andriyivski (St. Andrew’s) flag, Russian naval ensign. In January 2011, it introduced a proposal for the renaming of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate into the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. “Our church is dominated by blockheads who hate everything that is Russian,” declared Vitaliy Khramov, the community leader.