Women of the Cossack Resurgence
Throughout the steppes and valleys of autonomous Crimea and Caucasus, Southern Russia, the Cossack people are relearning their warrior traditions and cultural heritage, which were aggressively suppressed by the communists during their 74 years in power. The Cossack revival began in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR, as small groups of men and women began to resurrect their historic role as defenders of Russia’s Southern borders and the Orthodox Church. Today, the movement has gained considerable numbers, particularly in Russia, with support from the government who are investing in nurturing Cossack resurgence through the many Cadet schools that are now operating in the South.
Children from the age of 12 to 18 flock to attend these military style schools, where they divide their time between regular academic lessons and learning traditional Cossack skills, such as horse riding, martial arts, folk dancing and Shashka (Cossack sabre) performance, as well as the more contemporary soldiering necessities of shooting and parachuting. The respect that the Cossacks are starting to reclaim is evident–students from these Cadet schools are groomed for government jobs and positions. According to Director of the Ataman Platov school in Belaya Kalitva, Colonel Yuri Ivanovich, all of his students would go on to serve Russia in their future careers.
Although Cossack units in Ukraine and Russia are made up of both men and women, the school here is the first to accept female cadets as full time boarders, and there are now around 80 girls living at Belaya Kalitva. Historically, only the wives of Cossacks were allowed to join the military formation, but as they have adapted to modern life all women are now welcomed, as are men, regardless of ethnic origin or whether they have Cossack heritage.
Anastasia Taylor-Lind (1981) is an English photojournalist who was part of the VII Mentor Program and is now a full member of the VII Photo agency. She is based in London where she works for clients such as GEO, The Telegraph Magazine, Marie Claire and The Sunday Times Magazine.