Zaporozh'e Cossacks writing a letter to the Sultan

Added 981221
last minor update on 000809

English text copyright 1986, 1998 by Hugo S. Cunningham
Individual, noncommercial reproduction is authorized, provided this notice is retained.
Exception: Translation of Cossack letter is copyright 1961 by MUN Enterprises.

Painting (1880) by
Il'ya Efimovich Repin
5 May 1844 - 29 Sep 1930



This is one of the best known and loved paintings in Russia and Ukraine. It shows the Cossacks of Zaporozh'e composing as insulting a reply as possible to a Turkish demand for surrender (1675).

Most people can identify with these Cossacks by imagining at least one address they would like to send such a letter to.

Historical background

In the 17th Century, Ukraine was a constantly disputed borderland between Catholic Poland and Muslim Turkey (both more powerful in those days), and Orthodox Russia (just starting to emerge as a great power). Indeed the very name "Ukraine" means "border."

The Cossacks were Ukrainian cavalrymen originally chartered by Poland to establish autonomous military communities on the Turkish border. The most famous Cossack settlement was the Zaporogian "Syech'" near present-day Zaporozh'e on the Dnepr River. At various times, different Cossack bands shifted allegiance back and forth between Poland and Russia. As Poland intended, however, they usually opposed Muslim Turkey on religious grounds.

In 1675, Poland was forced by military reverses to sign a treaty surrendering areas including Zaporozh'e to the Turks. The Cossacks themselves had plenty of fight left, however ...

The following is translated from D. I. Evarnitsky, "History of the Zaporogian Cossacks (Vol 2)," St. Petersburg, 1895; pp. 517-518:

Russkij tekst
Original text in Russian


Hokkaido University's "Slavic Research Center" maintains an extensive Internet catalog of Russian art at
http://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/link/russia-d4.html


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