Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Ukraine: The Cossacks of Ukraine, particularly in the Zaporizhzhya region; membership and activities; reports of human rights violations against minority groups committed by Cossacks (1995 - January 2002)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 21 January 2002
Citation / Document Symbol UKR38289.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ukraine: The Cossacks of Ukraine, particularly in the Zaporizhzhya region; membership and activities; reports of human rights violations against minority groups committed by Cossacks (1995 - January 2002), 21 January 2002, UKR38289.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Information on the Cossacks in the Zaporizhzhya region is scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The Russian state news agency Itar-Tass reported that on 29 August 2001, Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and Russia's former prime minister under former President Boris Yeltsin, became a member of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks (30 Aug. 2001). Later in 2001, the Uriadovy Kurier, a periodical described as "a government newspaper," reported that on 22 November 2001, the Russian ambassador had been awarded in Kiev the title of Cossack General and the Cossack Pride Order by Supreme Otaman Dmytro Sahaidak, a top Cossack commander (AP 23 Nov. 2001). These honours are said to reward the ambassador's support for contacts between Cossacks of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan (ibid.).

In a 9 August 1996 dispatch, the news agency UNIAR reported that the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice had issued a new certificate of reregistration to the new union of all Ukrainian Cossack societies, making it an international public organization. Succeeding the all-Ukrainian public organization Ukrainian Cossacks, the new union was allowed to carry out its activities in Ukraine and abroad, particularly in Australia, Canada and the United States (UNIAR 9 Aug. 1996). Its new registered statute was approved by the Ministry of Defence, the leadership of the National Guard, the Border Troops, the Civil Defence and other ministries and departments (ibid.). The new statute provides for stricter membership requirements, including the obligation for young Cossacks "to show initiative and register with a military commissariat" and perform military service (ibid.).

On 24 May 1999, Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission (CEC) released the list of 14 candidates registered for the upcoming presidential election, including Ivan Bilas (Intelnews 25 May 1999), the leader (hetman) of the Ukrainian Cossacks (UNIAN 19 Mar. 1999). The candidacy of Ivan Bilas had been approved by the council of commanders of the Ukrainian Cossacks (ibid.). According to the CEC, every registered candidate was required to collect one million signatures by 14 July 1999 (Intelnews 25 May 1999), an obligation that Mr. Bilas was confident in fulfilling (UNIAN 19 Mar. 1999). Financed by contributions from businessmen who sympathize with the Cossacks, Mr. Bilas' campaign was based on "an idea of statehood with the further creation of a Ukrainian economy and the revival of Cossack agriculture" (ibid.). At a 19 March 1999 press conference, Mr. Bilas estimated the number of active voters among members associated with Ukrainian Cossacks at 158,000 (ibid.). The results of the first round of the election, which took place on 31 October 1999, as published by do not mention the number of votes obtained by Mr. Bilas (26 Dec. 2001).

In its November 2000 issue, National Security & Defence, a magazine founded and published by the Ukrainian Centre for Economic & Political Studies, a Kiev-based non-profit public organization, published an article by Ivan Bilas described as Lieutenant General, hetman of the Ukrainian Cossacks and chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Support for Law Enforcement, in which he provided the following detail on an NGO called Ukrainian Cossacks:

Ukrainian Cossacks is an international national-patriotic and defence-sports all-Ukrainian public organisation. This organisation was established in 1990 with the purpose of assisting the establishment of Ukraine as a sovereign democratic state ruled by law, building the National Armed Forces of Ukraine on the basis of Ukrainian Cossacks' progressive customs and traditions, preparation of youths for military service, military training of Ukrainian Cossacks, manning of separate units with conscripts from among Ukrainian Cossacks, retraining of Ukrainian Cossacks - reservists.

Over the past ten years, Ukrainian Cossacks have gained significant experience in the field of patriotic education of youth in the spirit of Ukrainian Cossack chivalry, the Ukrainian national idea, and devotion to the Ukrainian people and Fatherland. The Concept of Cossack chivalry education was worked out, and is presently being successfully tested at educational establishments in some of Ukraine's regions. The children's and youth organisation "Moloda Sich" was established, and Cossack lyceums are now active in Donetsk, Zaporizhya and Kharkiv.

In the ranks of Ukrainian Cossacks, pre-conscripts now undergo military and sports training, are mastering traditional Cossack martial arts (at the schools "Spas", "Khrest", "Svarha", "Hopak") and participate in annual all-Ukrainian Cossack tournaments "Cossack Games".

In 1998, we concluded an agreement with the Association for Assisting Ukraine's Defence, providing for co-operation in training aviators and naval multi-athletes for serving in Ukraine's Armed Forces.

In April, 2000, in co-operation with the National Federation of Aviation Sports, the Association for Assisting Ukraine's Defence and Ukraine's Air Force, we organised the first-ever National polar expedition "Ukraine – North Pole - 2000" [ ...]

We agreed with the Minister of Defence on the issue of establishing separate Cossack units in the Armed Forces in 2001, developing and introducing a single uniform and Cossack ranks. Similar work is also underway with the Border Troops, and the Ministry for Emergencies.

One source also makes reference to a Cossack organization named the Conference or Assembly (Kurin) of Ukrainian Cossacks (Interfax 1 Apr. 1996; ibid. 6 May 1996). No current information on this organization could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In November 2000, National Security & Defence indicated that President Leonid Kuchma had signed Decree No.1283/99 of 6 October 1999 establishing the Co-ordinating Council for the Development of Ukrainian Cossacks under the President of Ukraine and Decree No.1610/99 of 22 December 1999 sanctioning the regulations of the council.

In a 22 January 2001 dispatch, Interfax referred to the Cossack Union as a member of the newly created National Ukrainian Council. Described as a "right-wing alliance" of 11 parties and more than 20 public associations, the Council aims at "intensify[ing] and coordinat[ing] efforts on all public problems for the full implementation of the Ukrainian national idea" (Interfax 22 Jan. 2001). Participation in future elections under the Council's banner is also among the objectives (ibid.). According to Interfax and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Ukrainian Cossacks joined a "right-wing union" of about 20 Ukrainian political parties in late January 2001 called the Ukrainian Right Wing or Ukrayinska pravytsya (RFE/RL 23 Jan. 2001; UCSJ 31 Jan. 2001) whose membership and objectives are similar to the National Ukrainian Council's ones (RFE/RL 23 Jan. 2001).

In late May 2001, some Cossacks were among about 1,000 persons who marched in Kiev to protest against Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine (Interfax 31 May 2001; The Independent 8 June 2001) due to take place on 23-27 June 2001 (ibid.).

On 16 November 2001, Interfax reported that Leonid Kuchma, the Ukrainian president, signed a decree that "endorsed the national programme for the revival and development of Ukrainian cossackhood in 2002-2005." The main objectives of the programme include the restoration of the Ukrainian Cossacks' historical, patriotic, economic and cultural traditions, the promotion of "public concord," the integration of national traditions in all aspects of social life, a better military education for young Ukrainians as well as a form of involvement of Cossacks in the protection of public order and state borders (Interfax 16 Nov. 2001).

No reports of human rights violations against minority groups committed by Cossacks could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Associated Press (AP). 23 November 2001. "Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Awarded Cossack Title." (NEXIS) 26 December 2001. "Elections in Ukraine." [Accessed 9 Jan. 2002]

The Independent [London]. 8 June 2001. Patrick Cockburn. "Russian Orthodox Church Vents its Fury at John Paul's Visit to Western Ukraine." (Financial Times Information 2001/NEXIS)

Intelnews. 25 May 1999 [Kiev, in English]. "14 Presidential Candidates Registered So Far." (FBIS-SOV-1999-0525 25 May 1999/WNC)

Interfax [Moscow, in English]. 16 November 2001. "Presidential Bulletin Report for November 16, 2001." (FBIS-SOV-2001-1116 16 Nov. 2001/WNC)

_____. 31 May 2001. "Protest in Ukrainian Capital Against Pope's Visit." (FBIS-SOV-2001-0531 31 May 2001/WNC)

_____. 22 January 2001. "New Right-Wing Association of Parties Set up in Ukraine." (FBIS-SOV-2001-0122 22 Jan. 2001/WNC)

_____. 6 May 1996. "Ukraine: Sevastopol Groups Protest Against Black Sea Fleet Policy." (FBIS-SOV-1996-089 6 May 1996/WNC)

_____. 1 April 1996. "Black Sea Fleet Talks; Ukrainian Nationalists Demand Bill on Status of Foreign Troops in Crimea." (BBC Summary 2 Apr. 1996/NEXIS)

Itar-Tass [Moscow, in Russian]. 30 August 2001. "Ukrainian Cossacks Welcome Russian Ambassador Into Their Ranks." (FBIS-SOV-2001-0830 30 Aug. 2001/WNC)

National Security & Defence [Kiev]. November 2000. Ivan Bilas. "NGOs as the Basis for Civil Society."

[Accessed 16 Jan. 2002]

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). 23 January 2001. "Ukrainian Right-Wing Forces Unite." [Accessed 9 Jan. 2002].

UNIAN [Kiev, in Ukrainian]. 19 March 1999. "Ukrainian Cossacks Nominate Their Leader for Presidency." (BBC Monitoring 20 Mar. 1999/NEXIS)

UNIAR [Kiev, in Ukrainian]. 9 August 1996. "Cossacks Reregistered as International Organization." (BBC Summary 13 Aug. 1996/NEXIS)

Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) [Washington, DC]. 31 January 2001. "Russian Government's Official Newspaper on Ukrainian Extremist Parties' Alliance." [Accessed 1 Feb. 2002].

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

Minority Rights Group International. 1997. World Directory of Minorities. London: Minority Rights Group International.

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International (AI)

British Helsinki Human Rights Group

Freedom House

Human Rights Watch

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights

Kyiv Post

Minorities at Risk Project

UK Immigration and Nationality Directorate 2001 Country Assessment. Ukraine.

US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 1996-2000

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

Search Refworld