Staunton, June 29 – The Soviet government until the mid-1930s viewed the Cossacks as a “class alien” element, carrying out acts of genocide including mass murder and deportations in the North Caucasus. In response, many Cossacks in the Don and Kuban sought to hide their identity with 44 percent of them declaring themselves to be Ukrainians in the 1926 census.
That statistic, offered by historian Valery Shambarov in his 2007 book on the Cossacks and now repeated by the Russian Seven portal, not only highlights the complexities of ethnic data from Soviet times but helps explain why many Ukrainians view the Don and Kuban as historically Ukrainian lands (russian7.ru/post/zachem-na-samom-dele-stalin-pered-voyno/).
To be sure, the lines between Ukrainians and Cossacks and between Russians and Cossacks are not unproblematic. In both cases, there are people on both sides of those lines who see themselves as sharing much in common, even though the majorities don’t. But in assessing these claims, it is important to follow the data rather than one’s heart.
That Cossacks sought to protect themselves by declaring themselves to be Ukrainians in 1926 does not mean that they became Ukrainians. Instead, it means that they made a pragmatic calculation that such a reidentification could save them from further repressions, precisely the kind of calculation so many other nations under Soviet power were forced to make.
What is perhaps the most significant aspect of this information is that the Cossacks chose to identify as Ukrainians rather than Russians given that selection of the latter identify might have provided them with even greater protection.