I think we should draw a distinction, because whenever some people hear about Cossacks they associate this group of people with Cossacks who lived in the 19th and early 20th century. There were different groups of Cossacks living at different times.

The largest and probably well known Cossack groups lived in present day Ukraine (запорожские казаки) and in present day southern Russia on Don River (донские казаки)
Cossacks from Zaporozhe lived in 16th century and fought against Ottomans. Don Cossacks lived from 16th to 20th century and to present day. Don Cossacks are best known for taking part in in the war against Napolen and Crimean war against Ottomans and Great Britain in the 19th century. Dons Cossacks were also defending southern borders of the Russian empire against nomads from the steppes of southern regions and Crimea Peninsula.

We also had Ural Cossacks (Southern Ural near Kazakhstan), терские казаки (north Caucasus), семиреченские казаки (southern Kazakhstan near Almaty), кубанские казаки (Southern Russia, Stavropol’ oblast’) and сибирские казаки in Siberia. There were even Cossacks living in the east and Far East of Russia.

The historians know less about Cossacks from Zaporozhe because they lived a long time ago. I won’t comment on ethnicity of Cossacks from Zaporozhe; they lived a long time ago and it may be a sensitive subject for some. 

After a conquest of new a territory, in Ural region or Siberia for example, a fortress would be established and it’d be settled by people who could defend themselves and the new territory. These people were Cossacks. There could have been intermixed mirages between Russian Cossacks and the locals, but they were Slavs which is easy to prove. They were Russian Orthodox, they spoke Russian with a dialect (in Russia there are different dialects), they looked Russian and now we have evidence from DNA analysis proving these people are genetically similar to eastern and western Slavs.

For me personally, Russian Cossacks were not a separate ethnical group.  Initially ‘Cossack’ was a way of life which grew into a large community.


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