The Cossacks are a group of predominantly East Slavic people who originally were members of democratic, semi-military communities in what is today Ukraine and Russia. They inhabited sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper and Don basins, and played an important role in the historical development of both
Ukraine and Russia.
During the Russian Civil War, Cossack regions became centres for the Anti-Bolshevik White movement, a portion of whom would form the White emigration. The Don and Kuban Cossacks even formed short-lived independent states, the
and the Kuban People's Republic, respectively. With the victory of the Red Army, the Cossack lands were subjected to famine, and suffered extensive repression. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cossack lifestyle and its ideas have made a return in Don Republic Russia. In Russia's 2010 Population Census, Cossacks have been recognized as an ethnicity. There are Cossack organizations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and USA.
During the Second World War Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict once again. A substantial number of them served with the Nazis. This can be explained by harsh repressions that many of them suffered under the collectivization and Decossackization policies pursued by Joseph Stalin. Like other peoples of the
Soviet Union, who suffered persecution under Stalin, many Cossacks dreaming of autonomy greeted the advancing German army as liberators.
While the core of the Nazi collaborators was made up of former White Army refugees, many rank-and-file Cossacks defected from the Red Army to join the German armed forces (Wehrmacht). As early as 1941, the first Cossack detachments, created out of prisoners of war, defectors and volunteers, were formed under German leadership.