Towards the end of the XV century the first references to Cossacks (Kozaks) on the Ukrainian frontier appear. "Kozak" is a Turkish word meaning "free, independent person", as opposed to a serf, who was bound to a master. The word referred to men engaged in warfare and robbery and, in the mind of the people, developed in a manner parallel to the English Robin Hood, across a spectrum of meanings: handsone, bold, young, knightly, defender of the fatherland. This new class of Cossacks drew its members from runaway serfs. Organized along democratic principles into small, tight-knit groups to defend themselves against Tatar bands and for cooperation in hun ting and fishing expeditions, the Cossacks moved into the steppes south of the lower tributaries of the Dnipro rapids-the prairie area known as "Wild Fields." Their elected leader was known by the Tatar titles, "hetman" or "otaman."
One of the first to organize the Cossacks was Ostap Dashkevych (1515-1535), the elder (starosta) of the port town of Cherkasy on the Dnipro River. Learning the Tatar methods of warfare, he operated along the Ukrainian-Tatar border. Dashkevych and his Cossack band raided in the Crimea and, in 1532, he distinguished himself in a victory over the Tatars in defense of the city of Cherkasy.
Cossack Prince Dmytro Bayda Vyshnevetskyi was the first to build, about 1550, a Cossack fortress, called in Ukrainian Sich. This was on the island of Little Khortytsia, whose steep banks rendered it eminently defensible. It was located downstream of the Dnipro rapids and as river rapids in Ukrainian are termed porohy,porih in Ukrainian-the region beyond the rapids is termed with the prepositional phrase za porohamy and the parasynthetic substantive zaporozhe. Hence we have the name of the area proverbial in Ukrainian history, the Zaporozhian Sich, the fort "beyond the rapids."
Later in 1558 the Little Khortytsia Sich was destroyed by the Tatars. Captured by the Turks in a struggle for the throne of Moldavia 1563 "Bayda" Vyshnevetskyi met a hero's death and has been immortalized in national song. After the death of Vyshnevetskyi, the Cossacks, around 1564, located their Sich on the island of Tomakivka. In 1593, during the absence from the island of the majority of the Cossack forces, the Tatars destroyed the Sich at Tomakivka. In the same year, the Cossacks relocated their fort to the island of Bazavluk and from there, in 1628, to Mykytyn Rih (Mykyta's Corner).
About 1646 the Zaporozhian Cossacks established their Sich on the Chortomlyk River. From the Chortomlyk Sich, known as "Stara Sich" ("old fort"), a major offensive against Poland was launched in 1648 by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who emerged victorious and established an independent Ukrainian Cossack state This Sich was destroyed by the Muscovites after the battle of Poltava, which brought an end to Swedish power in the East and began Sweden's long neutrality, lasting to the present day.
Under Hetman Danylo Apostolic the Zaporozhian Cossaks created a new Sich, in 1733, on the Pidpilna River. This Sich was destroyed by Moscow in 1775, during the reign of Vatherine the Great.
The glory of the Cossaks, their battles immortalized in folk songs and verse, will not be forgotten, nor the fame of the first builder of the Zaporozhian Sich, Dmytro "Bayda" Vyshnevetskyi.