The Zaporozhian Cossacks inhabited part of central Ukraine and by the middle of the 16th century they had effectively built a state which was to endure for around two centuries. For much of that time they were nominally at least subjects of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and for much of the rest they were subject to the Russian Tsar, but in reality they always harboured an independent spirit and were at best difficult to control, which is how they liked it. The martial Cossack spirit meant they were raiders and pirates, but on occasion fought alongside the armies of one power or another, and thus at various times found themselves facing Poles, Russians, Tatars and Ottomans. They participated in the Great Northern War (on the Swedish side) and would frequently face several of the sets of figures Zvezda have already produced for this period in the history of Eastern Europe.
Although many might consider Cossacks to be primarily an equestrian society there were many that fought on foot, and this set includes both mounted and dismounted, which rather limits the range for both. It also includes a drummer and a wagon, yet still manages to deliver a fair number of poses. We will consider each of these elements in turn.
The set includes five foot warriors, two of which have firearms, two have pikes and one is waving a sabre. These were all popular weapons amongst the Cossacks, and all the poses are very nicely done. Actually they are better than that, because Zvezda have once more used their trick of providing multi-part figures to give them a more natural and better animated posture than the traditional single-piece figure can usually provide. Apart from the man firing the long pistol (who is as a result the weakest of the poses) all these men have at least one separate arm, and the running figure on the top row has both arms separate. This has allowed the sculptor to ensure there is no excess plastic yet there is plenty of waving cloth and expressive poses making some very fine figures. On the down side there is some need for assembly (see the image of the sprue for some detail) and this is as always a tight (and therefore tricky) fit which leaves small but noticeable gaps in some joins, but nothing requires any gluing to stay put. Few as they are we loved all the foot poses.
The mounted figures only deliver four poses, although there have been many exclusively cavalry sets which have done no better. One pose holds aloft a sabre while another has a lance lowered. The remaining two are single figures of a flag-bearer and an ataman or similar leader. Again, few in number but really nicely sculpted and very useful poses. The usual Zvezda pegs on the ankles need to be trimmed back to allow them to sit on the horses, of which there are two poses. Both are authentically saddled and bridled, although they do look rather too impressive to be the kind of small but hardy pony that Cossacks would normally have ridden.
The Cossacks were one of several peoples in the area that used the tabor as part of their battlefield strategy. This involved creating an enclosure of wagons - effectively a mobile field fortification - which they then defended with musket fire and light artillery until the moment came to part the wagons and unleash a charge which would hopefully scatter the enemy. This particularly comprehensive Zvezda set includes just such a wagon, together with light cannon mounted on the top. It does not include a team, which would presumably have been removed to safety prior to the battle. We have not found adequate information on the wagons used by Cossacks at this date, but we were surprised that this vehicle is open-sided, which would have made a much poorer component for defence as well as a less suitable receptacle for the sacks which have also been included. Perhaps it was filled with hay or other material to offer some protection. Equally the habit of mounting light artillery directly on the vehicle defied our research, although this would seem a logical practice and has been portrayed in films depicting these men. The gun is served by the second figure in the third row, who holds a match. The match arm is separate, allowing it to be placed at any angle, so while it is intended to be touching the cannon, which is above the gunner’s head, it could just as easily be lowered to serve a more conventionally mounted piece of artillery. Had extra poses been on offer then someone handling ammunition would have been nice here, but as it is we just get the one man.
Finally we come to the drummer, and his particularly large drum (about 24mm in diameter at the skin). In this case the drummer has both arms separate, allowing you to set them at whatever angle you desire. The drum itself looks good, and while taking up space on the sprue that could have been used for a more belligerent pose, the man and instrument certainly add to the flavour of the set and make another nice piece.
The claimed dates for this set cover the entire history of these particular Cossacks, and while there was no uniform as such the style of dress these men wore did change over such a long period, although much less so than in other more settled societies. During the 16th century armour was more common, with some wearing mail and some wealthy individuals even wearing elements of plate. However this largely disappeared during the 17th century. When in the service of the Polish king, for example, it seems they sometimes wore normal Polish uniform, but much more common would have been normal everyday wear. This varied greatly but in essence was strongly Turkish in style and was mostly composed of baggy comfortable clothing suitable for riding and moving freely. All these figures have very typical clothing, and all those who are bareheaded also display the classic haircut, which was shaved apart from a long topknot and an even longer moustache. We were happy with all the accuracy here, and that includes the flag. Cossack flags varied wildly in design, but often had symbols such as stars, suns and crescents surrounding an orthodox Christian cross, so the design here seems perfectly reasonable.
Zvezda’s sculpting always brings a smile to the face, and so it does here. Perfect proportions and excellent fine detail where it is needed, while musculature, which is important on such a subject, is also very well realised. Although some of the arms are fiddly to attach everything fits well, and that includes the wagon kit. As with many Zvezda sets this takes some time and patience to put together but rewards with some outstanding figures. Needless to say there is no flash or unwanted extra plastic anywhere.
Orion have already produced some very good Cossack figures, and while those in this Zvezda set are better it cannot compete in terms of number of poses. You can judge the compatibility between the sets in our comparison section, but the main problem in this regard is the main failing of this set - namely that the figures are really just too tall for men of the early modern period. If you can overlook that then this set proves some wonderful figures, but spreads itself much too thin to cover the subject in much depth.