The Cossacks[lower-alpha 1] are a group of predominantly East Slavic Orthodox Christian people, who became known as members of democratic, self-governing, semi-military communities originating in the steppes of Eastern Europe (in particular the Dnieper, in the Wild Fields).[1] They inhabited sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper,[2] Don, Terek, and Ural River basins, and played an important role in the historical and cultural development of both Ukraine and Russia.[3][4]

An American Cossack family in the 1950s
Cossacks marching in Red Square
Kuban Cossacks in the late 19th century

After World War II, the Soviet Union disbanded the Cossack units in the Soviet Army. During the Perestroika era in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, descendants of Cossacks moved to revive their national traditions. In 1988, the Soviet Union passed a law allowing the re-establishment of former Cossack hosts and the formation of new ones. During the 1990s, many regional authorities agreed to hand over some local administrative and policing duties to their Cossack hosts.

In the 2002 Russian census, 140,028 people declared Cossack ethnicity, while 67,573 people identified as Cossack in the 2010 census. Between 3.5 and 5.0 million people associate themselves with the Cossack identity across the world;[citation needed] Cossack organizations operate in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, and the United States.