Khortytsya Island

Eastern Ukraine

The Zaporizhska Sich on Khortytsya Island was the cradle of Ukrainian Cossackdom, where Hetman (chieftain) Dmytro Baida united disparate groups of Cossacks in the construction of a sich (fort) in 1553–54. Today the island houses the Historical Museum of Zaporizhsky Cossacks, closed for renovation at the time of writing, as well as the Sich Reconstruction – a wooden fortress, complete with churches and about a dozen thatched-roof khaty (dwellings), built for the epic movie Taras Bulba in 2007.

The rocky island made a perfect base for an army camp: strategically located below the Dnipro rapids and beyond the control of Polish or Russian authority. Any man could come to join the Cossack brotherhood, irrespective of social background or indeed criminal record. But no women were allowed entry.

At the height of its power the community numbered some 20,000 fighters, under the authority of one hetman. On the battlefield they were formidable opponents; off it, formidable vodka drinkers. The sich was eventually destroyed in 1775, on the order of Russian empress Catherine the Great.

With its network of forest paths and tarmac roads, Khortytsya Island is a haven for hikers and bicyclists. You can usually find a bicycle-rental stand near the parking lot. Khortytsya is also the best spot to admire the Dniproges dam from.

No public transport goes all the way to the main sights on Khortytsya, so it's better to take a taxi or rent a bike. Some marshrutka buses (e.g. 55, and 56), which go along pr Soborny from the train station, stop on the Khortytsya side of the bridge that connects the island to the centre. From here, it is a 3km hike to the museum and Sich Reconstruction.

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