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Ukraine’s ‘Cossacks’ Are Using World War I Machine Guns to Fight Russia

Maxim Machine Gun WWI
A Maxim Machine Gun Being Used in World War I.

World War I Machine Guns Are Being Used in Ukraine: You’ve probably seen “technicals” on the battlefield. These are improvised fighting vehicles – usually 4X4 Toyota pickup trucks – with some kind of machine gun or anti-aircraft gun in the bed. You typically see technicals in the Middle East or Africa where insurgents or rebels need a high-powered weapon and do not have tanks or armored personnel carriers to transport the armaments. 

Now some Ukrainians have taken the “technical” concept and turned back the clock to using Maxim machine guns that were seen in combat during World War I and first designed in 1884. They are even dressing up in flowing mustaches, beards, and haircuts that make them look like 16th-century Cossacks.

Cossack Look Is Back In Style

A few volunteers in the reserve Territorial Defense Units in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region have taken a page out of the history books to harken back to the days when Ukrainian Cossacks roamed the battlefields. It’s even stranger to see Ukrainian territorial defenders with the Cossack vibe rocking vintage headgear and earrings while wearing modern combat uniforms. Oh, and don’t forget that many are smoking pipes that look like they are from another century. It’s truly a sight to behold. You can see these fighters in this video.

Old Weapons Making an Appearance 

These combatants might be dressing up in retro-chic to match the old weapons they are using, even in the days of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and Bayraktar TB2 drones. One Maxim machine gun was mounted on a Soviet LuAZ-969 vehicle. This is a Cold War-era jalopy that looks like something akin to the truck the Joad family took to California in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

Surprising to See This Vehicle Again

All kidding aside, the Soviets had serious uses for LuAZ-969. The four-wheel-drive vehicle was made for carrying litters of wounded across tough terrain including the ability to handle streams and ditches.

Is That Really a Maxim Machine Gun? 

To mount onto the LuAZ-969, the Ukrainians chose a liquid-cooled 7.62mm Maxim machine gun, probably made in the Soviet Union in the 1940s, and pilfered it from some forgotten arms storage warehouse. They fastened it to the rear of the LuAZ-969 facing outward. It’s not the first time Maxim-like machine guns have made an appearance on the battlefield – or in the region. Apparently, pro-Russian separatists are fielding Maxim-type weapons too.

No That’s Not a “Record Player” on the Gun

That’s not all. The mustachioed fighters are also using the Degtyaryov machine gun or DP-27. The fighters are seen loading the DP-27’s trademark circular magazine with rounds in the aforementioned video. This gun was used starting in the late 1920s until the 1960s. 

But the juxtaposition of the Maxim and the DP-27 with modern weapons is also a mystery. The fighters have AK-47s and AK-74s which means they must enjoy using the older machine guns. More likely they’re making use of the arms and ammunition they have on hand.

Vintage Weapons Are Easy to Use took the video transcription and ran it through Google Translate. One of the “Cossacks” said, “Everything is very easy, simple. It [the machine gun] was released in 1941 and is still in working order. It is said that the technique of old models beats the enemy well, if you know how.” 

The Cossack Legend

Cossacks were a fierce group of fighters out of the Caucasus region that fought for Tsarist Russia. The Zaporozhian Cossacks lived beyond the Dniepr Rapids in Central and Eastern Ukraine. They have a historic reputation for battle. Nostalgia for the pugilist ways of the Cossacks may have inspired some of the combatants in the Territorial Defense Units. One of the reservists in the video said he is 62-years-old, so perhaps his advanced age has increased his proclivity to honor the ancient ways of battle.

This war has shown us a diverse range of fighters, especially among the reserve and militia units. No Ukrainian wants to be seen as someone who has shirked from duty. If they take on a new persona to help them fight, so be it. This shows that the Russians may be surprised about the level of resistance they are up against and the fervor and swagger on the Ukrainian side. If Ukrainians are not scared of entering battle with vintage weapons, they are not afraid to die for their country.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.