To Putin, The Sultan Of The Kremlin
Earlier today, when I saw news that the Russian Army had attacked the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia, I tweeted out this image, and suggested that the Ukrainians should have hired these good ol’ boys to protect the plant:
The painting is by Ilya Repin, the great 19th century Russian painter. Its title is, “The Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.” It is based on a too-good-to-check legend about the Cossack band from the region, who were supposedly sent this ultimatum in 1676 by the Ottoman sultan:
Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks: As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
Here was their reply. Brace yourself, Bridget — this is crude:
Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are thou, that canst not slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats. Thou shalt not, thou son of a whore, make subjects of Christian sons. We have no fear of your army; by land and by sea we will battle with thee. F*ck thy mother.
Thou Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-f*cker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow. Screw thine own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord. The day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
Repin did several version of this scene. The original — or at least the one the Tsar bought — hangs in the State Museum in St. Petersburg. I saw it when I visited in 2019, and it’s so vivid you can almost smell the sweaty Cossacks.
Well, here’s good news: some cocky Ukrainian soldiers recreated the tableau! With this image, they are hurling the same hilariously vulgar curses at Vladimir Putin — and given how famous that painting is in Russian culture, every Russian and Ukrainian knows it.
MUCH respect to those Ukrainian soldiers!