A Wild Cossack Rides Into a Cultural Battle

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MOSCOW — Russia’s latest action hero galloped onto movie screens here this month, slicing up Polish noblemen like so many cabbages.

Taras Bulba, the 15th-century Cossack immortalized in Nikolai Gogol’s novel by that name, disdains peace talks as “womanish” and awes his men with speeches about the Russian soul. When Polish soldiers finally burn him at the stake, he roars out his faith in the Russian czar even as flames lick at his mustache.

A lush $20 million film adaptation of the book was rolled out at a jam-packed premiere in Moscow on April 1, complete with rows of faux Cossacks on horseback. Vladimir V. Bortko’s movie, financed in part by the Russian Ministry of Culture, is a work of sword-rattling patriotism that moved some viewers in Moscow to tears.

It is also a salvo in a culture war between Russia and Ukraine’s Western-leaning leadership. The film’s heroes are Ukrainian Cossacks, but they fight an enemy from the West and reserve their dying words for “the Orthodox Russian land.”

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