Kuzma Kryuchkov, the First Cavalier of the St. George Cross


This print showing a cavalry battle and the cavalier Kuzma Kryuchkov atop a white horse is from the collection of World War I lubok posters held at the British Library. The caption explains: “The famous first cavalier to receive the Saint George's Cross in the current war, Cossack Kuzma Kryuchkov was born in 1888 into an Old Believer family on the Nizhne-Kalmykov farm in Ust-Khoperskaia village, in Ust-Medveditskii county. A Cossack scouting squad, which Kryuchkov was a part of, safely crossed the border. The enemy was nowhere to be seen, and gradually the squad moved farther into Prussia. In the morning, a few versts away from them, a Prussian cavalry patrol appeared, consisting of 27 Germans. When the Prussians were at a distance of a gunshot, the Cossacks dismounted and opened fire. The commander of the German squad gave an order and the Prussian cavalrymen began to retreat quickly. Then the Cossacks jumped on their horses and rushed after the enemy with loud war cries. Confusion ensued among the Prussians. They shouted, ‘Kashlany, kashlany,’ which is what the Prussians call Russian Cossacks. On his frisky horse, Kryuchkov rode ahead of his comrades and reached the enemy unit alone. When the other Cossacks arrived they saw Kryuchkov, surrounded by the Prussians and brandishing his saber right and left, among a mess of men and horses. The next moment, Kryuchkov hit a junior officer on the head with his saber; with another blow, Kryuchkov slashed his neck. Left without their commanders, the Prussians became confused and fled.” Lubok is a Russian word for popular prints created from woodcuts, engravings, etchings, or later, by using lithography. The prints were often characterized by simple, colorful graphics depicting a narrative, and could also include text. Lubok gained popularity in Russia beginning in the late 17th century. The prints, which often depicted narratives from a historical event, literature, or a religious tale, were used to make such stories accessible to illiterate people. These expressive prints had a wide range in tone, from humorous to instructive to sharp political and social commentary. The images were clear and easy to understand, and some of the pictures were serialized, predecessors of the modern comic strip. Prints could be reproduced inexpensively, and were thus a way for the masses to display art at home. Initially, this artistic style was not taken seriously by the upper classes, but by the end of the 19th century, lubok was so well-regarded that it inspired professional artists. During World War I, lubok informed Russians about events on the frontlines, bolstered morale, and served as propaganda against enemy combatants.

Last updated: June 9, 2015