This area of Ukraine and Russia had problems dating back to the 17th century.
The Crimean-Nogai raids were attacks by the Khanate of Crimea and the Nogai Horde on the Tsardom of Russia and the southeastern lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which became part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and is now mostly in Ukraine). They began after Crimea became independent about 1441 and lasted until Crimea was brought under Russian control in 1774. Their main purpose was the capture of slaves, most of whom were exported to the Ottoman Empire. The raids were an important drain of the human and economic resources of both countries. They largely prevented the settlement of the “Wild Fields” – the steppe and forest-steppe land that extends from a hundred or so miles south of Moscow to the Black Sea and now contains most of the Russian and Ukrainian population. The raids were also important in the development of the Cossacks.
The number of people involved can only be estimated. According to Alan Fisher the number of people deported from the Slavic lands on both sides of the border during the 14th to 17th centuries was about 3 million people. Another source gives 150–200,000 people taken from Russia in the first 50 years of the 17th century. For comparison the estimate for the Atlantic Slave Trade is perhaps 12 million. The estimate for the Arab slave trade with Africa is around 10 to 18 million over a much longer period.
Tatars looked oriental and could be easily distinguished form the Russians and Poles. A Tatar horseman was armed with a saber, bow and quiver with 18–20 arrows. On his belt was a knife, an awl and an flint for making fires. He also carried 10 or 12 yards of rope to tie up prisoners. They were skilled horsemen and each man usually had two spare horses. When crossing a river they loaded their clothing and equipment on a light raft, tied it to a horse and crossed the river swimming, holding on to the horse’s mane. Both large and small groups raided in summer. Winter raids were rare, but always involved large numbers of warriors. When they reached a populated area groups of several hundred split off from the main body. These spread out through the countryside and surrounded villages. So that no one would escape at night they lit large fires. They then robbed, burned and slaughtered and carried away not only men, women and children, but bulls, cows, goats and sheep.
The condition of the captives as they were being carried to the Crimea was very difficult. Held in bondage, divided into small groups, hands tied behind their backs with rawhide straps, tied to wooden poles with ropes around their necks. held at the end of a rope, surrounded by and tied to horsemen, they were driven by whips across the steppe without stopping. The weak and infirm often had their throats cut so they would not delay the march. They were often fed the meat of worn-out horses. Reaching the lower Dnieper where they were relatively safe from Cossacks, the Tatars let their horses graze freely while they set about dividing the captives each of whom had been marked with a hot iron. Having received their slaves as inalienable property each Tatar could do with them as he wished. According to Sigismund von Herberstein, “the old and infirm, who were not worth much money, were given to the Tatar youths like rabbits to hunting dogs for their first military practice and were either stoned to death, or thrown into the sea or killed in some other way.”