The old Cossack Taras Bulba meets his two sons returning from Kyiv after graduation from the seminary. Ostap and Andrei are strong, healthy and brave two young men. Taras meets them with mocking their clothes, and the elder – Ostap – can’t stand it, and between a son and a father occurs a playful fight. Pale and skinny mother tries to bring to reason an old Cossack, but he is glad that has tested his son. Taras wants to greet the younger son the same way, but their mother has seized him first, thus protecting from their father.
Of the occasion of his sons’ arrival Taras invited everyone and announces that he is going to send his sons to Zaporizhian Sich, as there is no education better than this place. But after having a lot of drinks Taras decides to go with them. Only poor mother can’t get a wink of sleep that night wishing the night never ended.
But next morning three riders leave their home. All three of them are silent, being occupied with their own thoughts. Taras is recollecting on his old times, a strict tear holds on his eyes, with grey head lowered. Ostap having rather hard character is very worried by the parting with their mother. Andrei is also worrying about their mother, and having their home left, but he can’t get rid of an image of a beautiful Polish girl he has met right before leaving the capital. Then Andrei managed to get into her room through the chimney, but the knock on the door made the girl hide him under the bed, and as soon as the trouble ceased he was led by the old maid to the garden where he disappeared in the night. Then he saw her again in the cathedral, but next day she left, and Andrei can’t think of nothing but her.
Sich meets Taras and his sons with dissipated life, which is its primary sign. Now Cossacks here don’t want to practice military training, having collecting the experience only during the war. Both Ostap and Andrei get with their heads into his life, but old Taras can’t find peace with it, as it is not the way he wanted his sons to be taught. Meeting with all his old friends he wants to get the army into the war, in order not to waste Cossacks’ daring on feast and drunken merriment. He persuades the Cossacks to reelect the ataman. New ataman decides to turn Cossacks’ arms against Poland to get revenge for committed evil.
Next months Polish cities shiver of fear as Cossacks have no mercy. Taras is happy to see his sons grow stronger, they always are among the first to attack. Soon they are trying to take the city of Dubno, which is rather wealthy, but Cossacks meet here rather strong resistance. But they besiege the city and wait for the starvation to start. One night Andrei is woken up by a strange woman, looking like a ghost, who turns out to be a maid of a girl he is in love with. She says that her mistress has seen him and sends her to ask a loaf of bread for her dying mother. Andrei get as much bread as he can carry, and the old maid leads him through a secret way to the fortress. Having seen his beloved Andrei renounces his father and his own land. And he stays to protect her from those you used to be his friends.
Polish army comes to rescue and kills a lot of Cossacks, who are either drunk or asleep. Taras is looking for his missing son, but he finds nothing but awful betrayal of Andrei. Cossacks continue to fight, but there comes news from Sich that Tatars having used Cossacks’ absence attacked the Sich and got its state treasury. The army under Dobno is divided into two parts, one returns to the Sich, and the other continues fighting for the city.
The Poles learn about weakening of their enemy, and come out from the city to make a reasonable attack. Andrei is among them. Taras lures him into the forest, where he kills his own son by himself, but the last Andrei’s word is the name of the girl. Reinforcements defeat the Cossacks, Ostap is captured, and wounded Taras is brought back to the Sich.
After recovering Taras gets to Warsaw and tries to buy out his son. But nothing can be done and he becomes an eyewitness of his son’s execution. No moan can be heard from Ostap, he only says “Father, where are you? Do you hear me?” “I hear you” – is heard from the crowd. They try to catch Taras, but he manages to flee.
Soon a big Cossacks’ army takes a campaign against the enemy. Everyone notices Taras’ excessive ferocity and cruelty, it’s how he takes vengeance for his son Ostap. Defeated Polish hetman agrees not to make any damage the Cossacks in future. Everyone agrees but Taras, he is sure that Poles can’t keep their words, and leads his regiment away. As it turns out later he was right, the Poles put their army together and attack the Cossacks.
Taras along with his regiment continue to destroy everything in Poland, his revenge for his son’s death has no limits. Finally Poles get Taras and his men, and kill him in fire.