Monday, March 27

The sky, the wheat and a trident?: the symbology of the Ukrainian flag

Blue above, yellow below: the sky over a wheat field. The Ukrainian flag symbolizes a horizon, a limit. That would also be the origin of the country’s name, ‘frontier land’, according to one of the most common interpretations. That symbol that today runs through the screens of televisions and mobile phones around the world was ratified in 1992 as the flag of Ukraine, but its origin is much earlier.

Whoever reviews the history of the 20th century will find Soviet propaganda boasting of the fertile Ukraine. ‘The granary of Europe’ has been the nickname of the country (hence the symbology of wheat). The cliché sinks into the mists of time. In the fourth century before Christ, the Athenian orator Demosthenes already spoke of the regions where Ukraine is today as ‘the granary of Greece’.

Between 1917 and 1920, during the existence of the so-called ‘Ukrainian People’s Republic’, the flag was already like the current one. That combination of colors, however, would come from a medieval state, the Kingdom of Ruthenia, one of the three entities in which Kievan Rus was fragmented, a federation of Slavic and Baltic peoples that both Ukraine, Belarus and Russia claim as cradle of their culture.

The ‘Tryzub’

It is often said that the coat of arms of Ukraine represents a trident, the ‘Tryzub’, in the Latin transcription, but there are those who maintain that, in reality, it represents the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) or even a falcon falling swooping in hunting position.

It also has a medieval origin. The first to use it, apparently, was Sviatoslav I, a prince of the aforementioned Rus of Kiev, in the 10th century. The different princes who later succeeded each other in that medieval federation used this seal to close agreements or issue currency.

It was adopted as the coat of arms of Ukraine in 1918 when the People’s Republic was established. During the Soviet period, when Ukraine was renamed the Ukrainian SSR, both the shield and the yellow color disappeared from the national symbology and were only used by anti-communist groups seeking independence from the Kremlin.

After the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the symbol was recovered in 1992, when the new Constitution of Ukraine was signed. As in times of the anti-communist resistance, today these elements – yellow, blue and the ‘Tryzub’ – once again serve as symbols of the struggle to free themselves from the influence of the Kremlin.

This Tuesday, a Ukrainian flag has presided over the plenary session of the European Parliament. The Vice President of the European Commission has come to it dressed in a blue sweater and yellow pants. Hundreds of MEPs have shown those same colors with flags, cardboard and t-shirts.