My dad organized this awesome fundraiser for us! These Stand With Ukraine decal stickers are beautiful and full of symbolism. But if you’re not familiar with Ukrainian culture and history, it’s a little harder to understand. So I’ve broken it down, letter by letter.
U: Wheat Fields
Starting with the letter U we can see the outline of Ukraine, some hearts, and stalks of wheat. The rich, black soil has been the envy of eastern Europe for thousands of years, and wheat is a huge part of the culture. Ukraine is #8 on world wheat production, coming in at 24,912,350 tons in 2020, producing 9% of the world’s wheat. Despite the dangers of war, Ukrainian farmers still managed to get out and plant lots of wheat this season. The problem now is distributing it to where it’s needed.
K: Ukrainian flag and St. Sophia monastery
The Ukrainian flag is simple in its design but reflects the landscape of Ukraine. The yellow represents the wheat fields, and the blue is the sky overhead. Just before harvest time you can see this all over the country and it’s beautiful. A few years ago, my grandparents bought me a painting for a fundraiser for orphans in Ukraine (https://wandering-ancient-paths.com/2018/04/06/2018-4-5-house-of-hope/). I chose this one because of the flag theme. It was quintessentially Ukrainian, and I have brought it with me almost everywhere we moved (except overseas cause that gets complicated. I miss it though). It always reminded me of where I had been and what I was working towards.
St. Sophia’s monastery is located in the heart of Kyiv. Construction is believed to have started around 1011, under the rule of St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus. It took 2 decades to complete but fell into a state of disrepair during the Mongol invasion in 1240. It was later restored and then was even spared a second destruction in Communist times due to its historic value. It was taken over by the government and turned into a museum. To this day there are still no regular services, mostly due to the different schisms within the Orthodox and even Greek-Catholic church who all tried to lay claim to the building. The green domes that top the white buildings are striking, and the blue bell tower out front is iconic (sadly not included on the stickers). We’ve never been inside St. Sophia’s before, but I would like to visit the museum when we go back. Hopefully it withstands this invasion as it has for over a thousand years.
R: Strong Arm and Easter Eggs
Ukraine is tough and stronger than anyone realized. The whole world thought that Russia would overrun and control the entire country within 3 days. Instead, over 3 months later, they are not only holding their ground but driving the Russians back in some places. It’s really a testament to their will to survive. Only 30 years of independence in their entire existence since evolving as a separate nation and people from the Kievan Rus, yet the Ukrainian culture is alive and well.
And then you have the iconic, elaborately decorated easter eggs known as pysanka. They’re made with a combination of pencil work, beeswax, colored dye, and an incredible amount of skill that blows my mind every time I look at them. (More about how they are made and how you can make your own: https://mymodernmet.com/pysanky-ukrainian-easter-egg/ ) The tradition has been around for possibly thousands of years. Although many legends and beliefs about the uses of eggs were rooted in paganism, when Christianity came around the meanings of the different symbols were changed to reflect the new worldview. Over time these myths faded to leave the art form we know today. This article explains it in more detail and it is absolutely fascinating: https://aleteia.org/2022/04/17/the-fascinating-history-of-ukrainian-easter-eggs/
A: Windmills, Flower Crowns, and Blenchiky
Fun fact that I didn’t know until some research: windmills are often used to symbolize life, hope, serenity, and resilience. I’m not sure if this was the intention behind adding a windmill to the collection of symbols, but it does seem fitting in the current situation. There are also several old, wooden windmills across the country, including a collection in Pirogovo, Kyiv, where I got this picture from.
The gorgeous, towering flower crowns (called vinoks) from Ukraine are certainly a sight to behold! Most of the ones worn today are typically smaller and in the form of simple headbands with fake, embellished flowers. The ancient tradition can be traced all the way back to Sumerian and Byzantine cultures, and over time Ukrainians made it their own. Much like a bouquet of flowers can tell a story, so can a flower crown. Each flower and ribbon symbolized something different. Young women wore them as a symbol of purity, growing the volume and style when she was ready for a courtship. The most impressive crowns were designed for weddings. After the wedding a woman would never again wear a flower wreath, instead adopting modest headscarves. The flower crowns were one of the inspirations I had for using a flower crown instead of a veil for my own wedding (more on that in the next post). But I opted to go with a simple version; I didn’t think I could handle all that extra weight on my head! I highly suggest doing a google search to see more designs. There are far too many for one post!
And finally, Ukrainian pancakes, known as blenchiky. We were very confused the first time our Ukrainian friend offered to make “pancakes.” They were definitely not what we were used to as Americans. The batter is more like a crepe consistency, and it’s not very sweet on its own. The fillings can be anything from jam, nutella, sour cream, cheese, or even meat. Blinchiky can be savory as well as sweet!
The sunflower: another one of Ukraine’s major crops. It’s the top producer of sunflower oil in the world, and the second largest for sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil is the most common cooking oil in Ukraine; vegetable oil was hard to find. Olive oil is expensive and only for special occasions. If you’re Orthodox it’s a good substitution for butter and lard during fasting periods. Semichki (sunflower seeds) are also a very popular snack.
But it’s also the national flower of Ukraine. Since the start of the war most people have grown familiar with the use of sunflowers to symbolize support of Ukraine. It started with the famous story of the woman giving Russian soldiers sunflower seeds so at least sunflowers would grow where they died. A story that perfectly encapsulates the Ukrainian fighting spirit. But it also represents peace. Sunflowers were planted at Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament. You know, the one in 1996 where leaders from Ukraine, Russia, and the United States promised peace and protection for their children and grandchildren. Ukrainians also planted sunflowers after the Chernobyl disaster to help clean toxins from the air. There is so much historic meaning here that it’s really no surprise that the symbols took off.
When we were planning our wedding, we wanted to include a nod to Ukraine, since that’s where we met. I chose sunflowers as the main flower for the bouquets (complimented by cornflowers, a popular but lesser known symbol of Ukraine). My bridesmaid dresses were blue, so our color theme matched the flag. It was my favorite thing we did at the wedding.
N: Vareniki and Storks
Vareniki is probably one of our favorite Ukrainian foods. The delicious potato dumplings are similar to the Polish perogi, but I don’t think they taste quite the same. The potatoes can also be mixed with other fillings for different flavors, most commonly cheese, mushrooms, cabbage, or cherries to make it a dessert. (If it’s made with meat instead of potatoes, it’s called pelmini and is formed in a different shape so you know what’s inside.) There is nothing better than homemade vareniki, and a few weeks ago our friend’s mother made some for us! I got to help form the pelmini since she had already finished with the vareniki. I think I did 3-4 while she did 20 in the same time. 😂
The stork is the national bird, mostly living in western and central Ukraine and migrating to Africa for the winter. Like the vinok, there is a long history of myths and symbolism. They were said to be amulets to protect a house from evil, prosperous and happy. It stands for spring, family, babies, peace, luck, well-being, and love of the land. And now, for many Ukrainians they represent freedom. The freedom to fly away from all of the war and destruction. And now they are returning to the west, which many believe is a good sign.
E: Kolach and Maidan Square
Kolach is a traditional holiday bread typically eaten at Christmas. It is typically woven in a circle, leaving the middle hollow for a candle. Often 3 sizes of kolach are prepared and stacked to represent the trinity. It is also considered a symbol of good luck, eternity, prosperity, and often used at funerals. In the Kyiv region it was also customary for a midwife to gift parents a freshly baked kolach for fertility.
Maidan Square has become an important symbol of freedom since 2014. The official name is Maidan Nezalezhnosti, but it is usually shortened to Maidan Nez (the pronunciation sounds closer to Netz). It’s the largest public square in Kyiv, and the most important. Since 1876, it has undergone various names based on the regimes in power, but always remained of political importance. Many protests have been held in the square over the years. In 1991, when Ukraine became its own nation, it was given its current name, which translates to Independent Square. And in 2001 it underwent re/construction to it’s current state. There are a lot of cool features in the square, including the underground mall and the towering independence monument, but that’s not the reason Maidan Square is now famous.
(This is a rough summary of events. Please watch Winter on Fire on Netflix for a better understanding of the Euromaidan revolution and the start of the war with Russia.)
In late November 2013, the government under the rule of President Victor Yanukovych rejected signing the Ukrainian-European Union Association Agreement. This agreement would have brought Ukraine closer to the EU, and is something the majority of people had voted for. Instead, Yanukovych started seeking closer relations with Russia. This rejection was seen as the final straw of corruption and abuse of power within the government. People gathered at Maidan Square to protest. At first it was peaceful. Then the police began trying to react against them violently. Instead of fleeing, the people hunkered down and fought back. Then the government sent the Berkut troops, a specialized police force known for its brutality and illegal activities against civilians, to clear out the square and end the protests. The nearby church St. Michael’s ended up playing a historical role. The bells in the church tower were typically rung at different times to signal different services, but one of the priests had an idea. In the year 1240, St. Michael’s had rung all the bells at once to warn the city of a Mongol invasion. And on the night of December 11th, 2013, with the blessing of the bishop, all of the bells rang once again to warn Kyiv about the brutal fight for freedom. People answered the call.
At the height of the protests as many 400,000 to 800,000 gathered in the square. On average there were around 50,000 to 200,000 people. Overall, the people stayed in a siege position for 3 months and 2 days. Other protests sparked across the country, although none quite as large as Maidan. Soviet and Russian monuments were toppled. They fought against their corrupt government, they fought against ties with Russia. They fought for partnership with the EU, they fought for freedom. Finally, on February 21st, an agreement was signed to form a new interim government, pass constitutional reforms, and officially ended the protests. Both the president and prime minister ended up resigning, and president Yanukovych fled to Russia the very next day, stealing money from the Ukrainian treasury and delivering a devastating blow to their economy. Around 100 people had died as a result of the protest, known as the Heavenly Hundred. Nearly 2,000 people were injured, and around 150-300 people went missing. But at the end of the day, the Ukrainian people had won. The protests transformed Ukraine from a lost country in a cultural identity crisis to a strong, united Ukraine. It reignited patriotism and brought back many old Ukrainian symbols that had previously been pushed aside.
But it wasn’t over yet. Most of the protests across the country were primarily pro-Europe and anti-government. But in Donetsk and Crimea, the majority were pro-government and pro-Russian. There were still people fighting for Ukraine, but they were out numbered. Shortly after the protests ended, the Crimean parliament stated that it wanted to join Russia, and Russia quickly annexed the region, driving out the Ukrainian military. Similar protests broke out in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, but here Ukraine was able to hold its ground against the Russian-backed separatists. This fighting has continued since 2014, and is understood as the true beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That is why Ukraine is fighting so hard right now.
Get your sticker here for $10 to help support our ministry serving Ukrainians: https://www.jonathankriggs.com/support-my-daughter-with-these-stand-with-ukraine-stickers/