Russia-Ukraine conflict: How the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity

The national flower, which is deeply embedded in Ukraine's culture is being adopted by protesters. Some are carrying bouquets at rallies, others are displaying the floral emoji to show support online

FP Explainers March 04, 2022 12:48:56 IST
Russia-Ukraine conflict: How the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity

A person wears a crown of sunflowers as they rally against Russia's invasion of Ukraine during a protest outside City Hall in Ottawa, Ontario. AP

If Britain has the red poppy, then Ukraine has the sunflower.

Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the sunflower has emerged as an emblem of support for Ukraine, with celebrities and protesters wearing or carrying the flower as a way to draw attention to the plight of Ukrainians.

Follow all LIVE updates from the Russia-Ukraine conflict here

Twitter users are also adding the sunflower emoji to the end of their names.

What’s with the sunflower emoji and why are protesters using it as a symbol of defiance and solidarity?

We take a look.

Significance of sunflower

The sunflower, the national flower, is deeply rooted in the Ukraine's history.

According to historical records, the sunflower became deeply embedded in the Ukrainian culture when the Church didn't ban its oil during Lent. For the unversed, Ukrainian Orthodox Great Lent is a time of abstinence and self-denial from all meat, poultry and their byproducts.

The flower is an integral part of Ukrainian tradition and can be found in the yards of village houses or woven into the dresses of women worn during celebrations.

RussiaUkraine conflict How the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity

A sunflower field around 20 km south of Donetsk. Ukraine and Russia account for nearly 80 per cent of the world’s sunflower oil shipments. AFP

The sunflower became even more embedded in Ukrainian culture and into the fabric of society when in 1996 to mark Ukraine's complete nuclear disarmament, top defence officials of the United States, Russia and Ukraine scattered sunflower seeds in a field at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine.

That day, the then US defence secretary William J Perry said, “It is altogether fitting that we plant sunflowers here at Pervomaysk to symbolise the hope we all feel at seeing the sun shine through again.”

Now, a symbol of resistance

The sunflower has quickly been adopted as a symbol of resistance and solidarity since the Russian offensive began eight days ago.

It all began when a remarkable video of a Ukrainian woman approaching a heavily-armed Russian soldier and offering him sunflower seeds to put in his pocket, went viral on social media.

The woman can be seen in the video asking the soldiers “Who are you?” to which a soldier standing in the street says: “We have exercises here. Please go this way.”

After asking if they are Russians, she said: “So what the f*** are you doing here?”

As the soldiers tried to calm her down, the enraged woman said: “You’re occupants, you’re fascists! What the f*** are you doing on our land with all these guns?

Take these seeds and put them in your pockets, so at least sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here,” she said.

She continued to offer him the seeds of the sunflower.

The video was shared online by Internews Ukraine, an independent media charity based in Kyiv. It has since gone viral on social media with more than two million views, and has sparked an outpouring of emotional comments.

Following this, protesters around the world are coming forward holding bouquets or wearing sunflowers at rallies to show their support for Ukraine. Several photographs of protesters carrying sunflowers also surfaced online.

Artists are painting sunflowers, and those who once visited Ukraine and its endless fields of yellow are sharing photographs of the scenes they captured there.

RussiaUkraine conflict How the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity

A man holding sunflowers and national flags representing the Ukraine and Venezuela, protest against Russian's invasion of the Ukraine, outside the European Union offices in Caracas, Venezuela. AP

In Leeds, UK, a florist has put up images of sunflowers on Facebook, urging people to buy them so that the proceeds could be given to charity.

United States' first lady Dr Jill Biden on Monday wore a face mask embroidered with a sunflower during a White House event. The next day, she wore a sunflower on her sleeve during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, of which the first 12 minutes were devoted to Ukraine.

RussiaUkraine conflict How the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance and solidarity

US first lady Jill Biden wears a sunflower mask, the national flower of Ukraine, in support for the Ukrainian people, during an event celebrating Black History Month in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP

The sunflower has also popped up on red carpets at several events. Outlander actress Caitriona Balfe, while making an appearance on the red carpet at the 2022 Hollywood Critics Association Film Awards in Los Angeles, carried a sunflower in a black bag.

Saying it with flowers

This is not the first time that a flower has been associated with a war. In August 2021, Afghan artist Shamsia Hassani did a series of drawings of a young woman and the dandelion when Kabul fell to the Taliban forces.

In March 2021, people in Yangon, Myanmar laid flowers in public places to remember victims of a brutal crackdown by the country's military junta. Protesters have been placing floral tributes at locations where security forces have killed demonstrators, as well as other public spots, to remember the hundreds who have died since the 1 February coup.

With inputs from agencies

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