The yellow-and-blue flag of Ukraine has become a powerful symbol for millions of people across the Western world who want to express their solidarity with the victims of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Adopted officially in 1992, the year after Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union, the banner represents the country’s pride in its status as Europe’s bread basket — just picture endless wheat fields under blue skies.
In the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the colors were displayed on some of Europe’s most famous landmarks, from the Eiffel Tower to the Brandenburg Gate.
Over the course of the year since, the flag has spread to all corners of the Continent and beyond, in the hands of protesters, on official government buildings in London and Washington, and in the windows of private homes and cars.
The flag not only came to signify Ukraine’s brave resistance in a war that ended decades of peace in Europe — it quickly became the hallmark of European unity in the face of the biggest state-backed threat to the Continent’s security this century.
On a visit to Kyiv in January, Charles Michel, the European Council’s president, captured the point.
“With the Maidan uprising, 22 years after gaining your independence, you, Ukrainians said: We are European,” Michel said. “So today, I have come to Ukraine to tell you: We are all Ukrainian.”
Beyond political symbols, Putin’s invasion triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
Within weeks, European governments rushed to welcome in millions of Ukrainians, skipping administrative procedures at a speed that caused some to raise eyebrows.
Benedicte Simonart was one of the founders of a Brussels-based NGO BEforUkraine, whose logo features the Belgian and Ukrainian flags side by side. She was “struck” by the solidarity of those early days. “It was unbelievable: People kept coming to us, they were so eager to help,” she said.
“We felt very close to the Ukrainians,” she added. “Ukraine is the door to Europe, it’s almost as if it was our home.”
As the war has dragged on, European resolve has remained stable at a political level and in surveys of public opinion. The question is how long this will last if the conflict continues.
“One year ago, Europe came together very strongly and very supportively,” said Erik Jones, director of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute.
“I’m very interested to see what this is going to do over the longer term in the way Europeans think about themselves,” Jones added. “As we approach this one-year anniversary, I think it’s really important to ask: Do we have the same power as a community to support Ukraine through what may be a very long conflict?”
For now at least, Europe and Ukraine seem closer than ever. Ukrainians, through the voice of their President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, make no secret of their desire to join the EU — the sooner, the better.
And the powerful symbolism of the flag continues to color European towns and cities, a gesture that’s welcomed by Ukrainians who are now living in Europe.
“The flag is very important: it’s the symbol of Ukraine, and we need to keep displaying it, to talk about it, to remind people,” said Artem Datsii. “Because the war goes on.”
Datsii, 21, is a student at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), where he moved before the war. He has not seen his parents, who live in Kyiv, for a year, but they speak regularly over the phone.
“At home, everyone is afraid that something will happen on the 24th,” Datsii said, referring to the invasion’s one-year marker. “The Russians love anniversaries.”