Tracing the Origins of Ukrainian National Symbols

Throughout history, armies around the world have raised flags in the name of military conquest, economic trade, and religious identity but in countries like Ukraine, the flag is tantamount to independence. First adopted as part of Ukraine’s first declaration of independence in 1918, Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag later became the state symbol of the Ukrainian National Republic in 1949. The Soviet Union banished the flag entirely in deference to the regime’s Ukrainian SSR designation.

After Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, a new national flag was adopted. Consisting of two equal horizontal stripes of blue and yellow, the blue in the flag, is said to represent the heavens, the sky, and the country’s streams while the yellow signifies the country’s wheat fields.

An equally potent symbol in Ukraine, the Trident, is the country’s official coat of arms. As an emblem, the Trident dates back to the first century A.D. in Ukraine and was the official emblem of the Kyivan princes, stamped on coins and highlighted in paintings. Designs of the Trident symbol evolved. During the time of the Cossacks, the image of the Trident was shielded by a crowned lion on the left and a Cossack in traditional dress on the right, with the crown of Volodymyr the Great at its peak. The symbol, comprised as a blue shield with a yellow trident, has interpreted in many ways, sometimes as the tip of a weapon, a preying falcon, an arched bow with arrow, the Holy Trinity, as well as the union of air, water, and earth.

Though officially banned under the Soviets, the Trident, like the Ukrainian flag, endured as a symbol of independence. Later endorsed as the official emblem of contemporary Ukraine, scholars concur that the Trident is a mark of both the mysticism and power of the Ukraine’s history.