Explain Ukraine 13:02 13 Июн 2023

Symbol of hope: a look at the meaning of the Ukrainian flag

Ukraine is a relatively new state, having only achieved independence in the past three decades. Despite its youth, Ukraine's history is rich and varied, having contributed to its current status as a steadfast, free, and democratic nation. Ukraine has various national symbols, such as an anthem, coat of arms, and flag, representing the nation domestically and abroad. Rubryka explains the meaning of the Ukrainian flag.

The state flag serves as a symbol of national unity, honor, dignity, state-building traditions, and the country's history and present, representing the nation's profound cultural heritage and pride.

Ukrainian flag

Photo: open sources/Depositphotos

Discover the fascinating history and symbolism behind the blue-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.

A short history of the Ukrainian flag

Since 1256, blue and yellow have been united in official symbols, beginning with Lviv's iconic coat of arms, given to the city by Prince Danylo Halytskyi. The colors were also used on the coat of arms of the Galicia-Volhynia principality.

the official coat of arms of Lviv

Picture: the official coat of arms of Lviv/ Suspilne media

In the 16th century, blue and yellow were worn on the banners of the Zaporizhzhia army of cossacks. The version of the flag, now the state symbol of Ukraine, was first shown in Lviv in June 1848 — it was hung on the town hall in the center of the city. It began to be used in the rest of Ukraine after the 1905 revolution. From 1917 to 1921, it was the state flag of the Ukrainian People's Republic.

Initially, there was no definite arrangement of colors for the flag. In 1920, the upper stripe became exclusively blue due to the low lightfastness of the color. In 1939, Carpathian Ukraine adopted the blue-over-yellow stripe order for its flag. The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN was a Ukrainian socio-political movement that aimed to establish an independent Ukrainian cathedral state, its preservation, and development – ed.] adopted the same order of colors in Lviv in 1941. However, some structures of the OUN used the opposite order of stripes.

After the collapse of the USSR, on September 18, 1991, the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada (the Parliament of Ukraine) passed a resolution confirming the national flag of the country, which was based on the combination of blue and yellow.

What do the colors of the Ukrainian flag mean?

The Ukrainian flag has two equal horizontal bands of blue and yellow. The colors carry a profound symbolic importance in Ukrainian culture and history and can represent many different interpretations.

  • Some sources suggest that blue represents the sky, and yellow represents the fertile wheat fields of the Ukrainian countryside. 
  • Other interpretations point to the two main elements of nature: water and fire.
  • From a religious perspective, yellow stands for God, and blue stands for earthly matters.
  • Additionally, some people view blue as a representation of freedom and yellow as a representation of wealth, with blue's placement atop yellow signifying freedom over wealth. 

The many interpretations of the flag's colors reflect Ukraine's diverse background and the complexity of its culture.

Ukrainian flag

Photo: open sources/ Depositphotos

The red and black flag: a symbol of Ukrainian freedom

The iconic red and black flag, a powerful symbol of Ukrainian identity, has raised many questions about its origins. Let's explore the answer to this age-old mystery.

Throughout history, the red and black flag has been a symbol of the struggle for the freedom of Ukraine. This is evident in Ilya Repin's renowned painting, "Cossacks writing a letter to the Turkish Sultan." During his work, the artist consulted the most notable Cossack scholar of Ukraine at the time, Dmytro Yavornytskyi. So it is highly likely that the Cossacks displayed red and black flags in their campaigns. 

Illia Repin

Illia Repin "Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks"/open sources

In the 1920s, the red-black banner became a symbol of defiance among Ukrainian youth, especially among members of the Plast organization (the national scout organization in Ukraine). This was due to the Polish authorities in Galicia prohibiting the utilization of the traditional Ukrainian flag of blue and yellow.

During the First World War, the Ukrainian Sich riflemen embraced red and black as their ideological colors. They adorned their clothing with these colors and sang songs praising them. Although the Ukrainian Insurgent Army sometimes flew a flag of red and black, they were more likely to go into battle under the banner of yellow and blue. 

The Sich riflemen's red and black legacy inspires many Ukrainians today.

Ukrainian flag

When a yellow-blue flag is covered with blood, it changes into a red-black flag. Photo: 24tv.ua

Red and black are colors that symbolize the struggle of the Ukrainian people for their freedom and independence. Black stands for the Ukrainian land; it reminds us of all the hardships and suffering the people of Ukraine had to go through to keep it. Red symbolizes the blood of the courageous fighters spilled on the Ukrainian land in the fight for freedom. These colors will always be a reminder of the heroic struggle of the Ukrainian people for their freedom and independence.

The yellow-blue flag serves as a symbol of Ukrainian statehood and unity, while the red-black flag is a symbol of the Ukrainian revolution, embodying the spirit of struggle, resistance, and progress.

Fascinating facts about the Ukrainian flag

  • For many years, the myth of the upside-down Ukrainian flag has been circulating in Ukraine, and some people even believe that the current blue-yellow flag is the main cause of the country's misfortunes in the past. The myth appeared at a creative event in early 1992 when Chinese artist Mao Mao requested the President of Ukraine at that time, Leonid Kravchuk. She asked him to do all he could to switch the color placement of the Ukrainian flag, believing that if the flag remained in its original form, it would bring betrayal, decline, and even collapse to the country. Mao Mao was likely referring to the Chinese Book of Changes, "I Ching," which states that a blue color above and yellow color below form the hexagram "Pi," one of the four worst color combinations. At the same time, reversing these colors would create the hexagram "Thai," which symbolizes "dawn, happiness, and development."
Ukrainian flag

Photo: open sources/ Depositphotos

  • In the Soviet Union, a blue-and-yellow flag symbolized rebellion and a criminal offense. Those who possessed it could face up to two years in prison. Sightings of the Ukrainian flag in public would have been a rare and remarkable occurrence.
  • In 2014, a record-breaking flag was unfurled in the city of Artemivsk (now renamed Bakhmut – a city where the fiercest battles are ongoing), weighing 300 kg with an area of 2,400 m². 
  • In 2021, Kyiv became home to Ukraine's largest flag. The massive flagpole, which stands at an impressive height of 90 meters and weighs 32 tons, holds a flag panel measuring 16 by 24 meters
  • Pantone, the world-renowned provider of professional color standards for the design industries, has dedicated two colors to Ukraine in honor of their flag: freedom blue and energizing yellow. These colors are meant to symbolize freedom and action and express the nation's spirit of courage and resilience.

Ukrainian flag

People around the globe began to recognize the symbol of Ukraine as a symbol of courage, resilience, and determination in recent years, especially after the beginning of Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine's blue-and-yellow colors have been seen worldwide. From the streets of Europe to other places around the globe, Ukrainian flags have been raised in protest of the war waged by the Russian government. Despite their difficult times, Ukrainians have shown remarkable courage, and their flag has come to embody that bravery.


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