One of the most prevalent and arresting visual images from the political crisis in Ukraine has to do with the dominant blue-and-yellow color scheme found in the country – reflecting the state’s flag. The flag of Ukraine comprises two simple and equally sized horizontal bands of blue (on the top) and golden yellow (on bottom), as specifically articulated in Article 20 of the Ukrainian Constitution.
A report from Donetsk National University stated that these colors are symbolic of Ukraine – but, in a more literal sense, the pure blue of the flag (representing a cloudless blue sky) equates to peace; while the golden yellow symbolizes both the ripe, rich fields of wheat that cover vast stretches of the nation (and, by extension, prosperity and abundance). The blue-and-yellow motif stretches back to at least the mid-19th century and was officially adopted in 1918 during the very brief existence of the Ukrainian People's Republic.
Strangely, another version of the flag in the early 1920s placed the yellow on top with the blue on bottom – reportedly, in this “upside-down” version, the yellow represented the golden domes of Christian churches that dotted the countryside, while the blue symbolized not the Ukrainian sky, but rather the color of the Dnieper, the country’s longest river. The blue-and-yellow flag was subsequently banned by the Soviet Union – but interestingly, the pennant of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which had a red field on the top with the familiar hammer-and-sickle, retained the blue band, although it was relegated to the bottom. Indeed, during the Soviet period, any Ukrainians who publicly exhibited the old nationalistic blue-and-yellow flag were often prosecuted.
After the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991, an independent Ukraine restored to supremacy its treasured blue-and-yellow national flag.
But why this obsession with blue-and-yellow? The link between blue-and-yellow and Ukraine goes back to antiquity, well before the Christian era, “when yellow and blue prevailed in traditional ceremonies, reflecting fire and water,” according to the Ukrainian government, and have been incorporated into the state’s modern flag design. Some accounts have it that the color scheme comes from the coat of arms of the western city of Lviv, which features a yellow lion on a blue background.
But despite all the theories, there is some mystery about the origins of the color scheme. “We do not have a definitive historical proof from primary sources as to why these colors were chosen,” said Dr. Vitaly Chernetsky, associate professor of Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Kansas. “By the late 19th century, it was widely accepted as the flag of the Ukrainian nation, stateless at the time, divided between Russia and Austria, with the sky over fields of wheat as the interpretation.”
Whether or not it was a coincidence, Ukraine’s blue-and-yellow flag resembles the country’s rural regions – of endless golden wheat fields under an infinite blue sky. Regardless of their origins, blue-and-yellow is an extremely popular color scheme in Ukraine, particularly during the pro-democracy Maidan protests. The color pattern appears in some unlikely and surprising places.
Consider these musicians playing a piano colored blue-and-yellow in front of riot police as a form of non-violent protest.
This travel blog, called “8 Months in Ukraine” depicts how widespread the blue-yellow paradigm is in Ukraine – in both the natural and man-made world: Indeed, aside from the colors found in nature (sky, fields, leaves, trees, lakes, streams), even cars, trucks, trains, homes, bread containers, railway stations, corridors, are painted blue and yellow.
The colors clearly hold much meaning for Ukrainians.