Skip to main
Comrade Kyiv


Z is for Sorrow: How a Letter Became the Symbol for Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Russian troops on the move | Photo Credit: Not known

Prenote: We stand on the right side of history, beside our comrades in Kyiv. But we go beyond lip-service. We've also put our money where our morals are. In 2021, Comrade Kyiv gave £1,439.80 to Human Rights Watch, an independent, non-profit NGO that exists to give voice to the oppressed and promote freedom and equality everywhere. In 2022, we've donated a further £900 to Human Rights Watch to support their efforts in Ukraine. 

Scrawled on the side of tanks and military vehicles, the letter "Z" caught the world's attention in the days following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The letter is bold and can be painted in a single stroke, yet it doesn’t exist in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. So what does this distinctive and ominous symbol mean?

A potential military application

Some military experts have speculated that the “Z” could stand for Zapad, which means west. That letter, along with others like O, X, A and V which have also been spotted on military vehicles could just be a reference to where the Russian troops are to be deployed. Others believe the letters were drawn in order to avoid friendly fire, “distinguishing their military equipment from Ukraine’s, which has similar-looking tanks”. The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation has remained relatively tightlipped about the meaning of the letter. But, they have posted on their Instagram page (before Instagram was blocked in Russia) that Z means Za pobedu, which roughly translated to “for victory”.

A letter becomes a symbol

Whatever its intended military purpose, the letter Z quickly took on a much larger symbolic significance. It became a way of showing support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just a few days after the invasion, the Kremlin-funded state network RT began selling T-shirts, hoodies and other merchandise emblazoned with the letter “Z”. A few days later, the Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore a shirt with a white “Z” on his chest while receiving a bronze medal at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Qatar. The gold medal went to the Ukrainian gymnast Illia Kovtun. Politicians joined in too. Sergei Tsivilyov, the governor of the Kemerovo region in Russia, changed the spelling of the town Kuzbass to add a capital “Z” in the middle

Ivan Kuliak at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup | Photo Credit: Not Known

Black in the new orange

Some images of the letter show a “Z” with an orange stripe through the middle, surrounded by a black outline. These colours appear on the ribbon of the Order of Saint George, one of the highest military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation. These colours have also been used in celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazi’s in WWII, usually during May 9th victory day parades. In 2014, Ukrainian separatists also used the colour combination to show loyalty towards Russia during their annexation of Crimea

The symbol is “propagated by and organised by the state with the purpose of creating a sense of broad public support for the invasion,” said Henry E. Hale, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. Despite being invented just over a month ago, the letter is at the forefront of a fully fledged propaganda campaign, a symbol of new Russian ideology and national identity. It stands for “loyalty, devotion to the state, murderous rage, and unchecked power.”

Educate the Active Fighters for Communism | Russia | 1983£550.00
List of all posters

Further Reading


The OG of Photoshop: The Fabrication of Photographs in Stalin’s Soviet Surveillance State

It’s 1922, and a photograph of Stalin and Lenin sitting side-by-side appears in every newspaper across the Soviet Union. But everything wasn’t as it seemed. The photograph was a fake. It’s thought this photograph was the first time that Stalin used photo technicians to create a new reality, his version of reality.


Russia’s Vulnerability can be Shown with a Map

Russia is vast. Immense beyond comprehension. It spans eleven time zones and shares borders with 14 countries. Despite its colossal size, it is vulnerable. Russia knows this. The West also knows this. Any enduring superpower needs easy access to waterways and oceans to facilitate the movement of trade. It also needs to be able to protect its borders. Russia’s very existence depends on geography. The stakes are very high.


The Enduring Legacy of the Lada

It was the peak of the Cold War. Scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were building bigger and more powerful rockets. The Soviet Union had just sent the first human to space. Space was the next frontier. Cars, by comparison, seemed archaic. But, for the USSR, a Soviet mass-produced car was a matter of national pride.


Abandoned Kyrgyzstan: Aalam-Ordo, the Centre of the Universe

Along the southern border of Issyk-Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan, two shining golden gates and 1,500 metre long wall shield a giant hundred hectare complex. I scaled the wall and on the other side, I discovered hundreds of abandoned yurts, an outdoor theatre and a handful of colourful peeling murals. ‘Aalam-Ordo’, which translates as ‘the centre of the universe’, now sits abandoned.
+44 7397 297470
london, UK
london, UK
+44 7397 297470
We will never sell your personal information. Read our privacy policy.
condition guide
shipping & returns