As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, the display of sunflowers has been one of many acts of solidarity that the international community has taken to show support for the Ukrainian people.
Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States, wore a gown with a sunshiny hemline at the State of the Union. From Mexico City to Caracas, protesters held up sunflowers as they took to the street to condemn Russia’s actions. In London, sunflowers poke out of the barricades in front of the building housing Sunflowers for Peace, a charity organizing aid for Ukrainian residents, while in Reno, Nev., they emerge from a public art piece that spells out “BELIEVE.”
The awareness about the connection between Ukraine and sunflowers has increased worldwide since February 24, when the media outlet reported the incident. Ukraine WorldShare a videoOn Twitter, a Ukrainian woman from Henychesk gave sunflower seeds to Russian soldiers. She also instructed them to keep the seeds in their pockets to ensure that the flowers grow wherever they go. It has been viewed over 200,000 times. 8.6 million viewsIt was shared on Twitter on February 24, 2019, and John Oliver, comedian, featured it there Last Week Tonight.
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However, the history of the flower in America is much longer. Sunflowers—soniashnyk in Ukrainian—have been grown in Ukraine since the mid-18th century, according to a 1993 Encyclopedia of Ukraine. At the time of the book’s publication, sunflower seeds were the country’s most popular snack. The flower can also be used to boost the economy. Russia, Ukraine, and Russia both supply this flower. 70–80% of the world’s sunflower oil exports.
“The ubiquitous presence of the sunflower in the villages and countryside of Ukraine has made it an unofficial national symbol,” the encyclopedia says.
Throughout Ukraine’s history, the flower has been used as a symbol of peace. In June 1996, to celebrate Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons, U.S., Russian and Ukrainian defense ministers planted sunflowers in a ceremony at southern Ukraine’s Pervomaysk missile base.
“The ceremony celebrated Ukraine’s abandonment of the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which it inherited in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union,” the Washington Post It was reported then. “It also marked the near completion of a primary U.S. strategic goal since the Soviet breakup: to gather all ex-Soviet nuclear weapons in Russia, thus avoiding a proliferation of nuclear powers.”
Even though the ceremony took place more than 25 year ago, Russian and Ukrainian officials are still at war. However, the significance of the sunflowers’ symbols as peace icons hasn’t changed. Leaders must plant sunflower seeds again to ensure a better future.
Abby Vesoulis reporting