In the Ukrainian city of Mariupol currently occupied by Russian forces, a new symbol of resistance has begun to appear on the streets, often drawn in chalks by locals opposing the occupation.
Ї is the 13th letter in the Ukrainian alphabet, which is otherwise very similar to the Russian alphabet. However, Ї is the only letter that is not in the Russian alphabet. The correct pronunciation of the letter is /ji/. A similar letter Ï is also in the Latin script.
On the morning of September 5, a call to the entire population of Mariupol to draw the symbol ‘Ї’ in all the squares in the city with pencils, chalks and markers was posted in the Telegram group of the Mariupol resistance movement. The purpose of this movement is to constantly remind the occupiers that Mariupol is only a temporarily occupied area that does not belong to the Russian state. The post ended with the slogan: ‘”Рабив до раю не пускають” Мы – не рабы’. The quote is attributed to Ivan Sirko (1610-1680), who was the chief of Zaporizhzhia Sich, an autonomous fortified settlement in Ukraine. “We are not slaves,” the Telegram post adds to the quote.
After that, despite the risks to those drawing it, the symbol began to appear on squares and house walls all over the city. The Mariupol city government also added their voice, explaining that the city’s residents are fed up with the occupiers so are actively documenting the movement of Russian military equipment, exposing collaborators and emphasising that Mariupol is still Ukraine.
The photos spread quickly through both Ukrainian media and on social media, finally becoming known to international English-speaking audiences through Euromaiden’s Twitter account.
There have been more similar inventive protest actions against the war in Ukraine. For example, after the annexation of Crimea, the song “Putin huilo” (“Putin is a d*ckhead”) began to be sung at public events, the symbolism of which even reached the streets of Estonia where it appeared as graffiti.