By: Trishita Bose
As the world rallies to support Ukraine, Putin’s regime and its supporters have met fierce backlash by the military, other nations and the global community.
Just a fortnight after Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, an everyday symbol has emerged among pro-war supporters as a new propaganda tool to promote the atrocities committed by Putin and his armed forces.
The symbol ‘Z’ has attracted global criticism after Russian artistic gymnast Ivan Kuliak wore it on his outfit in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during an event at the Apparatus World Cup in Doha.
However, the ‘Z’ appeared on Russian military tanks and trucks along the Ukrainian border a week prior to the full-blown invasion on February 24.
Analysts, semiologists and political gurus around the world were left confused by the use of the letter ‘Z’ seeing as it doesn’t exist in the Cyrillic Russian alphabet. Apart from the letter ‘Z’, the letters A, V, O and X have also been seen emblazoned across Russian military equipment.
Russia has been known to promulgate varied symbols to congregate support for its military, most recently during the country’s conquest of Crimea, when they popularised the orange- and black-striped ribbons of Saint George to hype up their military agenda.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation took to their Instagram page to clarify that the ‘Z’ stood for Za pobedu which translates to ‘for victory’, and the letter ‘V’ stood for ‘the power of truth’.
Within two weeks, the letter ‘Z’ has gained a larger, more ominous meaning than just military marking. It is now being worn and promoted by people across the world to show their support for the invasion.
On Saturday, March 5, Ivan Kuliak sporting the Z as he stood next to Ukraine’s Kovtun Illia, the gold medallist. The incident led to widespread outrage with the International Gymnastics Federation confirming disciplinary action against Kuliak in a statement on March 6. Kuliak, when asked for his reaction, said he ‘just showed his position’ and ‘would do exactly the same’ if there was another chance.
He added: “I saw it on our military and looked at what this symbol means. It turned out to be ‘for victory’ and ‘for peace’. I didn’t wish anything bad on anyone. I just showed my position. As an athlete, I will always fight for victory and play for peace”.
The Kremlin-funded state network RT, on the other hand, announced on its social media that it was selling Z merchandise, including T-shirts and hoodies, to show support for Russian troops.
Similar merchandise has been seen floating on Amazon’s retail site in the UK. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB) demanded that the tech giant remove the items as soon as possible and make a donation to a charity helping Ukraine “as an apology for their total lack of scrutiny”.
In Serbia, people were also seen waving Russian flags and carrying the letter ‘Z’ insignia as they marched through Belgrade to the Russian embassy to lend their support to the pro-war agenda. There were protesters spotted in Leningrad sporting hoodies with the letter ‘Z’ with the words ‘We don’t give up on our own’. However, a few brave Russian citizens, even amid tightening censorship and police brutality, are coming out against the unnecessary and unprovoked invasion.
The political climate is ever so charged and most people around the world are outraged. In these times, the hope is that ‘Z’ wouldn’t be the last word on a world so divided.