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What's Orange And Black And Bugging Ukraine?

Many Ukrainian nationalists have drawn unfavorable comparisons between the bright orange-and-black stripes of the Colorado beetle (left) and the colors of the St. George ribbon (right), which is often worn by pro-Russia separatists.
As pro-Russian separatists continue to tighten their grip in eastern Ukraine, some angry Ukrainians have given them a nickname that sums up just how they feel about teeming swarms of unwanted pests: "koloradi."

The term is short for Colorado potato beetles, the invasive, plant-eating insects that are the scourge of gardeners and farmers around the globe.

Koloradskiye zhuki, as the plump, six-legged bugs are known locally, are distinctive for their bright orange-and-black stripes.

In this, they bear a marked resemblance to the orange-and-black St. George ribbon, a symbol of Russian military valor that has become de rigueur lapel-wear for the separatists occupying administration buildings in cities like Donetsk and Slovyansk.

The ribbon, normally associated with Soviet World War II veterans, is enjoying a patriotic renaissance in the wake of Russia's military annexation of Crimea and its continued standoff with Ukraine.

The Russian RIA Novosti news agency reported this week that close to 100 million St. George ribbons have been distributed "worldwide" ahead of the May 9 Victory Day holiday marking 69 years since the end of WWII.

Ukraine's pro-Russia separatists, who wear unmarked military uniforms and deny any formal ties to the Russian government, have relied on the orange-and-black ribbons as a kind of makeshift marker of Kremlin loyalty.

When separatist troops first entered eastern Ukraine earlier this month, most did so with one or more St. George ribbons tied around their biceps or pinned to their jackets -- a useful visual for the Kremlin, which has tried to portray the current unrest in Ukraine as a heroic, WWII-style battle against "fascist" influences in Kyiv and western Ukraine.

It's not just the ribbons that have Ukrainian loyalists drawing parallels with Colorado beetles. For post-Soviet citizens, the unloved, destructive insects are also synonymous with imperialist plots and foreign invasions.

The bugs -- which reportedly originated in the U.S. state of Nevada, not Colorado -- first appeared on Soviet territory in the wake of World War II, when they were believed to have been unwittingly transported to Europe alongside American troops.

The Warsaw Pact countries, fearing a food shortage, decried the voracious outsiders as a CIA plot to destroy Soviet agriculture. Officials launched a region-wide campaign to wipe out the beetle, villainizing them in propaganda posters and pulling schoolchildren from class to gather the bugs and drown them in buckets of benzene or spirit.
Cold-War-era East German propaganda vilifying the Colorado beetle
Cold-War-era East German propaganda vilifying the Colorado beetle

Now, with a current crop of "koloradi" to worry about, many Ukrainians have created their own Soviet-style campaigns, producing online posters alerting viewers to the current "distribution" of Colorado beetles in Crimea, Kharkiv, and Donetsk, and depicting the bugs happily nibbling on a leafy plant and proudly defending themselves as potato "self-defense" forces.

A current insecticide ad running on Channel 5, the station owned by Ukrainian presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko, has even raised chuckles among some Ukrainians with its promise to kill Colorado beetles "on the spot" -- although in this case, the enemy in question are the actual bugs, which remain an annual threat.

Other observers seem to be taking the "koloradi" nickname in their stride. Moscow-based analyst Grigory Trofimchuk chided Russian propagandists for using heavy-handed labels like "fascists."

He urged them to try "light irony" instead, suggesting that Ukraine's Right Sector nationalists, with their red-and-black insignia, bear more than a passing resemblance to another kind of a bug -- klop-soldatki, or firebugs, which he noted mischievously, "tend toward cannibalism."