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A woman waves orange ribbons of St. George, a symbol widely associated with pro-Russia protests, in front of the occupied town-administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kostyantynivka late last month.
The St. George Ribbon, traditionally worn to mark victory against Nazi Germany in World War II, will be conspicuously absent from Ukraine's May 9 ceremonies this year -- at least in the country's west.

The ribbon has come to symbolize separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia militants have seized government buildings in a dozen towns.

Instead, many Ukrainians will be donning poppies resembling those worn in Britain and other Western countries to commemorate soldiers who have died in wars.

A stylized poppy created by Kharkiv designer Serhiy Mishakin has been adopted as an official emblem for May 9.

The initiative was launched by the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory, established in 2006 by then-President Viktor Yushchenko to shed light on little-known episodes of Ukrainian history and to combat what it says are Soviet-era misrepresentations.

The institute's director, Volodymyr Vyatrovich, said the poppy was a fitting symbol since Ukrainian folk songs mention "poppies blooming where Cossack blood had been spilt."

Some, however, may see the red-and-black poppy as an unfortunate choice, since the same colors are used by Right Sector ultranationalists – a group accused by Moscow of being neo-Nazis.

-- Claire Bigg
A new Russian primer for Irkutsk schools. (Click for full-size)
Students in the Siberian city of Irkutsk can now learn the Russian alphabet together with a hearty helping of the new political correctness, "The Siberian Times" reported on May 5.

A pro-Kremlin group called Project Network has created a new primer to help children master the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet. The primer walks students through the letters from "A" -- for "Anti-Maidan," Ukraine's pro-Russian groups -- to "Ya" for "Yalta," with predictable stops along the way to note that "P" is for "Putin" and "R" is for "Russia."

But toddlers may wonder who is the dour man whose portrait illustrates the concept "firmness" (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov).

Or why the word "berkut" (golden eagle) is illustrated with the emblem of the disbanded Ukrainian riot police of the same name rather than a picture of a majestic bird in flight.

Or why the letter "D" is associated with the Ukrainian city of Donetsk rather than a basic Russian word like "dom" (home) or "doch" (daughter).

It is an alphabet for the moment for sure. The letter "G" stands for the Russian word for "border," illustrated by a seemingly flimsy striped border post. While the Russian letter "V" stands for the word "politeness" which is incongruously illustrated by a masked soldier, seemingly without insignias but wearing an automatic rifle over his shoulder, handing a cat to a grateful little girl.

According to the group that is distributing the posters, it is a "Polite Alphabet," named after the "polite" forces that brought about Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in March. Project Network plans to distribute the primers to schools throughout Irkutsk this spring and bring them to other cities soon.

"Children will be taught to love the motherland, respect its people and culture," the group asserts. The letter "I" stands for the Russian word for "history" and is illustrated by a Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin in the closing days of World War II.

At the same time, children will learn to recognize the logo for the Yotaphone, Russia's self-produced smart phone and that the letter "Yu" stands for the Russian name for the South Stream natural-gas pipeline.

The effort seems to mirror a campaign headed by the ruling United Russia party to develop a school course called "We Are Together" to explain the "reunification of Crimea with Russia" to schoolchildren.

-- Robert Coalson

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