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Symbol of Ukrainian resistance: the letter “Ï”

Symbol of Ukrainian resistance: the letter “Ï”

During the Soviet rule in Ukraine, linguists were assured that the letter “Ї” first appeared in the Ukrainian alphabet only in 1873 (as was written in the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia). Denying this doctrine was a hopeless business that could cause problems in the scientific career of an average linguist. It was beneficial for the Soviet authorities to devalue the ancient history of the Ukrainian language and culture.

However, if carefully examined, the existence of the “Ï” sign and the superscripts above it (various dots, hyphens, dashes) can be traced as far back as 1073, where a graphic fixation of the sound [yi] can be found in Sviatoslav’s Collection.


Furthermore, the sign can be found in many of the monumental works of Ukrainian literature created on the territory of modern Ukraine, or written in  a language that linguists recognized as one of the variants of the Old Kyivan. Pronounced as [yi], today, “Ї” is used in the spelling of words such as Kyiv (Київ) , replacing the Russian transliteration of “Kiev.” 

The Ems Ukaz, a secret decree issued by Russian Emperor Alexander II in 1876 banned the use of the Ukrainian language in print except for reprinting old documents. The decree also forbade the import of Ukrainian publications and the staging of plays or lectures in Ukrainian. Of course, the Ems decree did not contribute to the use of the typographical letter “Ї”. In the twentieth century, after the implementation of several other language reforms, the Ukrainian alphabet received a single approved version of the graphic designation of the sound.


Today, Ukrainians are using the letter “Ї”, which does not appear in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet as an expression of defiance. It has reportedly become a symbol of resistance in Mariupol, which is now temporarily occupied by Russian troops. 

“Mariupol’s resistance was symbolized by the letter “Ї.” It can be found in several parts of the city now. Particularly around the Taras Shevchenko monument in the city center. “Ї” came to represent independence and resistance. Residents of Mariupol are invited to paint it in parks, squares, pillars, and fences, to demonstrate that Mariupol is Ukraine!” reads the statement of the Mariupol City Council on its Telegram channel.

The letter is painted in various locations throughout the city, symbolizing the hope and expectation of its residents for a future liberation from the occupying Russian troops.

The letter “Ї” has also been appearing on houses occupied by pro-Russian collaborators in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson which is also temporarily occupied by Russian troops. The focus on the letter “Ї” would also seem to represent a counterbalance to the “Z” used by Russian forces and political supporters.


A poem written by Ukrainian poet and publisher Ivan Malkovych in free verse form titled “Candle of the letter “Ї”” verse has recently become a popular romance song. The author appeals to a child, to the future of the nation who can ensure the Ukrainian language’s survival and preserve its uniqueness by passing it on to future generations:

“Let it be possible and not the most essential
but you are a child
called to protect with your tiny palms
a tiny candle of the letter “Ї””

Text: Anastasia Holumbiovska

Design: Vladyslav Rybalko, Oleksandr Kryvets 

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