The backstory about the sense of the white cross used by the Ukrainian troops to mark their vehicles during the latest counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region
The Ukrainian army’s latest counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region has been an undeniable success: in just a few days, the Ukrainian soldiers have managed to liberate almost the entire region.
According to Ukraine’s President, Ukraine has reclaimed more than 6,000 square kilometers of the country’s territory since the beginning of September.
A white cross has become the symbol of Ukraine’s successful counterattack in the Kharkiv region after being seen on the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ military vehicles in the different photo and video materials documenting the counteroffensive. The symbol became so popular that even some Ukrainian public figures began using it on social media to demonstrate their support of the counteroffensive.
Of course, the sign was put on the vehicles not by accident – Ukrainian soldiers had purposefully applied it as an identification mark. However, the use of this particular sign has a symbolic meaning for Ukrainians.
Read the backstory about the sense of the white cross used by the Ukrainian troops to mark their vehicles in our explainer.
The sign labeling Ukrainian military vehicles used in the counteroffensive is an equilateral, catacomb cross, also known as “the Sign of Victory.”
According to a legend, in 312CE, the cross appeared in a vision to the Roman Emperor Constantine before a crucial battle with his opponent. In his vision, the Emperor was told victory would be his – so, he demanded his soldiers to put it on their shields and then proceeded to win the battle as was told.
This legend isn’t the only traceable symbolism behind the use of the cross by the Ukrainian military. For Ukrainians, the use of an equilateral cross is a tribute to Cossack traditions. This sign was used by Cossacks in their heraldry and flags.
The white cross was one of the elements of the coat of arms of Dmytro Vyshnevetsky, the founder of Zaporozhian Sich — the cradle of Ukrainian Cossacks.
An equilateral cross can also be seen on the flag of the Ukrainian military commander and prominent Cossack leader, Bohdan Khmelnytskyi. His personal flag was one of the most important attributes of the Hetman’s (leadership title of the Cossack era, an equivalent to a head of state) power.
This is not the only recorded use of the sign by the Ukrainian military. The symbol is used in the Order of the “Iron Cross” — an award dating back to the Ukrainian War of Independence 1917-1921. It was awarded to soldiers of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, who marched over 2500 kilometers and conducted dozens of successful battles.
Ukrainian priests highlight the religious meaning of using the sign. According to Orthodox priest Heorhii Kovalenko, this cross is a symbol of victory of life over death.
Text: Diana Matviiv
Design: Anastasiia Dorofeieva