March 25, 2016

The tryzub is the new meme


Maidan and the war in eastern Ukraine have patriotic Ukrainians around the world coming out of the woodwork. People with barely one gram of Ukrainian heritage are wearing blue-and-yellow everything, and boasting tryzub tattoos.

The tryzub (trident) has always been a special, meaningful symbol for Ukrainians, and anathema to the Russians. The insane world of Russian PR cannot get any more bizarre, and yet it continues to be so. Just one example is the notion that our nations are “brothers,” or “are the same.” So, if we are one family and our “common” history stems from Kyivan time, what happened in Muscovy to the tryzub/trident, the state emblem of Sviatoslav, Volodymyr and the other Kyiv monarchs? Shouldn’t it have been transferred to Muscovy and become the emblem of that much later state? It sure didn’t, and over the centuries the tryzub was anathema to the Russians, whether tsarist or Soviet.

A friend who traveled to Kyiv in the 1970s remembered being in a museum of history and asking about the coins of Volodymyr (the ones with the original tryzub) not being on display. She received a negative, even threatening reaction to her question.

The tryzub is the coat of arms of Ukraine – and was revived as such by President Mykhailo Hrushevsky of the Ukrainian National Republic of 1918, in Carpatho-Ukraine in 1939 and again in 1991 by newly independent Ukraine. The Ukrainian tryzub’s origins are still nebulous. Some ideas are that this is a stylized diving falcon, or possibly an anchor. As a symbol, it had existed among many cultures from early times. There was also a “dvozub” – a duodent, with just two peaks, used in the early Kyivan court.

Suffice it to say, over the years, the tryzub has been a symbol of everything Ukrainian.

During times of persecution (and there were so many), one way of expressing patriotism and resistance was to incorporate the tryzub into embroidery and folk art. This started way before the Maidan. The tryzub has appeared in Ukrainian embroidery from the first part of the 20th century, in men’s “sorochky” (shirts), and as embroidered and carved wall plaques (both in western Ukraine under Polish rule and in North America among various early waves of immigration). It has been popular on car decals and jewelry, T-shirts and just about anything possible, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

A man’s sorochka from the Borshchiv region, end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century, incorporates the tryzub in gold thread in the ornate design on the chest and on the cuffs. It is remarkable that this sorochka survived Soviet times. It is shown in the book “Ukrainskyi Striy” by M. S. Bilan and H. H. Stelmashchuk (Lviv: Apriori, 2011).

Photographs have appeared of Ukrainian soldiers on the eastern front embroidering and incorporating the tryzub in their in blue-and-yellow designs. Other contemporary tryzub sorochka designs in the patriotic flag colors are a popular trend. In North America, tryzub jewelry (pendants, earrings, cufflinks, rings) is popular, even trendy.

The traditional pysanka, a truly unique Ukrainian symbol, has now become a directly patriotic one, with a profusion of tryzubs in untraditional (for pysanky) blue-and-yellow colors. Pysanky with tryzubs appeared in the mid-war years, and they flourish now.

Stephanie Hryckowian from the tri-state southern New Jersey area writes tryzub “pysanky” (these are not the traditional ones, but done using the same technique), and her blue-and-yellow patriotic eggs are now held in collections around the world. This award-winning artist has been writing pysanky for over 45 years. Recently she was commissioned to write 25 Tryzub goose eggs that were presented by one of the ministers to the Ukrainian Cabinet and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine for Easter. Her Facebook page is “Stepha’s Pysanky Egg Art.”

If you wish information about pysanky in general – the traditional folk kind – Dr. Luba Petrusha’s page on Facebook, “Traditional Ukrainian Folk Pysanky,” will provide that.

Whichever Easter (Velykden) you celebrate, it is probable that there will be at least a few tryzub pysanky in the baskets in church, bringing new meaning to hope and Resurrection.


Orysia Tracz may be contacted at