The St George Ribbon and why are they wearing it?

georg_lentaThe Ukrainian Front, which originated in Kharkiv and supports the Yanukovych regime, has taken to wearing Russia’s St. George ribbon. Do they really understand what they’re wearing, or why?

The St. George ribbon originated in the reign of tsarist Russia’s Catherine II. It was an addition to the Order of St George, which was founded in 1769 during a Russo-Turkish war that solidified Russian control over southernmost Ukraine and five years before Katherine’s razing of the Zaporizhzhya Sich. The Order was discarded in 1917 following the Soviet revolution.

Leaflets handed out in Lviv urging to dispose of Communist ideology

Leaflets handed out in Lviv urging to dispose of Communist ideology

However, as the Soviet need for a richer military symbolism grew during World War II, Tsarist trappings returned, first in 1941 with newly  reconstituted Guards units utilizing the Order’s distinctive orange and black ribbon, and then in 1943 with the Order of Glory. Most famously of all, the ribbon was used in decorations such as the medal ‘For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945,’, which was awarded to all who served in the war. It was as a reward for a soldier’s bravery and given for liberating the native land from foreign invaders.

The ribbon has its modern use as well, In August, 2000, the newly formed Russian Federation brought back the Order of St George as its top decoration. Moreover, the St George ribbon has been used since 2005 as a symbol of commemorating the victory over the Germans and is seen frequently around May 9. However, it is not used in any formal Ukrainian decorations.

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Image from Party of Regions website commemorating 9th of May. The sign says “The memory ribbon – a symbol of victory that connects generations”

But now, the Kharkiv governor and mayor have whipped up this group called the Ukrainian Front to support Viktor Yanukovych and his administration. The group consists mostly of titushkiy (hired thugs) and they have begun wearing the ribbon of St George.

The organizers of the titushkiy are trying to convince them that the protesters, who are against the violation of human rights, who call for freedom and democracy in Ukraine, are arrived mostly from western regions of the country and represent neo-nazi and fascist forces. And they use the St. George ribbon to ground their actions against this supposed generation of fascists.

A few of the ‘clean up crew’ on Khreshchatyk in Kyiv on 8 February wore it, too. So these ‘defenders of Kiev  (Russian spelling)’ get bussed in from the surrounding towns and are hired for a couple of hours to make noise and wear ribbons. You can see the lucky ones getting paid on the squares and metro stops not far from Maidan when they’re done.

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‘Clean up crew’ on Khreschatyk street wearing St. George ribbons

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Humorous caricature of ‘titushka’ special forces insignia. On a background of the colors of St. George’s ribbon V. Titushko, who gave the paid thugs their name, is pictured. The sign reads “prosti-titushka; special forces; 200 hryvnia”

But when they leave Kyiv, they leave mostly Kyivans behind the barricades. The lists of missing protesters show mostly Kyiv residents. And the original protests, the first beaten and broken students – from Kyiv. Shared values of decency – feeding the militia, shaming and not torturing those captured – and outrage at the excesses of the Yanukovych administration have brought volunteers from across the country, and not only western Ukraine. It does beg the question – who is the invader here? And maybe, we’ve come full circle as the descendants of the kozaks (Cossacks – Russian translation) who fought against Katherine’s encroachment on Ukraine in the 18th Century stand with Kyivans on Maidan and Hrushevksy Street against people who may unwittingly wear symbols of Moscow’s imperialism but certainly discredit their forebears’ more recent defense of Kyiv

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