Why has ‘Z’ been embraced by supporters of Russia’s Ukraine war | Russia-Ukraine was News

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Government supporters are using the letter as a pro-war symbol to show solidarity with Russia’s armed forces.

First spotted on the side of Russian tanks and military vehicles amassing on the border with Ukraine, the letter “Z” has since become the main symbol of public support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Following the February 24 invasion, government supporters have used the letter, which does not exist in the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia, to show solidarity with the armed forces fighting in the neighboring country.

In one video shared on social media, former spy Maria Butina, convicted of espionage in the United States, can be seen carving the symbol onto her jacket.

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak had the letter prominently taped on the front of his outfit as he stood on the podium next to Ukraine’s Illia Kovtun during an event in Qatar’s capital, Doha. He now faces disciplinary proceedings by the International Gymnastics Federation, which blasted his “shocking behavior”.

Ivan Kuliak
Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed the symbol at an event in Doha [Screen grab/YouTube]

And at a cancer hospice in the city of Kazan, staff and patients, including children, lined up to form the letter Z in the snow, according to an image circulating online.

Film critic Anton Dolin, who has criticized the “criminal war” in a Facebook post and is now in Latvia, noticed before leaving that the door to his apartment had been spray-painted with the letter Z.

“The purpose of this is clear,” he wrote. “We know where your family live, beware.”

A service member of pro-Russian troops in a uniform without insignia walks past trucks with the letter "Z" painted on tent tops in the separatist-controlled settlement of Buhas
There have been a number of theories suggested over what the letter means [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Meanwhile, Russia’s internet censor board, Roskomnadzor, changed its Telegram channel handle to emphasize the letter Z.

A large sign showing Z alongside a hashtag reading “We do not leave ours” can also be seen across a street in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

The symbol has also been embraced by pro-war supporters outside Russia – on Friday, Serbs demonstrating in support of Moscow’s actions carried banners with the Z letter and painted it on the streets of Belgrade as they marched through Serbia’s capital.

A protester paints the "Z" sign on a street, in reference to Russian tanks marked with the letter, during a rally organized by Serbian right-wing organisations in support of Russian invasion in Ukraine, in Belgrade March 4, 2022. - Around a thousand Serbian ultra nationalist supporters marched in Belgrade in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A protester paints the ‘Z’ sign on a street in reference to Russian tanks marked with the letter, during a rally organized by Serbian right-wing organizations in support of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, in Belgrade, March 4, 2022 [File: Andrej Isakovic/AFP]

What does it mean?

There have been various theories put forward since Z was first seen emblazoned on military hardware, alongside other letters, including V and O.

They have ranged from suggestions that they stood for the first letters of the full name of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, to suspicions that they represent the areas where the soldiers operating them were usually based.

An Instagram post by the Ministry of Defense has meanwhile suggested that the Z symbol stands for “za pobedu”, or “for victory”.

Russia’s war has drawn widespread international condemnation, resulting in Western countries imposing crippling sanctions against Russia and prompting an exodus of a number of multinational companies from the country.

Last week, the Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledged that 498 Russian soldiers have died since what it calls a “special military operation began”.

Russian media are supposed to report on the war using only official, government-approved sources. News outlets and schools have also been banned from referring to the ongoing hostilities as an “invasion”, “attack”, or “declaration of war”.





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