The Flag

They say that war is how Americans learn geography, and I must admit I know much more about Ukrainian geography than I did a week ago. We were there, once, just for a few days, a few years back, in the southwestern corner, a little village in the Carpathian mountains, not far from the Romanian border. Beautiful country. Lovely people. Had a great time.
But, still, up until last week probably the only Ukrainian cities I could point to on the map were Kiev (which I’ve always pronounce as Key-yev, the American way, but now I am informed that that’s the Russian pronunciation and locals say Keev, and we should now, too, out of solidarity, so I do) and Odesa. Now, I can identify, and know something about, half a dozen. I’d never heard of Kharkiv, for example, and it’s the second largest city.
But, it’s the flag I’d like to talk about. I am not big on flags. At best they are a symbol, at worst just a piece of cloth, and the Ukrainian flag had always struck me as particularly boring – just a big yellow stripe below and a big, blue stripe above, as lacking in imagination and creativity as a Rothko painting.
Then, I saw a photograph. Just a nice picture of the Ukrainian countryside, a field of sunflowers under a clear, blue sky, and I realized: that is the flag. No other country has a flag which actually looks like the country, the way Ukraine does. Sunflowers below, reaching up to catch the rays, reflecting the sun’s color. The sky, the beautiful, pure blue sky above it all.
So, when I see pictures of burned out apartment buildings, rubble all over the streets, or frightened families living in the Metro stations, my mind goes back to that flag.
It is hopeful. It is optimistic. It is Ukraine.

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