There’s an awful lot of blue and yellow out there these days. According to a few online ‘-edias’ and ‘-ictionaries’, the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag represent the sky and fields of wheat. This combination of colours comes from the flag of the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia, used in the 12th century for the lands that include modern-day Ukraine.
Even the Covid-19 pandemic has failed to unite people the way Putin’s attack on Ukraine has. The pandemic was beleaguered from the start with different theories on how it spreads and what strategies governments should take to protect people. And let’s not forget the covid-deniers and anti-vaxers. The war in Ukraine is more straightforward. Though the solutions and ways of taming Putin are complex, we have all witnessed this unprovoked attack on a liberal democracy and recognise propaganda when we hear it.
I suspect that we’re sporting the blue and yellow, not only because we’re humanitarians, but because we feel vulnerable. I sure do. The possibility of another world war, one that would be, unlike its predecessors, fuelled in part by cyber-attacks and nuclear arsenals leaves me edging towards panic, that sensation of falling from high without a net.
Everyone has their own means of dealing with this feeling of vulnerability. I find myself meditating longer and more often, trying to live in the moment as vulnerability entails some projection into the future. I’ve also tried to do something for the people of Ukraine in a couple of small ways – a donation to the Red Cross and participating in a march through the streets of Cambridge, UK. (I’m aware that by mentioning this I risk being accused of virtue signalling.)
Above all else, I’ve sought solace in the Ukrainian writings and artistic works that have been surfacing en masse in mainstream and social media. Before this war, I was only familiar with a handful of Ukrainian writers, including Natalka Bilotserkivets. I found one of her poems again and reread it, forced by the present to interpret it differently:
It’s time to pack your bag and go.
You don’t know what to take – something easy
to carry; everything you’d possibly need,
Two or three brushes, soap and a towel.
Clean underwear, just in case your lover
meets you – or God. Either way,
you should have clean underwear.
In a secluded place, among weeds
of a dense, heavenly forest, I’ll meet a rose.
Like Blake’s symbol of delicate mysticism –
the rose who loves the worm.
Having allowed him into her alluring womb,
she trembles, hidden, to avoid me,
and all poetry – a shame, a bore,
oh, poor flower, lovely, dear . . .
© Translation: 2002, Dzvinia Orlowsky
First published on Poetry International, 2006
Now I imagine a yellow rose against a blue sky and people packing hurriedly as if leaving their lovers, but with the hope of meeting them again.