Sunflowers have been Ukraine's national flower for centuries, but they emerged as a symbol of the country’s resistance to invasion after this video clip appeared, showing a Ukrainian woman confronting Russian soldiers in Henychesk and urging them to put sunflower seeds in their pockets, so that flowers would grow if they died on Ukrainian land.
Before that, in the summer of 1996, sunflowers were planted by officials at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine, in a ceremony to celebrate Ukraine’s abandonment of the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which it inherited following the collapse of the Soviet Union
The sunflower is deeply rooted in the country’s history, because the oil from its seeds is a major component of the diet during the Ukrainian Orthodox Great Lent running up to Easter, when people are forbidden to eat meat, poultry and dairy products.
The sunflower is an integral part of Ukrainian tradition, grown in every garden and woven into the dresses women wear during celebrations.
You’ve left me with the sunflower,
it’s thickened throat and fat dark leaves.
Its sooty face stares down into the street
and people look up at the balcony.
Look, you said, weeks or months ago,
your hand was on my hand. This one has grown.
A green shoot stood above the soil,
an inch of stalk, two heart-shaped leaves.
I gave it water every day
just to say We grew this.
It climbed until its claws unfurled a flower.
Now yellow petals tremble in the wind.
Still I give it water –
hold my faith in linear things.