How Postage Stamps Are Chronicling the War in Ukraine

Whether laden with irreverence or grief, Ukraine’s postage stamps have come to reflect the national mood. They serve as an apt time capsule for the conflict.

Image courtesy of Ukrposhta

George Orwell once quipped that “every joke is a tiny revolution.” Ukrainians are proof positive of this notion—the good-humored people have long used jokes and memes as coping mechanisms during eras of political turbulence and natural disasters. The Russian-Ukrainian war is no different. Last year, in late February, a Russian warship approached a group of Ukrainian border guards stationed at a military base on Snake Island in the Black Sea, ordering Ukraine’s surrender. “Russian warship, go fuck yourself,” the guards responded. 

The act of courage has come to symbolize Ukraine’s irreverent attitude toward Russian aggression so much that the Ukrainian Postal Service (Ukrposhta) released a postage stamp depicting a Ukrainian soldier flipping the bird to an approaching ship. Since the conflict broke out one year ago, Ukrposhta has staged contests online to source artwork for postage stamps in order to raise money for the armed forces, releasing more than 30 custom stamps by both amateur and professional artists.

Image courtesy of Ukrposhta

The final stamp of the series doesn’t mince words—or visuals. It commemorates a mural Banksy recently stencil-tagged on a wall in Borodyanka, a small town about 30 miles northwest of Kyiv. In the mural, the anonymous British street artist depicts a judo match where a young boy flips an older man on his back—a sly reference to Russia president Vladimir Putin’s black belt in judo. The David-and-Goliath metaphor is clear enough, but Ukrposhta immortalized Ukraine’s steely resolve by adding the letters “FCK PTN” in Cyrillic in the stamp’s bottom left corner. 

Other stamps commemorate key moments in the conflict. When Russian missiles destroyed the world’s largest plane, called the Mriya, Ukrposhta released a colorful stamp picturing a little girl flying on bird wings next to the doomed aircraft. The visual, dreamily illustrated by an 11-year-old Ukrainian girl named Sofiika Kravchuk, was originally intended to adorn a postage envelope but took on new significance when the aircraft was destroyed. Another stamp portrays a couple that bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack and Rose, the star-crossed lovers from Titanic, perched on the edge of the Crimea Bridge that succumbed to a blast by Russia.

Image courtesy of Ukrposhta

Because the stamps artfully document key junctures in the conflict, they’ve come to serve as somewhat of a time capsule. They also strike a chord with Ukrainians—thousands have flocked to local post offices keen to get their hands on the latest releases. 

“They reflect current events, they reflect main heroes, and they certainly help people around the world better understand who we are,” Igor Smelyansky, CEO of Ukrposhta, tells Fast Company. “Understand that despite life and death situations every day, we can fight for our freedom with humor and dedication. These stamps are being sold and sent around the world to help spread the word about this war and what we stand for.” The numbers speak for themselves: Ukrposhta sold roughly 15 million stamps this past year alone—six times more than in 2021—prompting the agency to make them available online. 

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