Culture and History
July 2, 2023
If you’ve spent any time on social media following the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine you likely have encountered a fork-shaped trident, known in Ukrainian as the “Tryzub”. The Tryzub is so iconic and instantly recognizable that it is frequently used as a symbol of Ukraine in many different memes, some serious, and some hilarious. There was even a popular joke that a country (Russia) with a chicken (possibly an eagle) as its symbol would be foolish to invade a country with a fork as its national symbol. And then there was the joke that if Putin wanted to take a bite of Chicken Kyiv, he should have brought a bigger fork.
What is this powerfully symbolic trident and what does it mean for Ukraine and its people? The history of the Tryzub dates back long ago to the time of Kyivan Rus’ between the 9th and 13th centuries. This powerful state served as the precursor of several modern nations, including Ukraine. The Tryzub is strongly associated with Prince Volodymyr the Great, who ruled Kyivan Rus' from 980 to 1015 and is considered one of the most significant rulers in Ukrainian history. Under his reign, Kyivan Rus' embraced Christianity, which had a profound impact on the region's culture, religion, and identity.
As a symbol of power and authority, the trident was used by the rulers of Kyivan Rus' and represented the unity of the Slavic peoples of the region. It is believed that the three prongs of the trident signify the Holy Trinity or, possibly the elements of fire, water, and earth. Like many symbols, the exact origins and original meanings are lost to time.
Throughout history, the trident has been incorporated into various national symbols, including the coat of arms of the Ukrainian SSR (part of the Soviet Union) and later, the coat of arms of independent Ukraine. Although the Ukrainian SSR's emblem included the Tryzub, it was encircled by other Soviet symbols, such as the hammer and sickle and a red star. With Ukraine's independence in 1991, these Soviet symbols, like the Soviet Union itself, were discarded into the trash bin of history, and the trident now stands proudly alone as the centerpiece of the new coat of arms of a free and independent Ukraine.
Today, the trident is seen as a symbol of Ukrainian national identity, representing the country's history, cultural heritage, and its aspirations for sovereignty and unity. It is featured prominently on the Ukrainian flag, the Presidential Standard, as well as various government, military, and civil emblems. In this time of conflict, the Tryzub has become a rallying point for Ukrainians, symbolizing their resilience and determination to defend their homeland against Russian aggression.
The Tryzub isn’t just an official government symbol, and has found its way into popular culture, appearing in art, design, fashion, tattoos, and yes, even jokes about Russia. The widespread use of the Tryzub serves to highlight the unity of the Ukrainian people and is a continued source of national pride that will endure for generations to come.
Why not visit us and volunteer? You will see the Tryzub in its native habitat and maybe you can even bring one home with you in one of its many forms – just be sure to ask your mother before you get it as a tattoo!
September 8, 2023
Culture and History