An anti-war protest in Stockholm, Sweden (image by and courtesy Marina Bluma)

From Toronto to Prague, Russians living abroad have adopted a new flag to protest the war in Ukraine. The white and blue banner eliminates the red stripe of the official flag of the Russian Federation, interpreted by some anti-war activists as symbolizing blood.

An anti-war protest in Gothenburg, Sweden. The poster depicts a mural by an unidentified artist that has become popular online. (used with permission)

Online groups have emerged to promote the new flag. An Instagram page dedicated to it has nearly 8,000 followers, and the movement has its own website, whitebluewhite.info.

“The white-blue-red flag, which is currently used by the government of the Russian Federation, became a symbol of blood, war, and aggression throughout the world,” a statement on the website reads. “We, Russian citizens who do not support the authoritarian regime and its military, cannot use it.”

The flag emerged in late February, a week after Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine. On February 27, it appeared in a viral tweet by user @AssezJeune, describing it as “de-Sovietized, without blood, the cult of war, and imperialism.” In a Facebook post on February 28, Kai Katonina, a UX designer who lives in Berlin, listed the reasons for the flag’s adoption, citing the erasure of the “blood red stripe.”

Katonina also invoked the banner’s similarity to a flag adopted in Belarus in 2020 to protest the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, and its likeness to the flag of medieval Novgorod Republic, which Katonina described as a “democratic city-state.”

The Novgorod Republic, which flourished between the ninth and 15th centuries, was indeed more democratic than many medieval societies (although closer to an oligarchy by today’s standards), and its proto-democratic legacy is invoked in much of the online discussion surrounding the new peace flag.

But criticism of the flag has also emerged on social media. One Instagram user said its resemblance to the Novgorod banner is a detriment to its anti-war messaging, because the dukes of Novgorod invaded Kyiv in the late ninth century. Others have pointed to the flag’s symbolic value as insufficient in the face of bloodshed.

The “peace flag” and a Ukrainian flag fly side by side in Toronto. (photo by Kira Popova; courtesy Russian Resistance, Toronto)

The Russian Federation’s current red, white, and blue flag was adopted in the 19th century and readopted after the fall of the Soviet Union (when the red hammer and sickle flag was used).

On March 4, the Kremlin outlawed anti-war protests, announcing a 15-year jail sentence for anti-war demonstrators. A Moscow court also limited access to Facebook and Instagram, labeling them “extremist.”

While Russians abroad can promote the new peace flag online and fly it in public, more than 15,000 Russians on the home front have been arrested for protesting the war in Ukraine. However, many have found alternate ways to protest, such as placing crosses for the dead in Ukraine, putting up posters, spray-painting graffiti, and writing anti-war messaging on paper bills.

As of yesterday, April 7, the United Nations reported 3,838 civilian casualties in Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24. Today, a rocket strike on a Ukrainian train station killed at least 50 people, and last week, Russian forces’ atrocities against civilians in Bucha summoned accusations of war crimes.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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