Ukraine: Symbolic Stamp Breaks Sales Records

Commemorative item empowers for people to unite over the anxieties and victories of the war.

Ukraine: Symbolic Stamp Breaks Sales Records

Commemorative item empowers for people to unite over the anxieties and victories of the war.

Ukrposhta has issued the final postage stamps of the "Russian warship..." series.
Ukrposhta has issued the final postage stamps of the "Russian warship..." series. © Ukrposhta
Wednesday, 8 June, 2022

It was an incident that became an iconic symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the face of the Russian invasion of their country. On February 24, the first day of the full-scale war, a Russian naval ship warned Ukrainian soldiers guarding the strategic Snake Island to surrender or be killed. In response, one Ukrainian border officer famously replied, “Russian warship, go fuck yourself.”

The phrase soon went viral, printed on t-shirts, banners, road signs – and a Ukrainian postal stamp.

A fortnight after the incident, on March 12, the national Ukrposhta post office issued a stamp featuring an illustration by Crimean artist Borys Gorokh of a Ukrainian soldier standing in front of a warship brandishing his middle finger at it. 

Designed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, the stamp’s first print run of a million copies sold out at record speed. People queued for up to five hours to buy the stamp.

“The line stretched till the end of a block, then ended when you turn around the post service,” recalled Lviv resident Yuliia Shaipova.

Ukrposhta CEO Ihor Smilyanskii announced that the stamp would be sold via its online shop, only for the site to repeatedly crash due to the huge demand.

The postal service also tried to start sales on Ukraine’s biggest online marketplace Rozetka, only for that website to also crash as 2,500 people ordered a stamp every second. According to Rozetka’s CEO Vladyslav Chechotkin, this was ten times more than the number of customers ordering goods on the Black Friday sale. 

“The story with the ship became a national symbol very fast,” historian Eduard Andryushchenko told IWPR. It is real, alive, and was needed in the early stage of the war. It symbolises the daring of facing a more powerful enemy, another story of David and Goliath when David looks the enemy in the eye and isn’t afraid of him.”

A day before sales of the stamp began, Ukrainian forces located Russia’s Moskva flagship with the help of American intelligence and attacked it with a Neptune cruise missile.

The Moskva was one of the two Russian warships that had attacked Snake Island, alongside the Vasily Bykov patrol boat which had already been destroyed by Ukrainian forces in March.

This created even more hype around the newly-issued stamp.

“People need physical symbols that unite them. They want to have an item to remember this war, its anxieties and its victories. And I think that stamp’s effect was empowered when the same flagship sank,” Andryushchenko said.

On May 23, the 40th day after the ship sank – a reference to the tradition Ukrainian mourning period – Ukrposhta issued a new stamp with the slogan “Russian warship — done!” and the Moskva itself absent. 

This time sold only in post offices, Ukrainians bought 800,000 new stamps on the first day it was issued.

“Things like this stamp are first and foremost symbols that help us believe in our victory. That we will definitely win this war, and the occupier will go to the bottom,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement. “People’s interest in these stamps proves that. I am convinced that we will have many more such symbols of victory.”

Ukposhta also began sales of the stamp on eBay, as well as producing sweatshirts, shirts, mugs, and fridge magnets with the image.

Elsewhere, the stamp was sold on to collect money to buy ammunition and equipment for soldiers on the frontline.

“Many of my friends buy it and then sell it for charity purposes to help Ukraine’s Armed Forces financially,” Andryushchenko said.

The stamp was also sold for 5 million hryvnias (more than 154, 000 US dollars) on a charity auction run by Ukrainian public e-procurement state tender system Prozorro; the proceeds were donated to Ukraine’s armed forces. 

The identity of the Ukrainian soldier at the heart of this incident is still unknown. Initially, the guards on Snake Island - which if captured would have allowed Russian forces to strike the southern part of the country by sea, land, and air - were believed to have been killed in the attack. They were later reported to have been captured. Ukrainian officials reported that the soldier in question had been released on May 23, but said that his name would not be published for security reasons

This publication was prepared under the “Ukraine Voices Project" implemented with the financial support of the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO).

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