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Saved from the ruins: How a ceramic rooster became a symbol of resistance in Ukraine

FILE Picture of ceramic Ukrainian cockerel
FILE Picture of ceramic Ukrainian cockerel Copyright Viacheslav Hladushkin
Copyright Viacheslav Hladushkin
By Les Beley
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The distinctive pottery ornament was somehow left undamaged on a kitchen shelf of a bombed building.


A ceramic jug in the shape of a rooster has become the unlikely symbol of resistance in Ukraine.

The pottery item is known as a Vasylkiv cockerel, named after the town near Kyiv where it was mass-produced during Soviet times. But it was the remarkable survival of one of these jugs, preserved intact on a kitchen shelf of a badly bombed building, that gave it new meaning for Ukrainians.

Vasylkiv has a long tradition of producing majolica - a style of glazed earthenware pottery - and in its 1960s heyday the town was churning out a million items each year.

One of the factory's most popular pieces was the rooster-shaped jug designed by renowned artist Prokip Bidasyuk which found its way into the kitchens of many Soviet Union homes from the 1950s to the late 1970s.

When journalist Elizaveta Servatyanksa was taking photographs in the ruins of the town of Borodianka, she spotted something on the exposed wall of an apartment building, the rest of which had been destroyed by a Russian bombardment.

Amid the devastation, she recognised the distinctive Vasylkiv rooster still sitting on the cabinet, untouched by the fighting.

Elizaveta Servatynska
Ceramic rooster sits undamaged on kitchen cabinet of ruined building, Borodianka UkraineElizaveta Servatynska

Soon after, Ukrainian artist Oleksandr Grekhov produced a web poster featuring the rooster with a message to "Hold On," making it a popular online talisman for many Ukrainians to embody the spirit of resistance.

Even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskky received roosters as gifts when Johnson's visited Kyiv on Saturday.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP
Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and Britain's PM Boris Johnson holding roosters presented by artist Lera Polyanskova in Kyiv, 9 April 2022Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

In Ukrainian folklore the rooster is full of symbolism; "without a rooster, a house is deaf" so the Ukrainian saying goes.

The bird is associated with fire, belligerence, new beginnings and the dawn after a dark night. Its crowing was once believed to have magic power which caused evil night-time spirits to lose their strength.

In some parts of Ukraine carved wooden roosters are attached to the roof of buildings to protect them, and rooster motifs can be found embroidered on garments and towels.

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