As a national flag, the blue and yellow bicolour was officially used since the 1848 Spring of Nations when it was hoisted over the Lviv Rathaus. It was officially adopted as a state flag for the first time in 1918 by the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic. When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the flag was outlawed and before 1949 there was no official state flag until adoption of the red-blue flag of the Ukrainian SSR. People who were hoisting the blue-yellow flags in the Soviet Ukraine were prosecuted as criminals. The blue and yellow flag was provisionally adopted for official ceremonies in September 1991 following Ukrainian independence, before finally officially being restored in 1992.
Ukraine celebrates Flag Day each year on August 23 since 2004.
The Law of Ukraine states that the colours of Ukrainian flag are "blue and yellow", but other state bodies have determined the colours. In the table below the colours are given according to the technical specification DSTU 4512:2006:
There is also criticism in regards to shades. There are specialists who argue that, according to rules of heraldry, the current set of colours cannot coexist. The head of the Ukrainian Heraldry Society pointed out that it is not heraldry, but rather vexillology that studies flags.
Article 20 of the Constitution of Ukraine states the following, citing: "the State Flag of Ukraine is a banner of two equally sized horizontal bands of blue and yellow colour." (Ukrainian: "Державний Прапор України — стяг із двох рівновеликих горизонтальних смуг синього і жовтого кольорів.").
In addition to the normal horizontal format, many public buildings, such as Verkhovna rada in Ukraine use vertical flags. Most town halls fly their town flag together with the national flag in this way; some town flags in Ukraine exist only in vertical form. The proportions of these vertical flags are not specified. When hung like a banner or draped, the blue band should be on the left, as illustrated. When flown from a vertical flagpole, the blue band must face the mast.
23 August is celebrated as the Day of the National Flag in Ukraine; beginning with 2004. July 24 was previously marked as National Flag Day in Kiev. The first ceremonial raising of the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flag in modern times took place on 24 July 1990 at the flagstaff of the Kiev City Council, two years before the flag was officially adopted as the National flag. Since 1992 Independence Day of Ukraine is celebrated on August 24. Following government decree, the flag must be flown from public buildings on this dates and some other holidays. Not all of these days are public holidays. Flags also must be flown on election days for the Verkhovna Rada in addition to other regional-specific flag days. The public display of flags to mark other events, such as the election of the president or the death of a prominent politician (whereupon flags would be at half-mast), can be declared at the discretion of the Cabinet of Ministers. When flags are required to be flown at half-mast, vertical flags are not lowered. A black mourning ribbon is instead attached, either atop the mast (if hung from a pole) or to each end of the flag's supporting cross-beams (if flown like a banner).
The roots of Ukrainian national symbols come from before Christian times when yellow and blue prevailed in traditional ceremonies, reflecting fire and water. The most solid proof of yellow and blue colours could be traced as far as the Battle of Grunwald at which participated militia formations from various lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Union.
Yellow–blue, red-black, crimson-olive and especially raspberry colour banners were widely used by Cossacks between the 16th and 18th centuries. These were not the only possible combinations, since normally Cossacks would fly their hetman's banners, which were similar to the coats of arms of the nobility. Also, yellow and blue were the colours common on coats of arms in Galicia. In fact, the coat of arms of Lviv to this day remains a golden lion on a blue field.
Some put the starting point of the current national flag of Ukraine in year 1848, when during the Spring of the Nations a yellow and blue banner was adopted by the Main Ruthenian Council in Lviv and flew over the city's magistrate for the first time. Although this move did not have significant consequences, the newly formed Ukrainian divisions in the Austrian army used yellow and blue banners in their insignia.
Both blue–yellow and yellow–blue flags were widely used during the Ukraian struggle for independence in 1917. For the first time in the Russian Empire the blue-yellow flag was flown on March 25, 1917 in Petrograd during a 20-thousand people mass demonstration. On the territory of the Russian Ukraine (Little Russia) the national flag of Ukraine was flown for the first time in Kiev on March 29, 1917 by soldiers. On April 1, 1917 Kiev saw a 100-thousand people demonstration that carried over 320 national flags. After that similar demonstration with Ukrainian flags took place across the whole Russian Empire even beyond the Ukrainian ethnic lands. Number of famous Ukrainian politician wrote their recollection about the April 1 demonstration such as Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Serhiy Yefremov stating that there were blue-and-yellow flags, while Dmytro Doroshenko claimed that there were yellow-and-blue. The blue-yellow flag was flown at the First Ukrainian Military Congress on May 18, 1917.
There are reliable sources that indicate that an official flag was declared by the Ukrainian People's Republic in 1918 is blue–yellow. Some sources mention that the yellow–blue was adopted by Tsentralna Rada on March 22, 1918. Other sources point out that no hard proof of such decision exists. Instead, they refer to the decision on the Fleet Flag, which was set to be light blue–yellow as an indication that the official flag was light blue–yellow. Also were adopted other service flags of the Ukrainian People's Republic.
New studies also show that Nestor Makhno's formations in 1920 also fought under the blue-and-yellow flags.
Among Ukrainian immigrant organisations there were proponents of both blue–yellow and yellow–blue flags. Eventually, it was agreed to use the blue–yellow flag until the issue was resolved in the independent Ukraine.
Flag of Ukrainian People's Republic (non-official, 1917)
The first flag of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was adopted on March 10, 1919, to serve as the symbol of state of the Ukrainian SSR. Details of the official flag changed periodically before the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, but all were based on the red flag of the Bolshevik Revolution. The first flag was red with the gold Cyrillic sans-serif letters У.С.С.Р. (USSR, acronym for Ukrayinskaya Sotsialisticheskaya Sovetskaya Respublika in the Russian language). In the 1930s a gold border was added. In 1937, a new flag was adopted, with a small gold hammer and sickle added above the gold Cyrillic serif letters У.Р.С.Р. (URSR, for Ukrayins’ka Radyans’ka Sotsialistychna Respublika in the Ukrainian language).
The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists is a Ukrainian political organisation which as a movement originally was created in 1929 in Western Ukraine (at the time interwar Poland). For long time OUN did not officially have its own flag, however during the Hungarian and Polish aggression against the Carpathian Ukraine in 1938, Carpathian Sich, a militarised wing of OUN, adopted its flag from the OUN's emblem - golden nationalistic trident on a blue background. The flag was finalised and officially adopted by the organisation only in 1964 at the 5th Assembly of Ukrainian Nationalists.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army was a Ukrainian nationalist paramilitary and later partisan army that engaged in a series of guerrilla conflicts during World War II against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and both Underground and Communist Poland. The group was the military wing of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists — Bandera faction (the OUN-B), originally formed in Volyn in the spring and summer of 1943. Its official date of creation is 14 October 1942, day of Intercession of the Theotokos feast. The battle flag of the UPA was a 2:3 ratio red-and-black banner. The flag continues to be a symbol of the Ukrainian nationalist movement. The colours of the flag symbolise 'Ukrainian red blood spilled on Ukrainian black earth'.
In 1949 the flag of the Soviet Ukraine was changed once again. The Soviet Union managed to obtain two additional seats in the United Nations by adding as members Ukraine along with Belarus. The change was due to the fact that all the Soviet flags were the same. The new Ukrainian flag consisted of a red (top, 2/3) and a azure (bottom, 1/3) stripes, with the golden star, sickle and mallet in the top left corner. The Communist party leaders such as Khrushchev and Kaganovich were afraid of using words light blue and blue which were used by the Ukrainian diaspora.
During the Soviet period there were multiple unsanctioned attempts to hoist the national blue-and-yellow flag. In 1958 in village of Verbytsia, Khodoriv Raion there was established an underground group, members of which at night were raising national flags and spread anti-Soviet pamphlets.
The events in the Baltic countries soon led to similar processes in Ukraine. Particularly, West Ukraine and Ukrainian SSR's capital Kiev (Kyiv) constantly held political demonstrations with the national yellow-and-blue flags waving above the heads of demonstrators.
On March 20, 1990, the town council of Ternopil voted upon the usage and re-establishment of the yellow-and-blue flag and the tryzub as well as the national anthem Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy. On the same day, the yellow-and-blue national flag was flown for the first time in about 80 years on a governmental building in Kiev, replacing the then official red-and-blue flag of the Ukrainian SSR.
On April 28, 1990, the oblast council (oblasna rada) of Lviv also allowed the use of the national symbols of Ukraine within the Oblast.
After the declaration of independence of Ukraine on August 24, 1991, the national yellow-and-blue flag flew for the first time over the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) building on September 4, 1991.
Ukrainians commonly refer to the flag as yellow and light blue (жовто-блакитний, zhovto-blakytnyi)—a different version of the flag used during UNR (Ukrainian National Republic) years (1917–1921) with yellow on the top and blue on the bottom. The yellow on the top represents golden domes (cupolas) of Christian churches and the blue the Dnieper river.
It has to be noted that although most Ukrainians identify their flag in the spoken language as "yellow and light blue" (Ukrainian: жовто-блакитний, zhovto-blakytnyy), the current flag in reality is blue (the upper band) and yellow (the lower band). The issue is quite significant, because the historical alteration of the flag (from yellow–blue to blue–yellow) did not affect the spoken language. Back in 1848 the flag was indeed yellow and blue, and it was later changed to blue and yellow to be more appealing to the common person. The common explanation of "blue sky above yellow field of wheat" was invented around that time, and, although this evocation of a Ukrainian landscape has nothing to do with the choice of colours or the history of the original yellow and blue, it certainly has formed the Ukrainians' conception of their flag.
The head of the Ukrainian Heraldry Society, Andriy Grechylo, points to the fact that the discussion about order of colours was taking place as far back as 1918. Nonetheless, both governments of the Ukrainian People's Republic as well as the Ukrainian State defined that the upper half would be light-blue, while the lower would be yellow. During 1918 it was taken into consideration that light blue would lose its shade under sun, therefore it was decided to make the colour darker.
^Svirko, W.; A. Rubcov; A. Gorpinchenko; W. Sinel'nikova; G. Docenko; O. Kupko; I. Potapenko; E. Ershova (September 2006). State Flag of Ukraine. DSTU 4512:2006. Kiev: State Standards of Ukraine. p. 7.