The Letter ‘Z’ is Appearing All Over Russia. Here’s What It Likely Means

If you have been paying attention to media coverage of the Ukraine/Russia crisis, you may have noticed what looks like a capital letter “Z” painted on Russian convoy vehicles.

That mysterious symbol is also showing up on billboards in major Russian cities, on some Russia supporters’ cars, and even on merchandise advertised on Russian state media RT.

There is a staged photograph taken at outside a Russian children’s hospital in which people formed a “Z” (below).

Image credit: Angela Vavilova Foundation via independent.co.uk

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina recorded herself drawing a “Z” in white marker on a blazer.

Some Russian loyalists filmed a video of them in identical black shirts brandishing the letter “Z” and a hashtag in Russian that translates to “We don’t abandon our own.”

A Russian gymnast recently appeared in pictures beside Ukrainian athletes sporting a “Z” on the front of his uniform.

Obviously what some are calling the “zwastika” is pro-Russian propaganda.

But what does it mean?

It’s interesting to note there is no letter “Z” in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The most popular theory from military personnel is that the Z represents “Zapad,” meaning “west,” where Russian troops are usually stationed.

Some state it’s identification to avoid being attacked by so-called “friendly fire” since Ukrainian vehicles are from the Soviet era and look similar to Russian ones.

Others assume it has something to do with the name of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

But while the most puzzling, “Z” is not the only letter seen on Russian vehicles.

The letter “V” is also on some, leading some to speculate it represents “Vladimir,” as in Vladimir Putin.

The Russian defense ministry posted on Instagram that Z means “Za pobedu“, “for victory”, and “V,” “power of truth.”

Some also report seeing letters O, X, and A.

Former director for the think tank Rusi, Professor Michael Clarke, explained:

“Often these symbols will be location-based—they will be communicating where a unit is heading. If they were only to mark the vehicles as being Russian, you could just use one symbol. The fact that they are different tells you more—they are probably signs which tell you which units are heading to the north-east or north-west of a district, for example.”

According to Ukrainian military intelligence, “Z” stands for for Russia’s Eastern Military District; “Z” with a box drawn around it represents Crimea; “O” means Belarus; “V,” Marines; “X,” Chechnya; “A,” Special Forces.

Regardless of whether or not it is purely a means of identification, anti-Ukrainian some Russians have adopted it to express their disdain for Ukraine.

This is perfect example of innocuous iconography being appropriated for propagandistic purposes, like Hitler stealing the swastika from the ancient Eastern symbol for well being.

American white nationalists also ruined the ubiquitous “okay” hand sign when they started using it as a clandestine symbol of solidarity.

The original “Operation O-KKK” post at 4chan. Image credit: splcenter.org
Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.