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Why did Russian cosmonauts wear Ukraine-flag colors?

Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov float aboard the International Space Station after arriving on a Soyuz spacecraft on March 18, 2022.
Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov float aboard the International Space Station after arriving on a Soyuz spacecraft on March 18, 2022. (Image credit: Roscosmos TV)

Three cosmonauts boarded the International Space Station on Friday (March 18) donning bright-yellow and blue flight suits, with some likening the fashion choice to the Russian trio's support of Ukraine. Now, the Russian space agency has not only denied but ridiculed that interpretation. 

"Sometimes yellow is just yellow," Roscosmos' press service said on its Telegram channel, Reuters reported

The three cosmonauts, Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, docked their Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft with the space station, and joined seven crewmates already onboard on Friday. 

On Saturday (March 19), the Russian space agency released a statement quoting Artemyev responding to questions about the Ukraine-flag color choice: "There is no need to look for any hidden signs or symbols in our uniform. A colour is simply a colour. It is not in any way connected to Ukraine. Otherwise, we would have to recognise its rights to the yellow sun in the blue sky," Artemyev said, as reported by The Guardian. "These days, even though we are in space, we are together with our president and our people!"

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The director-general of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin reportedly went further, saying the cosmonauts had no sympathy for Ukrainian nationalists, Reuters reported. 

Even so, on Friday, Artemyev had explained the color choice with a different rationale, saying the team chose the bright yellow because there was so much of that material in storage, explaining "that's why we had to wear yellow," The Guardian reported.

The Ukrainian flag has always included yellow, but it has changed over the years. Ukraine adopted its first national flag in 1848; revolutionaries, who wanted the country's western entities to be freed from Austro-Hungarian rule, chose the colors based on the coat of arms of Lviv — the largest city in Western Ukraine, according to Britannica. The coat of arms showed a golden lion over a blue shield and at the time, the flag showed horizontal stripes of yellow on top of blue. In January of 1918, the Ukrainian Republic declared its independence, and later that year the republic adopted a new flag, this one with reversed stripes to symbolize "blue skies over golden wheat fields," Britannica said. 

The flag went through other iterations, at one point in 1949 showing the Red Banner of the Soviet Union with a horizontal light-blue stripe added to the bottom. Once Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union, the country brought the nationalist blue-yellow banner into existence on Jan. 28, 1992, Britannica reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Jeanna Bryner

Jeanna is the editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.