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Do not look away from the war


The Ukrainian coat of arms – trident, or tryzub – has a long history (over a thousand years, if not more), but at the same time, it is a symbol of a modern country. It is short-spoken – and meaningful as well. It reflects heroic events of the past – and it is a stripe of Ukrainian warriors protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine today.

On February 19, 1992, the Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada, approved the Small State Emblem of Ukraine – one of the three official symbols of our state. In 1996, its status was enshrined in the Constitution.

The Small State Emblem of Ukraine since 1992, created by Andrii Hrechylo and Ivan Turetskyi
Photo: Central State Archives of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine

The trident was the ancestral sign of the Rurik dynasty (10th-12th century, Kyivan Rus’ times). Archaeologists still find its image on coins, seals, utensils, bricks, and murals. Back in the 10th century, the obverse of coins during the times of Volodymyr the Great, the Prince of Kyiv, bore his portrait. On the other side of the coins, the trident was depicted as Volodymyr’s symbol of power.

Previously, tridents were depicted on coins of Kyivan Rus’
Illustrations: Wikimedia

As perhaps any sign, the Ukrainian trident has its hidden symbolism. Still, with over 40 (!) theories about its actual meaning, it’s hardly possible to find the real roots of the symbol. The theories vary from referring to the trinity, bow with arrows, and candlestick to pointing out its similarity with anchor and even falcon’s wings.

Image of the trident, found in the remnants
of the Tithe (Desiatynna) Church in Kyiv
Photo: ‘Out Coat of Arms’ album, Rodovid Publishing, 2018

The trident, or tryzub in Ukrainian, wasn’t the only symbol used throughout the history of Ukraine. Since the 14th century, other signs (which often characterised regions) became popular, and Ukrainian cossacks later had their own symbols too.

In 1918, just after the Russian empire’s collapse, the Ukrainian People’s Republic government approved the trident as a state coat of arms. A commission that were empowered to choose a new symbol considered several alternatives: a golden lion (the symbol of the Halychyna region, which was the centre of the Ukrainian national movement for independence in the 19th century), a cossack with his musket (respectively, the sign of Zaporizhzhia cossacks), an image of St. Michael the Archangel (the patron of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital), and more.

Ukrainian State Coat of Arms as of 1918 (in modern style)
Illustration: Wikimedia

Finally, the ancient symbol of Kyivan Rus’ was chosen to symbolise Ukraine’s state and national unity. The trident became popular very fast — primarily thanks to its appearance on the banknotes.

100 hryvnias banknote with a trident, 1918
Photo: Radio Svoboda

The symbol connects past and present — from the Kyivan Rus’ times, where Ukraine has its roots, to the 21st century. Today, you can see tridents on T-shirts everywhere. You can buy souvenirs with them on the streets. You can even get a trident tattoo. After 70 years of Soviet rule, when the trident was called nationalistic and banned, it’s now official and widely used again.

During the full-scale war, the symbol received even wider usage, connecting people who support Ukraine across the globe, defining our national identity, and evoking creativity to use trident as a weapon on the information front.

Since the days of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, the trident (tryzub) has become an important symbol for those who fought for Ukraine’s independence 100 years ago and those who protect it now.

Text by Yevhen Luzan

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