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Blog 87 - Venki

I told you last week I had already chosen this week’s scarf. Flimsy and fragile. I knew how this would start…..I still cannot guess the ending. I am wearing this long silk chiffon pale cream scarf with delicate sunflowers in deeper gold. Their stems are long and firm. The scarf has seen better days. Nearly two weeks ago I ordered on line this ‘VINOK’ of sunflowers which I have placed on the bronze head in my sitting room. Little did I know then it would become a symbol in Ukraine of their women’s stoicism and men’s fighting resistance. These wreaths, ‘VENKI’ of their National flower go back a long way. Headdresses of flowers were traditional even before the sunflower was introduced to the country from the New World. It grew well in the rich black soil and warm summers and became a valuable crop. The strict ancient rules of the Orthodox Church, forbidding use of butter and lard during Lent, did not cover this new sunflower oil so it became a worthwhile crop. The garland of ‘SUNYASHNIKI’ became the headdress for brides and young girls, and is part of the national costume. Now it symbolises Ukraine’s fight to retain independence. I saw a short clip of an older Ukrainian woman bravely approaching a Russian soldier, telling him to fill his pockets with sunflower seeds, so that they would flourish in Ukrainian soil upon his death. It was an impulsive purchase of mine to spend my last few pounds, accrued in an Amazon account from prize money playing golf club bridge, on a sunflower headband. I didn’t know then it would become the symbol of hope and resistance to aggression. Dare I wear it up my local high street? No, I’ll leave it on the bronze sculpture. I might try to make a yellow and blue flag to stick in my flowerpot on the porch to replace the faded Union Jack which has been there for two years. I said I wouldn’t take my old battered flag down until Covid was beaten. I am not sure whether that is really the case yet. We have these universal enemies of a pandemic virus and climate change….. and yet the humble sunflower stands against a dictator’s force. My own father and uncle worked in the Ukraine in the early Seventies in Pervomaisk south of Kyiv. Dad was in charge of installing crushing machinery. I don’t know if this was for fertiliser, pesticide or maybe even sunflower seeds! I do know Uncle Stephen sent a telegram to my cousin on her wedding in 1971 and signed off ‘From Russia with love’. At that time, this area was in the old USSR. I remember my father saying it was a fertile area and called it The Bread Basket of Europe. Indeed it is one of top three grain exporters in the world…..but who knows if there will be a loaf of bread available there next week for brave people sheltering in basements?

My parents and uncle have died some time ago. I still have the fox fur hat my parents brought me from Russia in the Sixties from either Moscow or Siberia where my father was working. I will donate that to the Ukrainian Relief Fund with whatever useful I can find. I did say last week, remembering the dead from two world wars at the Poppy Factory in Richmond, I did not know how this week would end. I can only hope for a miracle that Vladimir Putin might adopt a new attitude and sign off, like Uncle Stephen, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Series 2, Blog 87.

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