Home News and Features Scarves and Sunflowers: Vermonters Display Symbols of Support

Scarves and Sunflowers: Vermonters Display Symbols of Support

Scarves and Sunflowers: a white older woman in red Ukrainian scarf wrapped around her head.
Ukrainian American Sofia Shatkivska, of Washington, Vermont, wears her red hustka at a Statehouse rally for peace in Ukraine earlier this month. Photo by John Lazenby.
They’re called hustkas. Their bright shades and floral patterns are eye-catching, and Ukrainian-American women are donning these scarves at rallies in Vermont as a symbol of support for Ukraine. 

Sofia Shatkivska of Washington is Ukrainian American and helped to organize weekly demonstrations in support of Ukraine in front of the Montpelier post office. She and other women wore their hustkas at a recent gathering, the floral scarves draped over their shoulders as they stood on State Street, holding signs and Ukrainian flags. In subsequent interviews, Shatkivska described the many layers of meaning that hustkas carry in Ukrainian culture. They are, in Shatkivska’s words, a “native Ukrainian treasure.” 

Women typically wear hustkas on their heads as “a practical thing, a piece of clothing,” Shatkivska said. A hustka could be a wrap on a chilly ride; one could use it to cover the head, the shoulders, or a baby. 

The symbolism of the hutska goes far beyond a simple functional square of cloth. Shatkivska noted that this sense of security is the “same feeling we have to the scarf.”

“Every village had slightly different ornaments, embroidery (on their hustkas),” Shatkivska explained. “Every region has slightly different scarves.” Some parts of Ukraine feature floral designs; in other regions, more geometric patterns appear. 

The way women wear the scarves varies across regions of Ukraine. Shatkivska compared the different ways of wearing one’s hustka with the different regional accents within a country. She noted that, upon seeing the scarves that the women in a crowd were wearing, “You know from where those people are.”

The scarves carry tremendous cultural meaning. Shatkivska described a Ukrainian tradition in which, on her wedding day, a bride’s veil is removed and replaced by a hustka. This communicates an important message to those present:

“She’s ready to be a family protector when she is wearing (the) scarf.”

One might see a hustka and recall her grandmother’s scarf; often mothers pass hustkas on to their daughters. 

“If you put your hand on that scarf, you will feel this energy, this love,” Shatkivska said.

Another symbol of Ukrainian culture seen at recent demonstrations in Vermont is the sunflower, which appeared on signs held aloft at the Montpelier post office and in front of the Statehouse by demonstrators showing support for Ukraine. According to stories in Time and Smithsonian Magazine, sunflowers have long been a symbol of peace in Ukraine. They were planted at a disarmed nuclear missile base and near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (where their presence was also practical — the plants are known to remove contaminants from soil). 

The beauty and vibrancy of such traditions as the hustka can be found in many communities, Shatkivska observed. “I think the United States has this richness of different nationalities and different cultures,” she said, later adding, “(the) United States has many diamonds, not just one diamond.” Shatkivska noted that it is important to be welcoming of many cultures.

And the scarves’ message, too, might be universal.

“I’m here, I’m here,” said Shatkivska. “I mean something.”