Support for Ukraine among neighbors: can a block form a bloc?

I will be overseas a fair part of this month, and I at least wanted to crank out one brief article before I leave.  While this article might, at first blush, seem to come out of nowhere, it bears a direct spatial resemblance to one I wrote just a few weeks ago: on a row of dumpy houses on an otherwise fancy street in Washington DC (Wisconsin Avenue NW).  The photos in today’s article capture the situation only a block south of those dumpy homes, once again on Wisconsin Avenue NW in late winter 2024.  And once again, I focus on the condition of the homes, but this time it’s not about disrepair; it’s their collective support for Ukraine.

Walking southward down Wisconsin Avenue NW, the first home initially looks like nothing too remarkable; it’s the level of Slava Ukraini solidarity countless people have displayed in their yard in this deeply politically conscious part of the country for over two years.  But a closer view of the front porch reveals a bit more:

Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC

The Ukrainian yellow-and-blue is hanging vertically, which is atypical but not inappropriate, as long as the person hanging the flag obeys the fundamental rule that the honor point remains in the top-left corner.  This honor point often houses the canton, a separate rectangular signifier; in the US flag the canton is the blue field hosting fifty stars. The Ukrainian flag lacks such a canton, but the rule still applies: preserve the honor point by rotating 90 degrees and flipping it over.  Any other position would put the flag upside down, which can range from distress to outright insult depending on the national vexillological culture.  This Wisconsin Avenue home’s front porch features a few other curiosities: a second flag that, in this distorted position, isn’t fully discernible, but it’s not the confederate stars and bars; it says “UKRAINE” in yellow text.  A paler Ukrainian flag hangs to the right, and then, in the porch, is a big brown (Russian?) bear with a fake rifle and a sign that says: “Putin is unbearable; I defect!”, followed by a rejection of the Soviet hammer and sickle at the bottom.  In full view, this home’s support for Ukraine on display is a bit more expansive than usual.

And the homes continue to flout their team as one walks down the block.

Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC
Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC

More Ukrainian flags perched in the front yard; one is vertically oriented (as opposed to hanging vertically) and uses an almost diagonal bisection.  Aside from the red sickle resting primarily on the yellow portion (of which I can only guess the meaning), I’m not clear the reason for taking all these liberties; I don’t think Ukrainian State would consider it admissible as an official flag.  That said, the most obvious support for Ukraine beyond the signature colors is the presence of sunflowers hanging on the front door—the national flower and an emblem of the nation’s broadly understood role as the European breadbasket.

The next house on the block is again more subtle in its support for Ukraine.

The vertically draped US flag is the largest presence, but peering from within the windows on the first floor are more Ukrainian references, including another sunflower.  The fourth home is perhaps the most demure:

Just a single sign in the landscaping, from what I could tell.  Perhaps more remarkable is the very presence of shrubbery: each of these homes is well landscaped and neat as a button, a huge contrast from the “student ghetto” homes on the block just to the north, as I featured at this blog in February.  This collective support for Ukraine is most likely the product of individuals who live in the homes they occupy and communicate regularly with their neighbors, which is the exact opposite of the slumlord-driven homes in the block to the north.

But it’s really the final, southernmost home on the block—the one perched on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Davis Street NW, that deserves the most attention:

Because this home fronts Davis Street NW, the portion facing Wisconsin Avenue NW is the side yard, with a big wooden privacy fence, now painted a garish blue and yellow.

Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC

I don’t fully understand the panoply of illustrations hanging on the upper blue of this fence, but they clearly imply support for Ukraine, by native-born artist Nikita Titov.

Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC
Support for Ukraine among neighbors on Wisconsin Ave NW in Washington DC

It’s not the first time I’ve captured grassroots support for Ukraine in the metro area; small business owners decorated their enterprises with blue and yellow in Alexandria early in the conflict. Meanwhile, until now, I deliberately overlooked the opposite corner of this block—the northern end where Edmunds Street NW terminates at Wisconsin Avenue NW—that offered the strongest support for Ukraine.  Note my use of the past-tense verb in the previous sentence; because it’s worth closer scrutiny at this point.

The grassy patch, running off the bottom edge of the photograph, is a vacant lot, sizable by DC standards—probably almost one-eighth of an acre.  And, until recently, it featured the Polonne Sunflower Garden, an even greater collaboration to populate the area with as many sunflowers as possible, which started in the summer of 2022 and continued the next year, even after vandals would extirpate the flowers in the dead of night.

Sunflowers aren’t likely to flourish in February even in the best of times, so there’s not much evidence at the moment, but here’s what the Polonne Garden could have looked like during its warm-weather heyday.  “Polonne” comes from the name of a Ukrainian town where a local activist worked during his years as a Peace Corps volunteer.  It’s not clear that these sunflowers ever had the chance to mature, but no doubt the imagery was powerful; at the war’s peak in summer 2022, this block of Wisconsin Avenue would have been as conspicuous in its support for Ukraine as the next block is in its state of rentier neglect.  But why is the effort so strong among this cluster of five homes?  It’s because of what’s across the street.

The heavily fortified embassy of the Russian Federation, where blue and yellow mocks and taunts the embassy personnel as Washingtonians clearly indicate their Ukrainian chauvinism.  (Within this building are the likely culprits who vandalized the sunflowers.)  While the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine remains far removed from the ritzy neighborhoods of Northwest Washington, a détente remains an aspiration for a group of private homeowners who happen to look out at the embassy building from across Wisconsin Avenue NW.  And their response to this symbol of the aggressor is to bedeck their front yards with flags and flowers.

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4 thoughts on “Support for Ukraine among neighbors: can a block form a bloc?

  1. Chris B

    Your post reveals that there’s nothing quite like an American middle finger salute, done within acceptable bounds of discourse but still sending a clear message.

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      No doubt. Pity about those sunflowers though. If they had lasted long enough to reach a reasonable height (even 3-4 feet), they would have left a stronger impression. But that’s probably why the antagonists sought to remove them.

      Reply
  2. DianaLeigh

    I like your surprise ending: I never saw the Russia Embassy location coming. You have to admire these “passive” activists who are not letting their location go to waste. 🤫 Sorry the sunflower garden never developed. That would have been a vision🌻🌻🌻

    Reply
    1. AmericanDirt Post author

      No other country’s embassy (at least that I’ve seen) is so fortified and austere. Many of them you can just walk right up to the front door from the sidewalk. The Russian Embassy is distant from the street that it’s hard to imagine they could easily see those little homes taunting them. But most evidence suggests that people destroyed the sunflowers in the dark of night…so they obviously were able to see something!

      Reply

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