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The letter Z and why it matters in the Ukraine-Russia war

Why the letter Z matters in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia

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Russian tanks roll on the field during a military drills in Leningrad region, Russia.

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, Russian tanks roll on the field during a military drills in Leningrad region, Russia.

Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via Associated Press

The letter “Z” has taken on a new meaning during the war between Ukraine and Russia, becoming a symbol of the ongoing pro-Russia movement across the world.

What is the letter Z on Russian tanks?

The letter “Z” has been drawing attention ever since it was spotted scribed on the sides of thousands of tanks and armored vehicles on the Russian border outside of Ukraine, per The New York Times.

  • The letter has been popping up in Russia, too. Russians have planted it on the back of their cars with stickers. Pundits wear it on T-shirts. A gymnast had it on his uniform while receiving a medal. 

What does the letter Z mean?

Experts told CNN that the “Z” could mean “Za pobedy,” which is Russian for “for victory.”

  • It could also mean “Zapad,” which means “West.”
  • There are also some interpretations that state “Z” stands for “Zorro Squad,” or that “Z” might be a reference by Russian soldiers to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, according to CNN.


There’s also the possibility that the letter might be a marker for soldiers to identify they are Russian.

  • “It appears Russian forces near the border are painting markers, in this case ‘Z’, on vehicles to identify different task forces or echelons,” Russian defense policy expert Rob Lee tweeted back in February.

Why does the letter Z matter for Russians?

The letter Z has become a symbol of support for the invasion by Russian supporters.

  • “This is definitely a state-induced meme,” said Vasily Gatov, a Russian-American media analyst based in Boston, according to The New York Times. “There are always people receptive to this kind of message.” He noted that there was a small army of propagandists paid to spread the meme on social media to give it the false appearance of popularity.