Ukrainians wait in line for hours to buy commemorative Snake Island postage stamps
One of the most popular rallying cries of the Ukrainian resistance emerged early in the war, when soldiers stationed on a Black Sea military outpost called Snake Island responded to Russian troops' calls to surrender with a few choice words: "Russian warship, go f*** yourself!"
The incident has been memorialized in a special postage stamp, which proud Ukrainians are now lining up en masse to buy, bring home and, in some cases, resell at a markup.
The Ukrainian Postal Service (Ukrposhta) held a postage stamp competition to commemorate the soldiers, who were initially believed to have been killed but were actually held captive and released in a prisoner swap in late March.
The winning design, as chosen by social media voters, was announced last month. It shows a lone Ukrainian soldier standing on shore, raising a middle finger at a looming gray warship in the water.
Artist Boris Groh saidhe was so impressed by the soldiers' refusal to surrender that he decided to submit an illustration to lift morale. He told the postal service that it took him three days to complete the sketch, but he could have done it in five hours if he hadn't been distracted by the news.
Ukrposhta announced last week that it had issued 1 million stamps and 20,000 envelopes.
"I am sure that Ukrainians and our friends from abroad will be pleased to receive letters with such a postage stamp," Igor Smelyansky, the general director of Ukrposhta, said at a ceremony last week at the main post office in Kyiv. "And today in this postal way we once again remind the invaders that they should immediately get off our land and follow their ship."
The stamp became an instant sensation, counting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy among its many fans.
Sharing a picture of people in line on Friday, Ukrposhta joked that it was probably the first time that lines for stamps were longer than those for the iPhone.
It announced Monday that — with nearly half a million stamps already sold — it will limit purchases to no more than six stamps and will cancel online orders, according to a translation from Canada's CTV News.
Smelyansky told The Guardian this week that 700,000 stamps are on sale across Ukraine, with 200,000 reserved for territories occupied by Russian troops. He said another 100,000 will be sold online, including overseas, starting Thursday. He doesn't plan to reprint them once they sell out.
CTV News said some people waited in line for upward of six hours to get their hands on the stamps. They sell in two denominations at $0.77 and $1.83 each — but some envelopes and stamp sheets are listed on eBay for $2,500 and more.
NPR's Tim Mak retweeted a photo from Atlantic Council fellow Vladislav Davidzon showing Odesa residents crowding into a post office, saying they they lined up for hours trying to get the stamps.
Mark MacKinnon, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, shared a picture of the long line outside the post office in Kyiv.
The Guardian shared a time-lapse video of hundreds of people lining up outside Kyiv's main post office on Tuesday.
The Ukrainian government said on Twitter that a set of stamps and envelopes signed by Smelyansky and Roman Gribov, the soldier who uttered the now-infamous phase, will be going up for auction online on Friday.
Bidding starts at the equivalent of $850, and the winner will receive the stamps in the mail after payment.
This story first appeared in the Morning Edition live blog. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.