Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, news outlets and social media have captured the magnitude of the destruction: Cities like Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv and Kherson surrounded by Russian tanks; shelling; children taking shelter in subway stations with relatives’ phone numbers written on their skin. But occasionally there have been more hopeful images, like those of the Ukrainian popular resistance. In the country’s small towns and villages, farmers driving humble tractors have hauled away Russian tanks.
These photos and videos symbolize a popular narrative of Ukrainian heroes defending their homeland, risking their lives for the democratic world. In this narrative, farmers and, by extension, civilians, are not merely powerless victims of Russian aggression; they are people who just want to lead normal lives and are determined to fight back.
While these images are hard to verify, they’ve birthed a plethora of memes that raise the morale of Ukrainian troops and their supporters. Internet users have created images in which the defiant tractor drags a Soyuz space rocket, a submarine, the sunken Moskva cruiser on the bottom of the Black Sea. There are T-shirts featuring tractors and army patches that read “Tactical Agricultural Unit”; there is a video game called Ukrainian Farmy and an NFT project. Most of these products are marketed to raise funds for soldiers and displaced mothers and children.