“Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday, / We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning, / We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day, / Today we have naming of parts.” — “Lessons of the War: I: Naming of Parts” by poet Henry Reed in 1942.

Last time we looked at some terms associated with people and places playing roles in the war in Ukraine. This time we’ll take a look at some of the weapons – both physical and psychological – that are being used by both sides in the invasion.

Besides the large amount of military aid that’s being sent to Ukraine (more about that later), one of the best weapons against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression might be the tranches (portions) of sanctions that are being imposed on him, his country, and his buddies, such as banning Russia from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions) banking system.

The old saying about the first casualty of war being truth helps to demonstrate just how effective the use of propaganda can be in times of conflict – if it’s done right. Putin’s threat to jail any journalists for 15 years if they use the word “war” or “invasion” rather than “special military operation” seems to be working when it comes to keeping the facts from the Russian public, at least those who don’t have access to the internet.

The original pretext for the Russian invasion was to have been a “false flag” operation (an attack that is designed to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the person or group responsible for it) in which Russia attacked its own troops and blamed the incident on Ukraine.

To defend their country, Ukrainians are being urged to commit acts of sabotage (an action aimed at weakening an opponent’s efforts through disruption or destruction) to slow the Russian advance into their country. These acts include everything from taking down street signs to blowing up bridges.


The Russian trucks and tanks that are flowing into Ukraine all carry a mysterious white “Z” marking on them. The fact that there is no Z in the Cyrillic alphabet used by Russians (the Russian Z looks like our number 3), has left people wondering about the meaning of the big Roman Z.

Speculation included that it might stand for — when translated into our Roman alphabet —  “Za pobedu” (for victory), or maybe “Zapad” (west, the direction in which they’re headed). On March 3, on Instagram, the Russian Ministry of Defense apparently confirmed that the “Z” symbol was an abbreviation of the phrase “for victory.” Whatever the letter stands for, it has resulted in the invaders being referred to as the “Zorro Squad.”

Other weapons the Russians are making use of in the invasion are the Kalibr cruise missile (NATO reporting name: “Sizzler”), and Iskander ballistic missile (NATO name: “Stone”), which replaced the Gulf War-era Elbrus missile (“Scud”). They are also firing at Ukrainian aircraft using their S400 Triumf (NATO name: “Growler”) surface-to-air missiles. As for the hypersonic missiles Russia is believed to have fired into Ukraine, its Russian name is Kinzhal, (NATO reporting name: “Dagger”) and it is an air-to-surface missile.

Ukrainians are fighting back with American Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank rockets. They are also using versions of the AK-47 “avtomat” (automatic) Kalashnikov assault rifle, which was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947. Another weapon they’re using is the Molotov cocktail (a glass bottle that’s filled with gasoline and fitted with an improvised fuse), which the Finns sarcastically named after Russian politician Vyacheslav Molotov during WW II.

Ukraine is also asking for the delivery of Soviet-era MiG 29 jets (NATO reporting name: “Fulcrum”) from neighboring Poland. The jet’s “MiG” designation comes from the name of its manufacturer, Mikoyan and Gurevich. The “i” between the initials is the Russian word for “and.”

I wonder what the Russian words for “war crimes” are.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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