Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Russian Flag for the Environment

People streaming into Moscow's Olympic Stadium this week to enjoy the fourth annual Kremlin Cup tennis tournament were able to leave a lasting mark on the event - their signatures, penned in permanent ink on squares of fabric destined to become Russia's first Earth Flag.

The tournament's mostly Russian spectators had to squeeze past banners and booths advertising everything from Miller beer to Budget rental cars to get to the table where three members of Earth Day Russia, a branch of Earth Day International, were actively recruiting signatures for the flag.

"Come on, defend your country! " Dmitry Fakeyev, coordinator of Russia's Earth Flag project, which is being sponsored by Coca-Cola, urged the sometimes-hesitant onlookers.

Many people eagerly took up pens to scribble their names and other messages on the squares of nylon, including one man who drew a sun over his name.

The large nylon panels will ultimately be sewn together, with a Russian flag in the center, to create an enormous, double-sided flag which its organizers hope will measure over 1, 000 square meters and boast at least 800, 000 signatures.

"Something that size can't be ignored", said Jonathan Burke, the general director of Earth Day Russia, who explained that the goals of the flag project are to encourage interaction from the public and to present a visible symbol of widespread grassroots support of environmental change to politicians and industrialists in Russia and worldwide.

The project, which began last month, is in support of the United Nation's Earth Pledge, which was created during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Earth Day Russia, founded this year as a result of the summit, is focusing its efforts on this flag, which will travel to various parts of Russia collecting signatures at sporting events, theaters and other large gatherings.

A large sign bearing the Russian translation of the pledge is posted wherever signatures are being gathered. This project will continue through next March, when the panels will be sewn together, given a 6-inch border printed with the Earth Pledge, and formally presented to the Russian people at Earth Day celebrations on April 22, 1994. The flag will then travel on to other countries to serve as an example for environmental awareness.

Earth Day International was established in July, 1990, following the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day. In Russia, where social and political chaos have made the country's growing environmental problems a low priority, commemorations like Earth Day are crucial for keeping Russians aware of the issue, Fakeyev said.

"People always need to think about the Earth, even during hard times", Fakeyev said, adding that although the environmentalist movement is still in its initial stages in Russia, Russians have always been intensely interested in and protective of nature.

Fakeyev said he was sure the Earth Flag and similar projects would eventually enjoy widespread support.

Several of the players in the Kremlin Cup have also signed the flag, along with spectators from around the world.

One German tourist attending the tournament commented, "I'm impressed at how these Russians seem to still care about the earth, with all their other problems".

But as Vanya Voronin, a student at MSU, said, "The environment is something you can believe in. It keeps me optimistic".