What language do the Ukrainians speak

mother tongue Ukraine: Russian is also our language

I grew up on the Crimean Peninsula, my mother tongue is Russian. In my life, Ukrainian only took place through Ukrainian lessons at school. But today it doesn't make a big difference to me whether I speak Russian or Ukrainian. Even if I tend to speak Russian in everyday life in Kiev, because Russian is still predominant in the capital. And here the language can sometimes be quite absurd: For example, my friend, who is a foreign diplomat, speaks Ukrainian very well. Sure, you think that he speaks Ukrainian with waiters in Ukraine, for example. But although he is clearly recognizable as a foreigner and although it is by no means a matter of course that foreigners can speak Ukrainian well, he is answered in Russian much more often.

An official language and still bilingual

This shows that even if Ukrainian is the official language, our country is clearly bilingual - Russian is too deeply rooted here for that. On the one hand, this is due to the targeted Russification of today's Ukrainian area during the times of the Russian Empire, on the other hand, the development of Russian in individual regions of the country was entirely "natural" due to the geographical proximity to Russia alone.

Rather, part of today's Ukraine not only spoke Russian, but also had a massive impact on its development. For example, a number of the best-known Russian-speaking writers, including Nikolaj Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, come from the Ukraine.

Russian as a mother tongue in Ukraine

Almost 30 percent of Ukrainians gave Russian as their mother tongue in the 2001 census. However, the language now has no official status in Ukraine. According to a controversial law during the tenure of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, it was only used between 2012 and 2018 as the "regional language" in nine southeastern regions of the country, including the autonomous republics of Crimea and Sevastopol, which have now been annexed by Russia.

New law prescribes Ukrainian

This April, however, the Ukrainian parliament passed the new language law that makes Ukrainian the only language in the country's public space. It is not as if the use of Russian and other languages ​​of the national minorities is prohibited in any way - another law is to be introduced soon that will supposedly protect them. The law also does not regulate private communication, but does ensure that Ukrainian is compulsory not only at the state level, but also, for example, in the arts and media sectors. The circulation of a newspaper or a book, for example in Russian or in other languages, can be at most as large as Ukrainian, in no way larger, the cultural events should also be held in the official language, and Russian-language programs on television must be set to music in Ukrainian. In theory, lessons in Russian will only be possible in kindergarten and in the first grades of school.

New President Zelenskyi himself does not speak perfectly Ukrainian

The law comes into force in mid-July. Most of the regulations are implemented with transition periods. It is noteworthy, however, that the Ukrainian parliament passed this law just days after the sovereign victory of the ex-comedian Volodymyr Selenskyj, a Russian native speaker who does not have a perfect command of Ukrainian. "Ukrainian is the only official language in the country, there can be no compromises here," commented Zelenskyj, who promised a deep analysis of the law. "But we have to make decisions that unite the people and not the other way around."

Ukrainian as a pitfall for politicians

Before Zelenskyi, Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych had already quarreled with Ukrainian for the first time. In a country where, even in the Ukrainian-speaking West, you can't get around Russian entirely, that's hardly surprising. And not only nationalists, who find Russian bad per se, think about what to do with the actual bilingualism. At the latest since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which Moscow justified with the protection of the Russian-speaking population of the peninsula, many have been calling for a move away from Russian. According to the motto: wherever Russian is spoken, Russian tanks are coming soon.

Russian is not left to Moscow alone

But there are enough voices here in Ukraine who believe that Russian cannot be left to Moscow alone. And when I look at the situation in Kiev, I tend to agree with this attitude. There are just too many people who use Russian not for political reasons, but only because it is completely natural to them. To just give up this part of Ukrainian culture would be a shame, even if the development of Ukrainian in a sovereign country must of course have priority.

Our east blogger in Ukraine