Ukrainians Learn How to Speak Their Own Language

The Associated Press reports on how, at long last, the language of oppression and exploitation in Ukraine (that is, Russian) is being opposed at ground level. Ukrainians are learning to speak their own language — and there’s not a thing Russia can do about it!

The fidgeting, wide-eyed girls and boys squeezed around a table in Elizaveta Moklyak’s kindergarten class are helping lead a cultural and political revolution.

With her pointer and colorful posters, Moklyak teaches Ukrainian to Russian-speaking children — ensuring that by the end of the school year, the language of their homeland no longer sounds like a foreign tongue.

Today Ukrainian has emerged from second-class status, slipping quietly into the chambers of government and popular culture. This is more than a cultural change: It could doom any hopes Russia may have of restoring its traditional political influence over the country.

Just two years ago, some Russian-speaking regions in eastern Ukraine talked of secession, fearing dominance by Ukrainian speakers in the west. The language debate was one of the most divisive of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which helped oust Ukraine’s pro-Moscow leadership.

While competition for political power continues, Ukrainian may already have triumphed in the language war.

“I think there is the sense that Ukraine has passed over the hump on this issue, that there has been a big, but quiet, victory,” said Ivan Lozowy, a political analyst.

President Vladimir Putin appears deeply worried about the erosion of the use of Russian worldwide, and last week called for creation of a national Russian Language Institute. “Looking after the Russian language and expanding the influence of Russian culture are crucial social and political issues,” Putin said in his state-of-the-nation address.

In countries like Ukraine, that influence is shrinking. The nation’s Ukrainian-speaking west yearns to be part of Europe; the Russian-speaking east and south is the base of politicians who want to maintain Ukraine’s historic ties to Moscow. Pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych has said he would oppose aggressive “Ukrainianization.” But even Yanukovych has brushed up on his Ukrainian and now uses it — not only at official meetings, but at rallies of his Russian-speaking supporters.

Some Russian speakers feel besieged. Mykola Levchenko, 27, secretary of the Donetsk city council, said Russian speakers like himself suffer daily insults, and some Ukrainians even question his patriotism. When he buys a Ukrainian-made home appliance, he says, the directions come only in Ukrainian.

“In world society, Russian is a major language, Ukrainian isn’t,” he said. “Why would we give this up?”

After Ukraine became independent, it declared Ukrainian the sole state language and switched over more than 80 percent of its schools. Nearly all universities now teach in Ukrainian; as a result, parents push children to study Ukrainian early.

“Without this it would be difficult for him in life,” said Yulia Bondarenko, who speaks Russian at home to her 7-year-old son, Zhenya, but sends him to a Ukrainian-language school.

Ukrainian and Russian both use the Cyrillic alphabet and have the same linguistic roots, and it’s not uncommon to hear people slip seamlessly from one to the other. Many words are similar — the Russian word for apple is “yabloko,” Ukrainian is “yabluko” — but differences also are common.

For example, thank you in Russian is “spasibo;” in Ukrainian, it’s “dyakuyu.” And even simple words can be different: in Russian, yes is “da” and no is “nyet;” in Ukrainian, yes is “tak” and no is “ni.”

Ukrainians in Kiev joke that if a traffic cop pulls them over, they’ll curse in Russian, then switch to Ukrainian — which conveys an air of authority — to try to persuade the officer from writing a ticket.

“We have nothing against Russian, we all use it,” said Yuliya Vladina, a 22-year-old DJ. “But we have a language — Ukrainian — so why shouldn’t we promote that? It’s progressive. It’s hip.”

Ukrainian’s identification with pop culture appears to have been a key factor in its success, particularly among young people. Many popular bands sing in Ukrainian. Ivan Malkovych, director of a Ukrainian-language publishing house, rushed out a Ukrainian translation of the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series, beating Russian-language publishers. That success, he said, helped attract young readers to other Ukrainian-language titles.

Russian does maintain its dominance in some fields. Most national newspapers publish only in Russian, as do many magazines.

But every year, the demand for Ukrainian publications increases — propelled by readers who began learning the language in kindergarten classes like those taught by Moklyak.

5 responses to “Ukrainians Learn How to Speak Their Own Language

  1. Being in Ukraine many times, I found the Ukrainian language to be rich and beautiful. It sounds very soft to the ear and almost poetic. Slowly but surely Ukrainians are learning Ukrainian and reversing forced Russification of their language.

  2. Being in Ukraine many times, I found the Ukrainian language to be rich and beautiful. It sounds very soft to the ear and almost poetic. Slowly but surely Ukrainians are learning Ukrainian and reversing forced Russification of their language.

  3. Ironic , isn’t it ? After literally hundreds of
    years of suppression and the worst kind of
    russification , and yet the language prevails .
    The whole world knows the writer Nicholas
    Gogol as one of the great ” russian ” writers ,
    along with Turgenev , Pushkin , Dostoyevsky
    etc . , only now the great lie is exposed : Nicholas
    Gogol the ” russian ” , is really Mykola Hohol’ ,
    the Ukrainian . Why the confusion ? Quite simple really , you see Hohol , born and bred
    in Ukraine , wrote in …… russian ! Why would
    he do that , when practically all his work , except
    the last few years , were either about Ukraine
    or about Ukrainians ? Well , you see , it was either write in russian or never see your work
    published , or go to prison , or be exiled as
    was the case with Ukraine’s greatest poet ; Taras
    Schevchenko . Who because of his treatment
    by the moscovite czarist government coined the
    words that became as a standard to Ukrainians
    in their struggle against forced russification :
    ” I endure punishment , I suffer , but I am un-
    repentant ” .
    It took almost two centuries , but the genie is out
    of the bottle . That is why the moscovites are
    so psychotic on the language issue , they see
    all their efforts , lies , distortions , being exposed
    to the scrutiny of the world they have been
    deceiving for so long .
    The language problem in today’s Ukraine is
    unique to Ukraine .
    To begin with , since it came to Moscovy from
    Ukraine , it has always been understandable
    by both Ukrainians and moscovites . This was
    not the case with Armenia , Georgia , all the
    Baltic States , even Poland , since Polish is
    quite different from Ukrainian . Therefore the
    russification process was much easier in Ukraine.
    But the real reason is that no other country had
    to endure such intense russification as did Ukraine
    since it was the largest ( numerically ) and most
    important component of the moscovite empire ,
    both white and red . It is not an overstatement
    to say that no nation on earth sacrificed more
    to preserve it’s identity and language than
    Ukraine .
    Lastly , due to these Drakonian measures , millions of Ukrainians were exterminated or
    exiled forever to : Siberia , Kazakhstan , Mordovia , etc . , while their place was taken
    by millions of ethnic moscovites , who brought
    with them the protection of the moscovite
    government . They, and in many cases their
    decendants are the ones now protesting the
    ” forced Ukrainization ” , ( in Ukraine mind you )
    and doing everything possible to derail the
    reinstatement of the Ukrainian language .

  4. The artice states:

    Ukrainians in Kiev joke that if a traffic cop pulls them over, they’ll curse in Russian, then switch to Ukrainian — which conveys an air of authority — to try to persuade the officer from writing a ticket.

    Actually, curse words came from the kremlin and are part of the russification of the Ukrainian language. For many years I have been asking for curse words in Ukkraian, and I keep hearing words used by the moskali?

  5. Yanukovych outraged at government’s decision on obligatory use of Ukrainian in schools’ everyday life

    Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych has labeled as absurdity the government’s decision obliging the schools to use the Ukrainian language in everyday life.

    “This is another stupidity and another possibility to see what the policies of Yulia Tymoshenko will be, if a miracle happens and she will come to power,” he said in an interview with reporters in Odesa.

    While commenting on the cabinet of minister’s decision, he noted that one cannot humiliate people, who got used to speaking their native language.

    This decision will not be supported by the Ukrainian people, Yanukovych said.

    As reported, the Cabinet of Ministers has issued a resolution imposing the use of the Ukrainian language in everyday life in governmental and general education establishments.

    PS There are quite a few comments about the Ukrainian language at the above link.

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