Russian language in Ukraine
The Russian language in Ukraine is the most common first language in Donbass and Crimea regions, the predominant language in large cities in the East and South of the country. It gained the status of a regional language in several southern and eastern oblasts (provinces) and cities following the passing of a controversial language law in August 2012. The usage and status of the language (currently Ukrainian is the only official language of Ukraine) is an object of political disputes within Ukrainian society. Nevertheless, Russian remains a widely used language in Ukraine in pop-culture, informal and business communications.
- 1 History of Russian language in Ukraine
- 2 Current usage statistics
- 3 Russian language in Ukrainian politics
- 4 Use of Russian in specific spheres
- 5 See also
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 References
- 8 External links
History of Russian language in Ukraine
East Slavic languages originate in the language spoken in Rus. Significant differences in spoken language in different regions began to be noticed after the division of the Rus lands between Golden Horde and Lithuania. Lithuania, in time united with Poland. Muscovites under the Golden Horde developed the modern Russian language, people in the northern Lithuanian sector developed Belorussian, and in southern Polish sector Ukrainian.
It is worth noting that the ethnonyms "Ukraine" and "Ukrainian" were not used until the 19th century. The land was known in the West as Ruthenia, and the people as Ruthenians. The Russian imperial centre, however, preferred the names "Little" and "White" Russias, so as to describe the culture and linguistic differences with that of the "Great" Russians.
There was no geographical border between people speaking Russian and Ukrainian but rather gradual shift in vocabulary and pronunciation along the line between the historical cores of the languages. Since the 20th century, however, people have started to identify themselves with their spoken vernacular and conform to the literary norms set by academics.
Although the ancestors of a small ethnic group of Russians - Goriuns resided in Putyvl region (what is modern northern Ukraine) in the times of Grand Duchy of Lithuania or perhaps even earlier, the Russian language in Ukraine has primarily come to exist in that country through two channels: the migration of ethnic Russians into Ukraine and through the adoption of the Russian language by Ukrainians.
The first new waves of Russian settlers onto what is now Ukrainian territory came in the late 16th century to the empty lands of Slobozhanschyna that Russia gained from the Tatars, although they were outnumbered by Ukrainian peasants escaping harsh exploitative conditions from the west.
More Russian speakers appeared in northern, central and eastern Ukrainian territories during the late 17th century, following the Cossack Rebellion led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky. The Uprising led to a massive movement of Ukrainian settlers to the Slobozhanschyna region, which converted it from a sparsely inhabited frontier area to one of the major populated regions of the Tsardom of Russia. Following the Pereyaslav Rada the modern northern and eastern parts of Ukraine entered into the Russian Tsardom. This brought the first significant, but still small, wave of Russian settlers into central Ukraine (primarily several thousand soldiers stationed in garrisons, out of a population of approximately 1.2 million non-Russians). Although the number of Russian settlers in Ukraine prior to the 18th century was small, the local upper classes within the part of Ukraine acquired by Russia came to use the Russian language widely.
Beginning in the late 18th century, large numbers of Russians settled in newly acquired lands in southern Ukraine, a region then known as Novorossiya ("New Russia"). These lands had been largely empty prior to the 18th century due to the threat of Crimean Tatar raids, but once the Tatar state was eliminated as a threat, Russian nobles were granted large tracts of fertile land that was worked by newly arrived peasants, most of whom were ethnic Ukrainians but many of whom were Russians.
Dramatic increase of Russian settlers
The 19th century saw a dramatic increase in the urban Russian population in Ukraine, as ethnic Russian settlers moved into and populated the newly industrialized and growing towns. This phenomenon helped turn Ukraine's most important towns into Russophone environments. By the beginning of the 20th century the Russians were the largest ethnic group in almost all large cities within Ukraine's modern borders, including the following: Kiev (54.2%), Kharkiv (63.1%), Odessa (49.09%), Mykolaiv (66.33%), Mariupol (63.22%), Luhansk, (68.16%), Kherson (47.21%), Melitopol (42.8%), Dnipropetrovsk, (41.78%), Kirovohrad (34.64%), Simferopol (45.64%), Yalta (66.17%), Kerch (57.8%), Sevastopol (63.46%). The Ukrainian migrants who settled in these cities entered a Russian-speaking milieu (particularly with Russian-speaking administration) and needed to adopt the Russian language.
Suppression of the Ukrainian language
The Russian government promoted the spread of the Russian language among the native Ukrainian population by actively refusing to acknowledge the existence of the Ukrainian language. At the same time, most Ukrainian literature was printed in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Alarmed by the threat of Ukrainian separatism influenced by recent demands of Polish nationalists, the Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Valuev in 1863 issued a secret decree that banned the publication of religious texts and educational texts written in the Ukrainian language as non-grammatical, but allowing all other texts, including fiction. This ban was expanded by Tsar Alexander II who issued the Ems Ukaz in 1876 (which lapsed in 1905). All Ukrainian language books and song lyrics were banned, as was the importation of such works. Furthermore, Ukrainian-language public performances, plays, and lectures were forbidden. In 1881, the decree was amended to allow the publishing of lyrics and dictionaries, and the performances of some plays in the Ukrainian language with local officials' approval. Ukrainian-only troupes were, however, forbidden. Approximately 9% of population spoke Russian at the time of the Russian Census of 1897.
The Soviet government adopted a policy of Ukrainization. Ukrainian cultural organizations, such as theatres or Writers' Union, were funded by central administration. While officially there was no state language in the Soviet Union until 1989, Russian was in practice in a privileged position, implicitly because it was the only language widely spoken across the country. The Ukrainian language, despite official encouragement and government funding, like other regional languages, was often frowned upon or quietly discouraged, which led to a gradual decline in its usage. From around 1960s all dissertations were required to be written in Russian only and submitted only in Moscow. That caused most scientific works to be written exclusively in Russian. Studying Russian in all schools was not an option, but the requirement and later in 1980s the teaching of it was ordered to be improved.
Current usage statistics
There is a large difference between the numbers of people whose native language is Russian and people who adopted Russian as their everyday communication language. Another thing to keep in mind is that the percentage of Russian-speaking citizens is significantly higher in cities than in rural areas across the whole country.
According to official data from the 2001 Ukrainian census, the Russian language is native for over 14,273,000 Ukrainian citizens (29.3% of the total population). Ethnic Russians form 56% of the total Russian-speaking population, while the remaining Russophones are people of other ethnic background: 5,545,000 Ukrainians, 172,000 Belarusians, 86,000 Jews, 81,000 Greeks, 62,000 Bulgarians, 46,000 Moldavians, 43,000 Tartars, 43,000 Armenians, 22,000 Poles, 21,000 Germans, 15,000 Crimean Tartars.
Therefore the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine forms the largest linguistic group in modern Europe with its language being non-official in the state. The Russian-speaking population of Ukraine constitutes the largest Russophone community outside the Russian Federation.
According to July 2012 polling by RATING 55% of the surveyed adult residents over 18 years of age believed that their native language is rather Ukrainian, 40% - rather Russian, 1% - another language. 5% could not decide which language is their native one. Almost 80% of respondents stated they did not have any problems using their native language in 2011. 8% stated they had experienced difficulty in the execution (understanding) of official documents; mostly middle-aged and elderly people in South Ukraine and the Donets Basin.
According to a 2004 public opinion poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, the number of people using Russian language in their homes considerably exceeds the number of those who declared Russian as their native language in the census. According to the survey, Russian is used at home by 43–46% of the population of the country (in other words a similar proportion to Ukrainian) and Russophones make a majority of the population in Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine:
- Autonomous Republic of Crimea — 97% of the population
- Dnipropetrovsk Oblast — 72%
- Donetsk Oblast — 93%
- Zaporizhia Oblast — 81%
- Luhansk Oblast — 89%
- Mykolaiv Oblast — 66%
- Odessa Oblast — 85%
- Kharkiv Oblast — 74%
Russian language dominates in informal communication in the capital of Ukraine, Kiev. It is also used by a sizeable linguistic minority (4-5% of the total population) in Central and Western Ukraine.
According to data obtained by the "Public opinion" foundation (2002), the population of the oblast centres prefers to use Russian (75%). Continuous Russian linguistic areas occupy certain regions of Crimea, Donbass, Slobozhanschyna, southern parts of Odessa and Zaporizhia oblasts, while Russian linguistic enclaves exist in central Ukraine and Bukovina.
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Russian language in Ukrainian politics
The Russian language in Ukraine is not a state language, and is only recognized as language of a national minority. As such, the Russian language is explicitly mentioned in the Constitution of Ukraine adopted by the parliament in 1996. Article 10 of the Constitution reads: "In Ukraine, the free development, use and protection of Russian, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine, is guaranteed". The Constitution declares Ukrainian language as the state language of the country, while other languages spoken in Ukraine are guaranteed constitutional protection. The Ukrainian language was adopted as the state language by the Law on Languages adopted in Ukrainian SSR in 1989; Russian was specified as the language of communication with the other republics of Soviet Union.
Ukraine signed the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages in 1996, but ratified it only in 2002 when the Parliament adopted the law that partly implemented the charter.
Regional language 2012
Effective in August 2012, a new law on regional languages entitles any local language spoken by at least a 10% minority be declared official within that area. Russian was within weeks declared as a regional language in several southern and eastern oblasts and cities. Russian can now be used in these cities/Oblasts administrative office work and documents.
Second official language?
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The issue of Russian receiving status of second official language has been the subject of extended controversial discussion ever since Ukraine became independent in 1991. In every Ukrainian election, many politicians, such as former president Leonid Kuchma, used their promise of making Russian a second state language to win support. The current President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych continued this practice when he was opposition leader. But in an interview with Kommersant during the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election-campaign he stated that the statued of Russian in Ukraine "is too politicized" and said that if elected President in 2010 he would "have a real opportunity to adopt a law on languages, which implements the requirements of the European Charter of regional languages". He implied these law would need 226 votes in the Ukrainian parliament (50% of the votes instead of the 75% of the votes needed to change the constitution of Ukraine). After his early 2010 election as President Yanukovych stated (on March 9, 2010) "Ukraine will continue to promote the Ukrainian language as its only state language". At the same time he stressed that it also necessary to develop other regional languages.
Former president Viktor Yushchenko, during his 2004 Presidential campaign, also claimed a willingness to introduce more equality for Russian speakers. His clipping service spread an announcement of his promise to make Russian language proficiency obligatory for officials who interact with Russian-speaking citizens. In 2005 Yushchenko stated that he had never signed this decree project. The controversy was seen by some as a deliberate policy of Ukrainization.
In 2006 the Kharkiv City Rada was the first to declare Russian to be a regional language. Following that, almost all southern and eastern oblasts (Luhansk, Donetsk, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Kherson oblasts), and major cities (Sevastopol, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Yalta, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kryvyi Rih, Odessa) followed suit. By ruling of several courts, decision to change the status of the Russian language in the cities of Kryvyi Rih, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv have been overturned while in Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv oblasts it was retained. According to survey by "Research and Branding group" (June 2006) the majority of the interviewed supported the decisions of local authorities: 52% largely supported (including 69% of population of eastern oblasts and 56% of southern regions), 34% largely did not support the decisions, 9% - answered "partially support and partially not", 5% had no opinion.
According to an all-Ukrainian poll carried out in February 2008 by "Ukrainian Democratic Circle" 15% of those polled said that the language issue should be immediately solved, in November 2009 this was 14.7%; in the November 2009 poll 35.8% wanted both the Russian and Ukrainian language to be state languages.
According to polling by RATING the level of support for granting Russian the status of the state language has decreased (from 54% to 46%) and the number of opponents has increased (from 40% to 45%) since 2009 (till May 2012); in July 2012 41% of respondents supported granting Russian the status of the state language and 51% opposed it. (In July 2012) among the biggest supporters of bilingualism where residents of the Donets Basin (85%), South Ukraine (72%) and East Ukraine (50%). A further poll conducted by RATING in September–October 2012 found 51% opposed granting official status to the Russian language, whereas 41% supported it. The largest regions of support were Donbas (75%), southern (72%) and eastern (53%), whereas nearly 70% of northern and central Ukraine, and 90% of western Ukraine were in opposition.
Although officially Russian speakers comprise about 30% (2001 census), 39% of Ukrainians interviewed in a 2006 survey believe that the rights of Russophones are violated because the Russian language is not official in the country, whereas 38% had the opposite position.
On a cross-national survey 0.5% of respondents felt they were discriminated against because of their language.
According to a poll carried out by the Social Research Center at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in late 2009 ideological issues were ranked third (15%) as reasons to organized mass protest actions (in particular, the issues of joining NATO, the status of the Russian language, the activities of left- and right-wing political groups, etc.); behind economic issues (25%) and problems of ownership (17%).
According to March 2010 survey, forced Ukrainization and Russian language suppression are of concern to 4.8% of the population.
Use of Russian in specific spheres
In the media
A 2012 study showed that:
- on the radio, 3.4% of songs are in Ukrainian while 60% are in Russian
- over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books are in Russian
- 28% of TV programs are in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels
Russian-language programming is sometimes subtitled in Ukrainian, and commercials during Russian-language program are in Ukrainian on Ukraine-based media.
On the Internet
While government organizations are required to have their websites in Ukrainian, the Ukrainian section of the Internet is mostly Russian-speaking. For example, the Russian Wikipedia is 5 times more popular in Ukraine than the Ukrainian one. When searching for the keyword "авто" ("cars") in Ukrainian Google, 9 out of 10 most relevant pages are in Russian.
Whether to study the Russian language or not in the particular secondary school is up to this institution. The Ukrainian language is studied as a required course in all Russian language schools.
The number of Russian-teaching schools has been systematically reduced since Ukrainian independence in 1991 and now it is much lower than the proportion of Russophones, but still higher than the proportion of ethnic Russians.
The Law on Education grants Ukrainian families (parents and their children) a right to choose their native language for schools and studies.
Since January 1, 2010 it is allowed to hold court proceedings in Russian on mutual consent of parties. Citizens, who are unable to speak Ukrainian or Russian are allowed to use their native language or the services of an interpreter.
Russian literature in Ukraine
There is a significant number of authors from Ukraine who write in Russian language. This is especially notable within science fiction and fantasy genres. Kharkiv is considered the "capital city" of Ukrainian sci-fi and fantasy, it is home to several popular Russophone Ukrainian writers, such as H. L. Oldie (pen name for Oleg Ladyzhensky and Dmitry Gromov), Alexander Zorich, Andrei Valentinov, and Yuri Nikitin. Russophone Ukrainian writers also hail from Kiev, those include Marina and Sergey Dyachenko and Vladimir Arenev. RBG-Azimuth, Ukraine's largest sci-fi and fantasy magazine, is published in Russian.
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