History of the Russian language in Ukraine

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The first known mention of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine refer to a small ethnic sub-group of Russians known as the Goriuns who resided in Putyvl region (what is modern northern Ukraine). These mentions date back to the times of Grand Duchy of Lithuania or perhaps even earlier,[1][2]

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 as a language of communication by Ukrainians.

Russian migration[edit]

The first waves of Russian settlers onto Ukrainian territory came in the late 16th century to the area known as Slobozhanschyna or Sloboda Ukraina, in what is now northeastern Ukraine. This territory was settled after being abandoned by the Tatars.[2] Russian settlers however were outnumbered by Ukrainian settlers who were escaping harsh exploitative conditions in the west.[3]

More Russian speakers appeared in northern, central and eastern Ukrainian territories during the late 17th century, following the Cossack Rebellion led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Following the Pereyaslav Rada the modern northern and eastern parts of Ukraine entered into the Tsardom of Russia. This brought a small wave of Russian settlers into central Ukraine (primarily several thousand soldiers stationed in garrisons,[3] out of a population of approximately 1.2 million [4] non-Russians). Although the number of Russian settlers in Ukraine prior to the eighteenth century was small, the local upper classes within the part of Ukraine acquired by Russia began to use the Russian language.

Beginning in the late eighteenth 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 eighteenth century due to the constant threat of raids by the Crimean Tatars, and once the Tatar state was eliminated, Russian nobles were granted large tracts of fertile land that was worked by newly arrived peasants, most of whom were ethnic Ukrainians but some of whom were Russians.[5]

The nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in the urban Russian population in Ukraine, as 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 of Ukraine's largest cities, 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%), Kropyvnytskyi (34.64%), Simferopol (45.64%), Yalta (66.17%), Kerch (57.8%), Sevastopol (63.46%).[6]

Adoption of Russian language[edit]

With the gradual urbanization of Society in the late 19th century, Ukrainian migrants from rural areas who settled in the cities entered a Russian-speaking milieu. With all State educational instruction and cultural establishments using Russian many Ukrainians were forced to use the Russian language.

The Russian government promoted the spread of the Russian language among the native Ukrainian population by actively suppressing the Ukrainian language. Alarmed by the threat of Ukrainian separatism implied by a growing number of school textbooks teaching the Ukrainian language, 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.[7] This ban was expanded by Tsar Alexander II who issued the Ems Ukaz in 1876. 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.[8] 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 forbidden.

While officially, there was no state language in the Soviet Union, Russian was in practice in a privileged position. The Ukrainian language was often frowned upon or quietly discouraged, which led to the gradual decline in its usage.

In independent Ukraine, although Russian is not an official language of the country, it continues to hold a privileged position and is widely spoken, in particular in regions of Ukraine where Soviet Russification policies were the strongest, notably most of the urban areas of the east and south.


  1. ^ F.D. Klimchuk, About ethnolinguistic history of Left Bank of Dnieper (in connection to the ethnogenesis of Goriuns). Published in "Goriuns: history, language, culture" Proceedings of International scientific conference, (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences, February 13, 2004)
  2. ^ a b Russians in Ukraine
  3. ^ a b Display Page
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-30071/Ukraine#404474.hook
  6. ^ Дністрянський М.С. Етнополітична географія України. Лівів Літопис, видавництво ЛНУ імені Івана Франка, 2006, page 342 ISBN 966-613-482-9
  7. ^ Miller, Alexei (203). The Ukrainian Question. The Russian Empire and Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century. Budapest-New York: Central European University Press. ISBN 963-9241-60-1. 
  8. ^ Magoscy, R. (1996). A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.