Russian language in Ukraine
The Russian language is the most common first language in the Donbass and Crimea regions of Ukraine, and the predominant language in large cities in the East and South of the country. The usage and status of the language (currently Ukrainian is the only state language of Ukraine) is an object of political disputes within Ukrainian society. Nevertheless, Russian is a widely used language in Ukraine in pop culture and informal and business communications.
History of Russian language in Ukraine
The East Slavic languages originated 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 the Golden Horde (from about 1240) and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania eventually allied with the Kingdom of Poland in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Muscovites under the Golden Horde developed the modern Russian language, people in the northern Lithuanian sector developed Belorussian, and in the 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 Oxford English Dictionary traces the word "Ukrainian" in English back as far as 1804.) The Russian imperial centre, however, preferred the names "Little" and "White" Russias for the Ukrainian and Belarusian lands respectively, as compared to Great Russia.
No definitive geographical border separated people speaking Russian and those speaking Ukrainian - rather gradual shifts in vocabulary and pronunciation marked the areas between the historical cores of the languages. Since the 20th century, however, people have started to identify themselves with their spoken vernacular and to 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: through 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 Ukrainian peasants from the west escaping harsh exploitative conditions outnumbered them.
More Russian speakers appeared in the northern, central and eastern territories of modern Ukraine during the late 17th century, following the Cossack Rebellion (1648–1657) which Bohdan Khmelnytsky led against Poland. The Khmelnytsky 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 of 1654 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 remained 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 what is now 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 St Petersburg had eliminated the Tatar state 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 what is now Ukraine, as ethnic Russian settlers moved into and populated the newly industrialised and growing towns. At 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%), Kropyvnytskyi (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
Alarmed by the threat of Ukrainian separatism (in its turn 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 allowed all other texts, including fiction. The Emperor Alexander II expanded this ban by issuing the Ems Ukaz in 1876 (which lapsed in 1905). The Ukaz banned all Ukrainian language books and song lyrics, as well as 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 Empire Census of 1897.
During the Soviet times, the attitude to Ukrainian language and culture went through periods of promotion (policy of "korenization"), suppression (during the period of Stalinism), and Ukrainization (with the epoch of Khrushchev). Ukrainian cultural organizations, such as theatres or the Writers' Union, were funded by the central administration. While officially there was no state language in the Soviet Union until 1990, Russian in practice had an implicitly privileged position as the only language widely spoken across the country. In 1990 Russian became legally the official all-Union language of the Soviet Union, with constituent republics having rights to declare their own official languages. 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.
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 Moldovans, 43,000 Tatars, 43,000 Armenians, 22,000 Poles, 21,000 Germans, 15,000 Crimean Tatars.
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 50% of the surveyed adult residents over 18 years of age considered their native language to be Ukrainian, 29% said Russian, 20% identified both Russian and Ukrainian as their native language, 1% gave 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. 83% of Ukrainians responding to a 2008 Gallup poll preferred to use Russian instead of Ukrainian to take the survey.
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.
Russian language in Ukrainian politics
The Russian language in Ukraine is recognized as the language of a national minority but not as a state language. It 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.
The issue of Russian receiving the 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 recent 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 status 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.
In 1994 a referendum took place in the Donetsk Oblast and the Luhansk Oblast, with around 90% supporting the Russian language gaining status of an official language alongside Ukrainian, and for the Russian language to be an official language on a regional level; however, the referendum was annulled by the Kiev government.
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 many major southern and eastern cities (Sevastopol, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Yalta, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kryvyi Rih, Odessa) followed suit. Several courts overturned the decision to change the status of the Russian language in the cities of Kryvyi Rih, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Mykolaiv while in Donetsk, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv oblasts it was retained.
In August 2012, a law on regional languages entitled any local language spoken by at least a 10% minority to be declared official within that area. Russian was within weeks declared as a regional language in several southern and eastern oblasts and cities. On 23 February 2014, a bill repealing the law was approved by 232 deputies out of 450 but not signed into law by acting-president Aleksandr Turchinov.
Surveys on the status of the Russian language
According to a survey by the Research and Branding Group (June 2006), the majority of respondents 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 a state language decreased (from 54% to 46%) and the number of opponents increased (from 40% to 45%) between 2009 and May 2012; in July 2012 41% of respondents supported granting Russian the status of a state language and 51% opposed it. (In July 2012) among the biggest supporters of bilingualism were 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. A survey conducted in February 2015 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that support for Russian as a state language had dropped to 19% (37% in the south, 31% in Donbas and other eastern oblasts). 52% (West: 44%, Central: 57%; South: 43%; East: 61%) said that Russian should be official only in regions where the majority wanted it and 21% said it should be removed from official use.
Although officially Russian speakers comprise about 30% (2001 census), 39% of Ukrainians interviewed in a 2006 survey believed that the rights of Russophones were violated because the Russian language is not official in the country, whereas 38% had the opposite position.
A cross-national survey found that 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 organize 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 a March 2010 survey, forced Ukrainization and Russian language suppression are of concern to 4.8% of the population.
Use of Russian in specific spheres
Russian literature in Ukraine
Historically, many famous writers of Russian literature were born and lived in Ukraine. Nikolai Gogol is probably the most famous example of shared Russo-Ukrainian heritage: Ukrainian by descent, he wrote in Russian, and significantly contributed to culture of both nations. Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev, as well as poet Ilya Erenburg. A number of notable Russian writers and poets hailed from Odessa, including Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, Anna Akhmatova, Isaak Babel. Russian child poet Nika Turbina was born in Yalta, Crimea.
A significant number of contemporary authors from Ukraine write in Russian. 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. Science fiction convention Zvezdny Most (Rus. for "Star Bridge") is held in Kharkiv annually. Russophone Ukrainian writers also hail from Kiev, those include Marina and Sergey Dyachenko and Vladimir Arenev. Max Frei hails from Odessa, and Vera Kamsha was born in Lviv. Other Russophone Ukrainian writers of sci-fi and fantasy include Vladimir Vasilyev, Vladislav Rusanov, Alexander Mazin and Fyodor Berezin. RBG-Azimuth, Ukraine's largest sci-fi and fantasy magazine, is published in Russian, as well as now defunct Realnost Fantastiki.
Outside science fiction and fantasy, there is also a number of Russophone realist writers and poets. Ukrainian literary magazine Sho listed Alexander Kabanov, Boris Khersonsky, Andrey Polyakov, Andrey Kurkov and Vladimir Rafeyenko as best Russophone Ukrainian writers of 2013.
According to H. L. Oldie, writing in Russian is an easier way for Ukrainian authors to be published and reach a broader audience. The authors say that it is because of Ukraine's ineffective book publishing policy: while Russian publishers are interested in popular literature, Ukrainian publishers rely mostly on grant givers. Many Ukrainian publishers agree and complain about low demand and low profitability for books in Ukrainian, compared to books in Russian.
In the media
- 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 programs are in Ukrainian on Ukraine-based media.
On 11 March 2014, amidst pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine, the Ukrainian National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting shut down the broadcast of Russian television channels Rossiya 24, Channel One Russia, RTR Planeta, and NTV Mir in Ukraine. Since 19 August 2014 Ukraine has blocked 14 Russian television channels "to protect its media space from aggression from Russia, which has been deliberately inciting hatred and discord among Ukrainian citizens".
Early June 2015 162 Russian movies and TV series were banned in Ukraine because they were seen to contains popularization, agitation and/or propaganda for the 2014–15 Russian military intervention in Ukraine (this military intervention is denied by Russia).
On the Internet
Russian is by far the preferred language on websites in Ukraine (80.1%), followed by English (10.1%), then Ukrainian (9.5%). The Russian language version of Wikipedia is five times more popular within Ukraine than the Ukrainian one, with these numbers matching those for the 2008 Gallup poll cited above (in which 83% of Ukrainians preferred to take the survey in Russian and 17% in Ukrainian.)
While government organizations are required to have their websites in Ukrainian, Ukrainian usage of the Internet is mostly in the Russian language. According to DomainTyper, the top ranking .ua domains are google.com.ua, yandex.ua, ex.ua and i.ua, all of which use the Russian language as default. According to UIA research, four of the five most popular websites (aside from Google) in Ukraine are Russian or Russophone: those are Vkontakte, Mail.ru, Yandex, and Odnoklassniki. The top Ukrainian language website in this rank is Ukr.net, which is only the 8th most popular, and even Ukr.net uses both languages interchangeably.
Among private secondary schools, each individual institution decides whether to study Russian or not. All Russian-language schools teach the Ukrainian language as a required course.
The number of Russian-teaching schools has 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.
Higher education institutions in Ukraine generally use Ukrainian as the language of instruction.
According to parliamentarians of the Supreme Council of Crimea, in 2010 90% students of Crimea were studying in Russian language schools. At the same time, only 7% of students in Crimea study in Ukrainian language schools. In 2012, the only Ukrainian boarding school (50 pupils) in Sevastopol was closed, while children who would not study in Russian language were to be transferred to a boarding school for children with retarded development (see Intellectual disability).
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.
As of 2008, business affairs in Ukraine were mainly dealt with in Russian.
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Украиноязычная фантастика переживает сейчас не лучшие дни. ... Если же говорить о фантастике, написанной гражданами Украины в целом, независимо от языка (в основном, естественно, на русском), — то здесь картина куда более радужная. В Украине сейчас работают более тридцати активно издающихся писателей-фантастов, у кого регулярно выходят книги (в основном, в России), кто пользуется заслуженной любовью читателей; многие из них являются лауреатами ряда престижных литературных премий, в том числе и международных.
Speculative fiction in Ukrainian is living through a hard time today... Speaking of fiction written by Ukrainian citizens, regardless of language (primarily Russian, of course), there's a brighter picture. More than 30 fantasy and science fiction writers are active here, their books are regularly published (in Russia, mostly), they enjoy the readers' love they deserve; many are recipients of prestigious literary awards, including international.
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(Ukrainian) З подачі "Регіонів" Рада дозволила російську у судах, Ukrayinska Pravda (23 June 2009)
(Ukrainian) ЗМІ: Російська мова стала офіційною в українських судах, Novynar (29 July 2010)
(Ukrainian) Російська мова стала офіційною в українських судах, forUm (29 July 2010)