It is time to speak Ukrainian in Ukraine

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2015/01/15 • Analysis & Opinion, Op-ed

Article by: Oleksandr Hunko

The writer Olena Stepova wrote in Facebook that in the center of Luhansk she met a bus driver who spoke Ukrainian. He explained that he and his pals had simply decided to speak Ukrainian as a protest against idiocy.”Now I read every day, I study, I listen to pronunciation,” he said.

When Napoleon’s troops invaded Russia in 1812, the elite of Saint Petersburg abruptly switched to speaking Russian. They did so despite the fact they had poor command of the language and had considered it a language of slaves.

Until then the French language dominated in the upper echelons of Russian society. It represented ideas of freedom, liberalism, and various fashionable trends. The nobility also included Poles, Germans, Dutch, Italians, and the English. In short, at meetings and balls all the European languages could be heard except for Russian.

However, the war with the “enemy” raised such a wave of patriotism that nobles and the intelligentsia quickly adopted the language of their people. Speaking French began to be considered in bad taste.

In Ukraine today there is also a war with an aggressor. And there is sufficient patriotism. Volunteers, battalions, voluntary organizations, local self-defense units, flags on cars and balconies, the national hymn sung in squares and stadiums provide vivid evidence.

Unfortunately, however, Russian — the language of the enemy — continues to dominate in society.  A strange term has even appeared — Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriots/nationalists. The absolute majority of ATO soldiers and volunteers speak Russian. It has become virtually the only language of military communication on the battlefield.

And in the capital, the majority continue to communicate in Russian. Even workers from the Kyiv, Poltava, and Cherkasy oblasts somehow switch to “the generally accepted language” as soon as they cross the Kyiv boundary. When reproached, they shrug their shoulders, explaining that everyone here speaks that way. Obviously, many still cling to the strong Soviet myth that Ukrainian is the language of peasants, that it is a secondary, imperfect language and so on. But in reality, that is not true. Ukrainian belongs to the most developed languages of the world and absolutely gives no cause for shame.

Therefore, all of you who consider yourselves patriots, switch to Ukrainian. Only the Ukrainian language can serve as a means of identification for the nation. Any remarks on the order of “what difference does it make as long as the person is decent” are no longer simply uninformed; they are damaging. We must take command in our corner of the world with our minds and souls. And they manifest themselves most fully in the language of our ancestors, who have lived on this land for ages and have fortified it not only with their blood but with their thoughts, their songs, their speech.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
Source: Gazeta

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  • arpete29

    That’s true, a language is a means of identification of a nation, I’m just back from Catalunya which is part of Spain but they use first Catalan and secondary the spanish ( castllano ) the two flags also; but for Ukraine it’s not so easy because of his history;

  • W8post

    Doesn’t start the native language at home? So, first the parents/tutors and followed by the school[s] / educational institutions to teach the language, in this case Ukrainian.
    But what counts as ‘native language’? I live in a country that speaks Spanish. However, it is NOT the same as Spanish Spanish (spoken in Spain), it’s Mexican Spanish; the same counts for all the former Spanish colonies; they all have their ‘own’ Spanish. Besides in Mexico, there are +/- 50 different languages spoken, of which each of them counts as their ‘Native Language’, depending of whom you’re speaking to.
    What about Switzerland or Belgium? There is no Swiss nor Belgian language. But those people DO communicate with each other.
    What’s the problem with Ukraine? It MUST be possible to teach, learn, speak and write in Ukrainian; and Russian as a second language. A pity for the ‘imported’ people from Russia (or other CIS countries for that matter) but they DO LIVE in Ukraine, where they speak Ukrainian, so they should adapt! And like it is in Belgium, one MUST be bi-lingual to get a Government job. (in Belgium you must both speak French and Dutch, which in Belgium is called ‘Wallon’ and ‘Flamish’)

  • gmab

    Agreed. Ukraine must be the only official language. English, French & German should be offered in schools as 2nd languages since Ukraine is a European country not a Vassal of Russia anymore. Russia is past history now especially with the War. Ukraine will move forward while Russia will collapse. Who needs Russian language?

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    There will NEVER BE A REAL INDEPENDENT SOVEREIGN UKRAINIAN STATE UNTIL ALL UKRAINIANS SPEAK UKRAINIAN by default. (they will all always have a perfect command of “russian” as a second language in any case).

    Take a lesson from the Jewish people:

    … who ALL TOGETHER BEGAN TO SPEAK HEBREW in their BESIEGED, VULNERABLE STATE of Israel under military attack from all sides.

    Hebrew was a DEAD language until it was revived IN ODER TO SOLIDIFY THE IDENTITY OF THE JEWISH STATE. This was a hundred times more challenging than for Ukrainians to speak…THEIR OWN LANGUAGE IN THEIR OWN LAND.

    Go to Ukraine and hear “russian” spoken everywhere…

    Hear “russian” spoken abroad in Rome, Paris , NY, Berlin, Zürich and find out that so-called “ukrainians” are speaking… sickening. FU

    TIME TO MAKE A CHOICE!:

    UKRAINE… or an equivocal, neo -pseudo state- a second class “russia” or “little russia” UP TO YOU, UKRAINIANS, TO FINALLY CHOOSE- are you UKRAINIANS OR NOT?

    WAKE UP, YOU UKRAINIANS!

    The LANGUAGE QUESTION WILL ULTIMATELY DECIDE WHETHER there will be a UKRAINE… OR NOT.

  • Rosti

    It’s funny how Putin main reasons for starting the war with Ukraine… 1) “To allow Russians to speak Russian in Ukraine” … Well if that’s wasn’t ALREADY the case for hundreds of years, it will surely change now! 2) “Ukraine should not join NATO”… Thanks to Putins invasion, Ukraine dropped its non-aligned status and is closer to joining NATO than ever. Before the invasion, the support in Ukraine for NATO was around 20% and now it’s closer to 90%. All these things make you wonder, was Putin trying to raise the image of Russia or just make Russians all over the world be ashamed of their nationality?

  • Michel Cloarec

    What a surprise ! Do you think it is the right time to start this kind of arguments!
    Is it not National Unification of Ukraine which is the most important just now ?
    People who feel confortable with russian language for 1000 of reasons should continue to feel so for Ukraine sake !
    This woman on the photo below, knows Ukrainian, but all her family speaks russian !
    Do you think that she would feel more attached to Ukraine if she would stop to use the russian language ?
    Europe is many languages together ! Uppermost , it is communication which is the most important , I wish myself I could master russian language, even ukrainian !
    In doing so, it would not help me to support russia !
    You are on a dangerous trail, you are giving wrong signals to russia, to the separatists and the terrorists. Please restrain your ambitions ( I understand fully your goals) It is not the right time !

    • W8post

      You’re WRONG! It’s not a matter people shouldn’t, or couldn’t speak Russian Nobody says they that. The FACT is that Ukraine has its own language and as such should be encouraged to use it. NOT to make it obligatory (like they do in Crimea and the so called ‘republics’, where RUSSIAN is obligatory and by refusing to speak it, you risk your life) – especially for people speaking Russian their whole life. But YES, children at school should be taught UKRAINIAN. With your comment you make the situation even worse! – The Language Situation, that is. –

      • Michel Cloarec

        Absoluty right ! Nothing wrong with Ukrainian language ! Of course the language should be taught in schools !
        But European Union is to brake the barriers and frontiers and brotherhood ! As many languages as possible should be used !
        Ukraine is attacked with all sorts of nicknames (style nazi etc….)
        I repeat again, don´t feed the anti Ukraine with arguments. Take it easy ! Ukraine´s time will come , and then Ukraine will still have russian speaking people and all will help to rebuild the country !

      • Michael Couck

        Agreed.

      • Michel Cloarec

        Your map shows what a big challenge it will be, but it is not impossible ! My comments had one goal. It is not the time to irritate putin just now. He would be so happy to wawe this article in front of Merkel´s nose . “see what I said in April” ” I must defend the russians”
        “they want to eliminate my brothers ” Let this war ends and then make a strong Ukraine with strong own identity .

    • Michael Couck

      You have a point, but, my wife(Russian native speaker, from Poltava, living in Belgium now), now speaks exclusively Ukrainian with the kid. It is a show of solidarity, and patriotism against an aggressor that speaks Russian exclusively.

      • Michel Cloarec

        I wish I could do the same ! But I am too old to start to learn a new language. but SLAVA UKRAINIA I can

        • Michael Couck

          I know Michel, I am also at the age where another language is just too much 😉

          • W8post

            HOW old are you (both) Michel & Michael? [sounds almost like a comic act…]; I’m 70 – and next month I will start taking lessons and even go to Lviv to accomplish my goal: learning Ukrainian! Just for the fun of being able to read [and write?] to the headers on my Facebook page!

          • Michael Couck

            😉 Comics, lol… You are right, I am not too old(43)… hat off to you, bravo! :)

          • Nowhere Girl

            I also started learning Ukrainian – here, in Poland. There is a free (!) e-mail course, plus I also started reading any Ukrainian-language texts with my notebook and writing down all new words and constructions that differ from what is automatic for a Polish speaker…

  • Rick Skaggs

    I agree that the Ukrainian language needs to be taught in schools and we need to encourage its growth in Ukraine, however, we should not be so quick to force it on older people like myself. We grew up in the USSR and as a result, speak Russian. I would love more than anything to know Ukrainian language but it is difficult for older people to learn. Do not be so quick to condemn us for not speaking Ukrainian! We are no less patriots and are in full agreement that Ukrainian language needs to be first and foremost in our schools with English being an important second language as it has become international. If I am in France, South Africa, india, China or Brasil it is English language that allows all to communicate! In Ukraine, we need to all strive to learn our native language and preserve it. This is a patriotic goal!

    • W8post

      I think you should read my comment to Michel Cloarec. (again?) You can’t teach an old dog new tricks; it’s the same with language. I never said that people speaking Russian could’t be Ukrainian patriots. The problem is that many Russian speaking people are imported (or descendants ..) from Russians (as in other CIS countries) to replace the natives of the places where they now live. This thanks to Stalin. Kill the locals and replace them with native Russians. Can’t blame the new settlers to NOT admire and love the places where they were dumped. We are talking about the ’30. But what about the second, and even the third generation? They’re grown up in Ukraine. And, unless they are educated by their parents to hate their new patria, why couldn’t they assimilate with their new surrounding, and that includes speaking the language of Ukraine?

      • Nowhere Girl

        I read – exactly here, at Euromaidan Press – that young Russians in Ukraine now consider the Ukrainian political nation an attractive choice. They no longer think of themselves as administrators sent to govern a poor, backward colony, they feel at home and assimilate – maybe not yet linguistically, but surely culturally. Actually, some Russian commentators consider it something wrong because it outs their worldview upside down – they can’t accept the idea of “superior” Russians assimilating to an “inferior” culture instead of assimilating it…

  • Erik Plesner

    Ukraine should be aware and respect that around 40% of its people has Russian as their native language. The conflict with Russia and the DPR/LPR terrorists has shown that you can be loyal to Ukraine and speak russian at the same time. These two themes are not related.
    One of the reasons of the initial support for independence in East-ukraine was the effort of Kiev to oppress the russian language. Hence Ukraine has no alternative other than to allow russian as a second official language in regions with many russian-speaking citicens.
    Multi-lingual countries are everywhere, e.g. Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Canada.
    Ukraine has to forget the idea that russian is enemy-language and ukrainian is peasant-language. Both are equal-worth languages in modern Ukraine.

    • Michael Couck

      Ture, but to solidify the country as a whole, and break away from the identity of a Russian federated state, having Ukrainian as the primary language is an extremely strong statement. Essentially it will mean a complete break with Russia, and from historical evidence, countries that have abandoned the language of the oppressor never go back.