Ukrainian becoming de facto the language of Ukraine, Viatrovych says

A new signpost in Kyiv, Ukraine. Similar Ukrainian-English language signs are finally replacing the common Russian-language signs, a remnant of Ukraine's three and half centuries-long status as a colony of the Russian monarchic that transformed into Soviet communist empire. (Image: UNIAN)

A new signpost in Kyiv, Ukraine. Similar Ukrainian-English language signs are finally replacing the common Russian-language signs, a remnant of Ukraine's three and half centuries-long status as a colony of the Russian monarchic that transformed into Soviet communist empire. (Image: UNIAN) 

2016/10/13 • Analysis & Opinion, Language, Ukraine

Kyiv’s announcement that railway stations in Ukraine within three months will have signs in Ukrainian and English but not in Russian shows Ukrainian is becoming de facto and not just de jure language of Ukraine and that Ukrainians want to dispense with the Russian imperial past and become part of Europe, Volodymyr Viatrovych says.

Volodymyr Viatrovych, Ukrainian historian (Image: Hannah Beitzer)

Volodymyr Viatrovych, Ukrainian historian
(Image: Hannah Beitzer)

In a commentary on the Apostrophe portal today, the director of Kyiv’s Institute of National Remembrance says that Ukrainian is the only state language in Ukraine and that “there are no people in Ukraine who do not understand [it].”

As for the use of English, he continues, “this is testimony to the openness of Ukraine to the world because it is one of the main world languages” and is a way to make Ukrainian closer to Europe and to those of its residents “who do not understand Ukrainian.”

Infographic: Frequency of Communist and Ukrainian origins in the names of main streets of Ukrainian cities and towns in 2012 (Image: texty.org.ua, translated by Euromaidan Press)

Infographic: Frequency of Communist and Ukrainian origins in the names of main streets of Ukrainian cities and towns in 2012 (Image: texty.org.ua, translated by Euromaidan Press)

And as for the dropping of Russian, this is part and parcel of the broader need Ukrainians feel for dispensing with “the Soviet-imperial heritage.” Some people thought that doing this or renaming streets, cities and villages in Ukraine could lead “almost to a civil war, but nothing of the kind happened.”

Viatrovych says that he is “certain that Ukrainians must give exclusively Ukrainian names to population points. There should not be any piety for Russian toponymy in Ukraine,” although it is of course entirely possible to have place names draw from figures in Russian culture. But “their domination seems to me completely inappropriate.”

Infographic: The crimes of Communist regimes worldwide. (Image: Ukrainian Crisis Media Center)

Infographic: The crimes of Communist regimes worldwide. (Image: Ukrainian Crisis Media Center)

“If someone very much likes Russian toponymy, Russian culture, Russian language, and Russian history, then it is obvious that for such people there is their own state – Russia.” But Ukrainians have the right in their state to promote Ukrainian, not Russian. He adds that now there is “no chance” that Russian will ever be a state language of Ukraine.

The elimination of communist names from population points, cities and districts has now been “100 percent completed,” he continues. The only thing remaining is to rename two oblasts: Kirovograd and Dnipropetrovsk. That is more complicated because they are mentioned in the constitution, but either amendments or a new constitution will open the way to change.

Street signs are also changing rapidly from Russian to Ukrainian, although it would be well, Viatrovych says, if this process were speeded up and not impeded by officials and others who say that the population will have to pay a special tax for that. Such claims are not true and must be dismissed.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • wisesteve

    its a complex issue, millions of Ukrainians especially in the east of ukraine have Russian as a first language, but they in no way consider themselves Russian,I think Ukraines first steps are the right ones