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The Ukrainian language as a worldview marker

A cartoon on the situation with languages in Ukraine cartoon.
The Ukrainian language as a worldview marker
Article by: Iryna Stelmakh
Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
Kyiv – Every time we approach the Day of Ukrainian Literacy and Language, which is celebrated on November 9th, the painful language issue rises to the surface in Ukrainian society. Last time, Svoboda’s initiative to abolish the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law on language led to Vladimir Putin’s thesis about the “repression of Russian-speaking population” in the east of Ukraine. This precedent should serve as the definitive signal for the government that the Ukrainian language should be propagated from below and not from above, activists hope, and they are willing to teach Ukrainian to anyone who is willing for free at special courses.

Every Tuesday, third-year philology student Yulia Haleta turns from a Kyiv-Mohyla Academy student into a professor. The young woman has been teaching Ukrainian at special free courses for three months. Her students include not only Kyivans, but also migrants from the East and even former Russian citizens.

“Usually, phonetics is problematic for the students, differentiating ‘y’-‘i’, ‘e’-‘ye.’ They mix them up graphically and don’t know when to use them. It is a bit difficult to set up the articulation apparatus to pronounce Ukrainian sounds, they stumble on the soft consonants at the end of words, but we are trying to work with tongue-twisters, reading aloud, and they start talking in the middle or by the end of the course,” the young professor shares.

The free Ukrainian language courses have been going on for two years in 11 Ukrainian cities. They will soon begin in the liberated towns as well: Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Mariupol. The program lasts half a year, with one lesson per week, and there are over 1.5 thousand people willing to study, which is three times more than last year. However, most Russian-speaking students came to the courses not because of patriotic rigor but because they want to find a job.

“Of course, there are a certain number of people who felt ashamed that they lived in a country without knowing its language; however, there is a big number of people who come because of work. Documentation and business correspondence is in Ukrainian, and it is slightly problematic for them to work because they are not fluent,” adds Yulia Haleta.

The issue of language is as intimate as that of religion

Course organizer and coordinator Anastasia Rozlutska calls the language division a big problem for Ukraine, one gave Putin the opportunity to justify his actions with “the protection of the Russian-speaking population.” The issue of language is as intimate as that of religion, she emphasizes.

“When politicians start intervening with such intimate things, this does not sit well with people in many regards,” she says.

And it looks like it won’t sit well with them for a long time to come, adds civil movement Vidsich activist Inna Shevchuk. In honor of the Day of Ukrainian Literacy and Language, together with her friends, she held a protest near the President’s Administration with the demand to abolish the still-effective law ‘On the basics of state language policies,’ also known as the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law. The theatrical performance included characters such as the Ukrainian ‘language,’ ‘book’ and ‘television,’ who came to ‘President Petro Poroshenko’ for support, in response to which he offered them ‘cotton’ (derogatory term for Russians and Russian supporters).

“The greater the Russian-language contingent and content we have in any sphere and at any level, the bigger the threat that separatist moods will increase. Any Russian-speaking patriot will never say that we need Ukrainian to be the sole official state language. We wanted to show that when Poroshenko starts flirting with the separatists and wants to implement the Russian language as a regional one, he becomes the same ‘cotton-head’ that are fighting there,” explains the activist.

Makarov: the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law is a formality

However, journalist and writer Yury Makarov cautions the activists from raising the language issue again.

“Any dramatic movements in this direction are used by the enemy to launch another series of lies about the repression of the Russian-speaking population. The first rule is not to harm. However, before fighting this law, which in our situation is more of a formality, if I were in the shoes of the people who are concerned with the state of the Ukrainian language, I would try to change the situation with the real functioning of the Ukrainian language. This regards education, television, publishing and, finally, teaching the language to all those willing,” he reminds.

The Ukrainian language doesn’t need laws but periodicals, Ukrainian-language TV programs, books and music, Makarov adds. Only then will the Ukrainian language stop being an exemplary test for patriotism or loyalty to Ukraine.

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
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