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Ukrainian language slowly yet steadily displaces Russian in Ukraine

Each year on 9 November Ukrainians hold the radio dictation of national unity. Media broadcast how an Ukrainian writer reads aloud selected difficult text in Ukrainian. People write it down and can submit for grammar check. Although symbolical participation, not competition is the main for this event, those who make zero mistakes can win prizes. This year the event was conducted by famous Ukrainian writer Yuriy Andrukhovych.
Ukrainian language slowly yet steadily displaces Russian in Ukraine
On 9 November, Ukrainians celebrate the day of Ukrainian language and writing. It is celebrated since 1997, symbolically, on the day of Nestor the Chronicler, author of the most known chronicle of the Kyivan Rus The Tale of Bygone Years.

A new poll by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation demonstrates that the status and use of Ukrainian language in Ukraine continues slowly yet steadily increasing. A majority of Ukrainians support the state language policy centered around the promotion of Ukrainian language.

If in the 1990s Ukraine was roughly half-Russian and half-Ukrainian speaking, with Ukrainian often perceived as an inferior language and some MPs breaching rules to speak Russian in the Parliament, in 2021 such situations remain rare exceptions.

Language was always a cornerstone of Ukraine’s national identity, along with Ukrainian aspirations for individual and national freedom reflected already in 17th-century democratic Cossack institutions:

That is why the holiday of Ukrainian language is very important for contemporary Ukraine as well. It also bears political importance — the growing presence of Ukraine’s language in Ukraine, instead of Russian, is considered by the majority as symbolical liberation from 300-year-long colonial status in the Russian empire and the USSR.

The Ukrainian state has supported the Ukrainian language by various policies, especially during the 2004-2009 presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, when mandatory dubbing of films for cinemas was introduced in Ukrainian.

Ukrainian was also promoted during Petro Poroshenko’s presidency in 2014-2019, when his team adopted Ukrainian language quotas for radio and TV, and expanded education in Ukrainian to more than 90% nationwide. The team of current president Zelenskyy partially continued this policy, introducing on 16 January 2021 provision of 2019 law on services in Ukrainian by default.

Although each of the language reforms was debated by the Russian minority and Russian speakers in Ukraine, the sociology reveals that more people speak Ukrainian now than 20 years ago and a strong majority supports further expansion of Ukrainian in Ukraine.

Russian as a minority language in Ukraine vs Russian as Putin’s weapon: Is there a compromise?

According to the most recent study, published on 8 November and jointly conducted by Democratic Initiatives foundation and Razumkov center, the share of those who consider Ukrainian as their mother tongue has increased from 68% to 78% over the last 20 years, compared to the 2001 census. The increase could be partially leveled by the fact that the 2021 study doesn’t include the occupied areas of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

At the same time, the age dynamic demonstrates that younger people more frequently consider Ukrainian their mother tongue. 83% of Ukrainians aged 18-29 say Ukrainian is their mother tongue. This figure stands at 79% on average among other age groups and only 73% among those who are above 60.

“What is your mother tongue?” Source of image dif.org.ua, translated by Euromaidanpress

The self-identification of the mother tongue doesn’t necessarily mean that people actively speak it at home and in everyday life. Measuring this was always problematic for sociologists.

According to the quoted study, in central and western Ukraine, about 85% say they speak Ukrainian at home while 90-96% consider Ukrainian their mother tongue. Regarding south and eastern Ukraine, although 57% say Ukrainian is their mother tongue, only about 30% say they speak it at home. These numbers demonstrate a slow increase in the real practice of Ukrainian compared to 2012.

Also, a majority of people in all regions have noticed the increase in the use of Ukrainian language in their surroundings over the last six months, as the image below demonstrates. Most likely, it is the effect of the latest norms introduced on 16 January 2021 but also part of the general tendency.

“What changes have you personally noticed over the last six months regarding the frequency of the use of Ukrainian language?” Source of image dif.org.ua, translated by Euromaidan Press

The survey reveals an overall positive perception of the most recent state language policy that obliges businesses to serve in Ukrainian by default unless another language was requested by a customer. This policy is supported by 55% and opposed by 20%.

The latter 20% closely correlates with about 15% of supporters of the pro-Russian party Oppositional Platform and about 15% of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, although it doesn’t mean that all Russians support the Oppositional platform and oppose language policy.

“Do you support the norms introduced on 16 January 2021 regarding services in Ukrainian by defaults unless another language is requested by the customer?” Results according to the voting for one of four main Ukrainian political parties. Source of image dif.org.ua, translated by Euromaidanpress
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