Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

In 2021 78% of responded Ukrainians considered Ukrainian their native language, and only 18% answered that their language is Russian.

However, Russian media seeks to portray Ukraine as a country that is geographically, ethnically, and politically divided by linguistic basis.

They say the Ukrainians from eastern and southern Ukraine are Russian speaking, and only some central regions and western Ukraine speak Ukrainian.

This stereotype is partly based on reality: eastern and southern Ukraine is rather Russified. But not because many Russians live there, but because of a long period of occupation: first by the Russian Tsardom, then The Russian Empire, and finally the Soviet Union.

Let’s explore how it happened.

17th century

In 1654, eastern and central Ukraine, including Kyiv, first came under Russia’s influence. Cossacks pledged their loyalty to the Tsar of Russia in the Pereyaslav Council.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

O. Kivshenko, Pereyaslav Council, 1980 Photo credit

Over the next century, Cossack Hetmanate gradually lost their autonomy and were absorbed by the Russian Empire. The rules of the Russian Empire constantly suppressed the Ukrainian language.

The manipulative lie about the Ukrainian language being a dialect of the Russian language began this time. It was clear that in order to conquer the people, you need to destroy their identity: language, culture, and traditions.

18th century

1720s – Peter I banned printing in the Ukrainian language and ordered all books to be rewritten from Ukrainian into Russian.

1763 – Catherine II banned the teaching of Ukrainian in Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (the centre of enlightenment at that time).

1775 – The destruction of the Zaporozka Sich (Cossacks’ proto-state) and closing of Ukrainian schools.

19th century

1847 – Increased persecution of the Ukrainian language and culture, the prohibition of the best works of Shevchenko, Kulish, Kostomarov and other writers.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) – the greatest Ukrainian poet.

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Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Panteleimon Kulish (1819-1897) – a writer, critic, poet, folklorist, and translator.

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Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Mykola Kostomarov (1817-1885) – a poet and an ethnographer.

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1863Valuev Circular (a secret decree (ukaz) of the Minister of Internal Affairs, of the Russian Empire Pyotr Valuev) prohibit publication of Ukrainian spiritual and popular educational literature, saying: “there wasn’t and could not have been a separate Little Russian (that’s what they call Ukraine) language”.

1870 – Dmitry Tolstoy, Minister of Education of the Russian Empire, commented that “the ultimate goal of education for all people of other descent, is their Russification”.

1876 – Alexander II Ems decree (announced in Bad Ems, Germany) banned Ukrainian literature publication and import, stage performances, and songs in Ukrainian.

1881 – Prohibition of teaching in public schools and conducting church sermons in Ukrainian.

1888 – Alexander the IIIrd banned the use of the Ukrainian language in official institutions and Ukrainian given names.

1895 – Prohibition by the Russian Empire Main Administration of publishing Ukrainian-language children’s books.

20th century

1914 – the decree of Nicholas the IInd (the last Tsar of the Russian Empire) prohibiting Ukrainian press.

1914 – 1916 – Russification campaign in western Ukraine.

More than 100,000 Ukrainian activists, scientists, teachers, priests, writers were sent to Syberia.

In the 20th century, The Russian Empire collapsed after World War Ι, but was replaced with a different aggressive state – the Soviet Union.

At the beginning of the century, there was a short period of “Ukrainization” – the practice of increasing the usage and development of the Ukrainian language and culture in education, publishing, government, and religion.

But it was short.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

The graduates from the city Luhansk Ukrainian courses 1925-1928

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Already in 1926, the persecution of the Ukrainian nationalists started and in 1933 – Stalin ordered to stop “Ukrainization”.

1932 – 1933 – the Great Famine (Holodomor) was a famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed millions of Ukrainians. This year is one of the most tragic pages in Ukrainian history.

1930 – 1940 – a period of The Executed Renaissance – the execution or repression by Stalin’s totalitarian regime targeting en entire generation of Ukrainian writers and artists.

Among them: Mykola Khvylovyi, Les Kurbas, Myloka Kulish.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Mykola Khvylovyi (1893-1933) – a writer and a poet.

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1970 – Order of the Ministry of Education of the USSR on academic thesis defence only in the Russian language.

1974 – The Communist Party of the Soviet Union announced the creation of the new “historical community – soviet people”; therefore, there were no Ukrainians, Russians, or Belarus anymore – only soviet folk.

1960 – 1980 – There was a movement of the Soviet dissidents.

The intellectuals – poets, teachers, and artists- who were against the government were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed.

Among them: Lina Kostenko, Vasyl Sumonenko, Vasyl Stus, Alla Horska.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

Vasyl Stus (1938 – 1985) – a poet, translator, literary critic, journalist, and an active member of the Ukrainian dissident movement.

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1990 – the Russian language was granted official status and proclaimed the only nationwide language.

In 1991 Ukraine gained its Independence, but the influence by the aggressive Russian state never stopped.

There were a number of campaigns aimed to promote the importance of the Russian language and culture in Ukraine. Especially in the eastern territories.

2012 – The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the law “On State Language Policy”, which aimed to extend the usage of the regional languages, therefore to raise the use of Russian.

In 2014 – The Russian Federation occupied Crimea and started the war in Donetsk and Luhansk region. As a result, 14,000 people were killed by 2021.

2014 – till now – The Ukrainian language has been suppressed and still is highly discriminated in Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk Regions.

People with pro-Ukrainian positions were forced to flee. Otherwise, they were persecuted, tortured, or killed.

What comes for the rest of Ukrainian territory, people there started to realize how important it is to protect your language in the context of the war.

There’s a cross-regional consensus on the need to support the Ukrainian language further.

Why Do So Many Ukrainians Speak Russian?

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Despite the attempts of the Russian propaganda to spread the myth about the Ukrainian language as a dialect of Russian and Polish, and therefore, the myth that the Ukrainian nation doesn’t exist, all of it brings the opposite result: more and more Ukrainians have switched to Ukrainian and are proud to call themselves Ukrainians.

I hope now you understand better why so many Ukrainians still speak Russian.

But for living in Ukraine or communicating with Ukrainians, you need to know the Ukrainian language. And our school is here to help you with it.

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