Conflicts & War

The Russian speakers turning to Ukrainian

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Mar 13 (EFE).- One of Vladimir Putin’s stated intentions with his invasion of Ukraine was to protect the country’s Russian speakers, but in the wake of the war, a growing number of people from that community are turning to Ukrainian.

It is a trend that can be seen in the number of Ukrainian courses and conversation classes that have sprung up since the invasion.

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology claimed in a December survey that the number of people using Ukrainian in their day-to-day life now exceeded the use of Russian in all regions of the country, including in the majority Russian-speaking south and east.

According to the survey, the number of respondents who said they spoke Ukrainian in those regions was 29% compared to 27% who said they spoke Russian.

In the country as a whole, the number of people who speak Russian for their everyday activities fell from 26% in 2017 to just 15%, the survey said, while 58% said they spoke Ukrainian and 24% spoke both closely related Slavic languages interchangeably.

For some, making the switch requires effort.

“Today I did my homework alone, my daughter didn’t help,” says one of the students at a conversation club being hosted at a municipal library in Lviv, western Ukraine.

Most of the pupils here are women aged between 40 to 70 who have been displaced from south and east of Ukraine by the Russian invasion.

While their children would have learned Ukrainian at school or university, older generations received their education in Soviet times, when Russian was dominant.

“I understand Ukrainian, but I never had the need to learn to speak it correctly because almost everyone in my city spoke Russian,” says Natalia, an ethnic Russian from the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhya.

Olga, whose hometown in the Kherson region remains under Russian occupation, says: “We used to speak Russian in everyday life but it is changing rapidly as more people choose to speak Ukrainian in Kherson.”

Oksana Lutchyn, one of the volunteers united by the nationwide “Teach in Ukrainian” network, which runs similar clubs in such cities as Odesa, Dnipro and Balakliya in Kharkiv, says 55 people have attended the club in recent months.

In the Lviv region alone, some 80 Ukrainian courses and clubs by various organizers have been set up to provide a space to practice Ukrainian and to talk through the painful experience of living under occupation or fleeing from their shelled homes.

The switch to Ukrainian is still far from universal though. Olga recalls how she recently heard several uniform-clad Ukrainian soldiers speak Russian loudly on a street in Lviv.

“This wouldn’t have prompted any special reaction from me before the invasion yet this time it made my skin crawl,” says Olga, who now associates Russian language with the soldiers who occupied her home. EFE


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