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Official: Russia's A Tongue to Shun in Ukraine

A war of words is waging between the Russian and Ukrainian languages in Russia's neighbor state. Despite traditional Slav ties binding the two nations ethnically and historically, state officials in Ukraine seem bent on proving the two peoples are far from sharing the same communications cultureThe linguistic landscape has darkened, Russia's language getting the cold shoulder. Ukrainian nationals' perceptions are being massaged to regard Russian as a tongue to shun.

"Bolsheviks have been propagating the Russian language for 70 years. Now it’s time to reclaim historical justice," folk are being told. "The Soviet Union was an empire, of which Russian was the official language," they're urged to swallow. "It's easy to learn Ukrainian, so there's no language problem. There are lazy people who don't want to learn it." Likewise, "since there are no Ukrainian schools in Russia, why should Ukraine have Russian schools?".

Psychological tuning like this is fuelling a favorable climate for anti-Russian language policy in Ukraine.

Relations between Ukrainian and Russian have been uneasy over many decades. A dual language system has existed for years. Now, the authorities want to push Russian back over the border. The two languages have much in common, so it won't be hard for non-speakers to learn Ukrainian, runs the campaign rhetoric. But that's simpler said than done.

A Russian friend of mine has been living in the Ukrainian town of Galichina for 30 years. People there speak only Ukrainian, so the fellow remains an outsider. No matter how hard he tries to learn Ukrainian, he still has a Russian accent. He can never be not Russian.

It's not hard for a Russian in Ukraine to understand the lingo, but enjoying the experience is another matter as a foreign mind still has to grapple with non-native words. Russians living in the Ukrainian language find this total immersion far different from just using it as a communications tool.

I've led much of my life in the Russian city of Norilsk, in Krasnoyarsk region, alongside many local Ukrainians. Official statistics put the community at around 25-30 percent, no doubt natives of Ukraine's Russian areas.

I've never heard those people speaking the Ukrainian language, and no-one's ever thought of opening a Ukrainian language school there. One such school opened in Moscow, but closed quickly for lack of students.

Ukraine should have two working languages, one of them Russian. If the government there suddenly ruled Russian the only state language, pronouncing Ukrainian the national minority tongue, I'd be first to oppose.

Today, only in print production is Russian not oppressed in Ukraine. Most newspapers and books here are printed in the Russian language. Still, official statistics claim the Russian-speaking population in Ukraine is a meagre 29.3 percent.

Either Ukrainians don't like to read, or there's another reason to explain a paradox in which the discrepancy is clear. One becomes concerned about the fate of Ukraine and its peoples when pseudo-patriots lay the foundations of future national conflicts.

Roman Melnikov
Kiev
Ukraine

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