Staunton, Sept. 17 – In one of the most dramatic developments highlighting the ways in which Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has undermined his goals there, ever more Ukrainians are speaking Ukrainian rather than Russian, with the shift especially large in the eastern portions of the country the Kremlin leader views as part of the Russian world and hopes to annex.
This linguistic shift has been going on since the end of Soviet times but it has accelerated since February 24th. In 2012, 37 percent of the people in Ukraine spoke only Russian at home. By 2021, that figure had fallen to 26 percent. And now it has declined to 13 percent (ratinggroup.ua/research/ukraine/s_mnadcyate_zagalnonac_onalne_opituvannya_dentichn_st_patr_otizm_c_nnost_17-18_serpnya_2022.html_patr_otizm_c_nnost_17-8_serpnya_2022.html).
The decline in the use of Russian at home has been especially great in the eastern portions of Ukraine, a reaction to Russian actions there that simultaneously is an affirmation of Ukrainian national identity and a change that is helping to unify the often-divided country between what was a largely Russian-speaking east and a Ukrainian-speaking west.
According to the Rating survey, Ukrainian residents have stopped watching Russian films or listening to Russian music since the start of the invasion; and they are turning ever more often to Ukrainian language media (euromaidanpress.com/2022/09/17/russias-war-is-speeding-up-the-ukrainization-of-ukraine/?swcfpc=1).
Indeed, as one activist put it, there is an increasing sense in Ukraine that the time is coming when everyone in Ukraine will speak Ukrainian because it is a form of the defense of the nation and “the language of the future” (espreso.tv/tse-mova-maybutnogo-yak-u-lvovi-pereselentsi-ukrainskoi-navchayutsya).
And perhaps especially important, this shift is highlighting something many outside of Ukraine deny: while most Ukrainians can understand Russian, they do so not because the languages are so similar but because of the position Russian has had in the media until very recently.
In fact, as Ukrainian scholars have shown and Euromaidan reports, “Ukrainian and Russian are quite different languages.” Ukrainian is closer to Belarusian, Polish and Slovak in terms of its lexical content and so Ukrainians who spoke only Russian are now having to learn their national language. The numbers show that they are doing so – with Putin’s unintended help.