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Bilingual Ukrainians Abandoning the Russian Language Over War
Bilingual Ukrainians Abandoning the Russian Language Over War
Content bilingual ukrainians abandon russian language

The linguistic question was the subject of heated discussions long before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and even the start of the war in 2014. Russian propaganda promoted treating the Ukrainian language as the dialect of Russian. Another claim was the need to “protect” Russian-speaking people who leave in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine from “genocide”. That’s how Russian propagandists named the Ukrainian governmental policies that promoted the use of the state language.

Historical Background

Before February 24, 2022, approximately 30% of the Ukrainian nation considered Russian as their native language, and almost the entire population can speak or at least understand it. This was predetermined by the Russian occupation of Ukrainian lands for hundreds of years starting from the 17th century. During the Soviet era, the level of oppression toward Ukrainian-speaking people grew up even more. From Holodomor of 1923-1933 led to at least 7 million deaths to a constantly applied policy of discrimination and the Russification of the Ukrainians that rooted the perception of Ukrainian as a rural and not prestigious language. Limiting the use of Ukrainian in the administration and education and requiring the use of Russian led to the fact that the majority of Ukrainians are bilingual nowadays.

At the same time, the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine that suffered the most from occupations are mostly Russian-speaking nowadays. This fact was used by Russian propaganda in justifying the war as occupants declared that they are going to “protect” Russian-speaking Ukrainians from oppression. In fact, all those claims are lies because there are no violations of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.

Reasoning Behind Abandoning Russian

Ukrainians always fought against discriminating policies. Even Russian-speaking Ukrainians are strictly against the so-called “Russian world” and everything it imposes – annexing of Ukrainian territories, destroyed lives and possibilities, and a miserable existence overall. Though reasons that push Ukrainians to abandon the Russian language are multidimensional and it is usually a combination of reasons rather than just one. Let’s review the general trends:

  • Rejecting identification with the enemy. Probably the main reason why bilingual or Russian-speaking Ukrainians abandon the Russian language after the beginning of the full-scale invasion. People want to distance themselves from the language of the enemy. Many report almost physical disgust toward the sound of Russian. In some cases, this is caused by fear and the sense of helplessness when the usual life is destroyed, air raid sirens are sounding, and there is a need to hide in shelters to avoid deadly danger inflicted by the Russian army. In other situations, the refusal to have anything in common with the enemy can be observed in people who lived through occupation, survived tortures, or lost someone close in the war.
  • Personal protest. Language is a weapon. This can be proved by the demoralizing effect of the famous somewhat rude phrases used by Ukrainians to demonstrate resistance, mock, and offend the enemy such as “Russian warship, go f*ck yourself”. Abandoning Russian entirely as a personal choice means more than a refusal to be associated with the enemy. This is the major worldview shift and people make this choice consciously. Blogger Olena Monova was among those who openly declared her choice of full refusal to use Russian in texts due to Russian aggression.
  • Refusing to give power. Russia started the war claiming that Ukraine needs “de-militarization” and “de-Nazification”. The latter component presupposes giving the Russian language the status of the “power language” instead of Ukrainian. This is traditional expansionism. These absurd claims and horrible crimes instead of sticking to declared reasons led to the enforcement of anti-Russian tendencies in Ukraine. Refusal to give the Russian language the status and value occupants want is another reason why Ukrainians abandon Russian.
  • Unification of the state. Several studies showed that before the full-scale invasion, approximately 40% of the population was unwilling to fight. There was a considerable percentage of pro-Russian people in the Eastern and Southern regions of Ukraine. A remarkable transformation happened in society after February 2022. 77% of Ukrainians living in territories occupied by Russians now oppose any territorial concessions and peace treaties with aggressors – and these are predominantly Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Even though this is not abandoning the Russian language per se yet, the refusal to accept Russian values is the first step toward it. Moreover, refugees who lost their homes in occupied territories find support in Western, Ukrainian-speaking regions and start using Ukrainian more in order to feel a sense of unity with compatriots.
  • Cultural shield. Ukrainians decided to cut all possible ties with the Russian culture and it is not enough to stop using the language in everyday life. The Ukrainian government put severe restrictions on Russian books and music because cultural artifacts do not only promote the aggressor’s language but also attempt to change Ukrainians’ values and cultural code. For centuries restrictions on publishing Ukrainian books were contributing to the degradation of the culture. Dealing with the abundance of Russian books and songs will give the impetus to Ukrainian writers and musicians to create new content due to the increased demand. Moreover, people of culture, bloggers, and influencers intensively promote switching to the Ukrainian language – InfoCar YouTube channel who started producing videos in Ukrainian instead of Russian and Serhiy Prytula who promotes Ukrainian YouTube channels are just a few examples of this trend.

Can This Situation Change?

Many people say that this is unlikely. Even those who remain Russian-speaking for a variety of reasons really hate Russia for all its crimes. International sanctions are working, Russia is losing its reputation at an impressive pace, and as of the end of July 2022, there is a better than even chance that Russia will be designated “a State Sponsor of Terrorism”. This means full international isolation and the absence of any reasons to learn and speak the Russian language for all foreigners. With all the policies promoting the widespread use and development of the Ukrainian language, even Russian-speaking parents will raise Ukrainian-speaking children. And this means almost ultimate de-Russification of Ukraine.

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