David Marples

Recent opinion polls suggest that the number of Ukrainian speakers in Ukraine is rising, despite the recent closure of several schools in Makiivka.

According to the Razumkov Center, in the early years of the 21st century, the number of ethnic Ukrainians who spoke Russian was 3% higher than the number of Ukrainian speakers. However, today, 60% of residents of Ukraine consider Ukrainian to be their native language. When translated into the language of everyday usage, 53.3% of the general population speaks Ukrainian, and 44.5% Russian (L’vivs’ka poshta, Aug 25).

These figures are supported by a poll conducted by the Research and Branding Group (RBD) between August 12 and 22, and encompassing just over 2,000 respondents. The poll revealed that at home, 47% spoke Ukrainian, 37% Russian, and 15% spoke both languages. In terms of the language used at school or at work, 45% said Ukrainian, 35% Russian, and 18% both languages. Once again the poll indicates the growing use of Ukrainian, even though the current government has not actively promoted native language usage, and the majority of the current Cabinet is Russian speaking (Ezhenedel’nik, Sept 6).

In 2009, in a similar poll,RBD found that 56% of respondents supported official bilingualism, whereas only 41% considered that Ukrainian should be the sole state language. Today, those figures are more or less equal: 49% back bilingualism and 48% would prefer Ukrainian to be the exclusive language (Ezhenedel’nik, Sept 6). The resurgence of support for the Ukrainian language comes despite the fact that the local government in Makiivka accepted a decision last spring to shut down four Ukrainian schools. As reported by Anatoly Lukashyk, to the consternation of parents the resolution was accepted without any public discussion, and backed up by the district court despite protests of parents. President Viktor Yanukovych noted parents’ concerns but chose not to contest the decision. However, School No. 44 continues to function as a result of the strong stance taken by the parents in support of Ukrainian-language education (L’vivs’ka poshta, Sept 1).

In a related article, Lukashyk also notes that according to the Levada Center, whereas Russians believe that relations with Ukraine are better than in 2007, still 39% perceive them as cold or unfriendly, and only 28% see them as warm and friendly. Russians also have little time for Ukrainian leaders, particularly the leader of the opposition, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is “trusted” by 7% and distrusted by 71%. The respective figures for President Yanukovych are 33% and 50%. A plurality of Russians (40%) approves of the actions taken against Tymoshenko, whereas 25% disapprove; a rather surprising figure considering that the Russian government has also been very critical of her trial (L’vivs’ka poshta, Sept 1).

What can one conclude from these recent polls? They suggest that the role of the government in guiding language usage is at best ephemeral and that the progress of Ukraine toward a Ukrainophone environment continues the path that was inaugurated in the late 1980s, despite a relatively authoritarian and unhelpful regime in Kyiv. It is well known that for the Russians, Viktor Yushchenko as president became unacceptable and relations were virtually severed between the two neighbors by 2010. However, despite early indications, the relationship with President Yanukovych is anything but smooth, and Ukraine continues to build on the cultural foundations initiated two decades ago. Slowly but inexorably the Ukrainian language is taking root.

Stasiuk Blog Notes will appear occasionally throughout the year. The Program acknowledges the assistance of Oleksandr Melnyk, PhD candidate, University of Toronto, in compiling materials.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

One comment

  1. Schlomo

    I wouldn’t base my analysis on data from L’vivs’ka poshta, Try something a little more east-bound to ballance it out. It should prove more realistic.

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