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The East Slavic Languages of Ukraine

December 11, 2019

Unfortunately, Ukraine has been in the news a lot lately and for all the wrong reasons. Nonetheless, as our Congress tries to decipher all that was going on politically between the two nations, Ukraine remains a rather safe European destination. Unless you venture into the war zone, which accounts for a tiny part of the country's territory in the eastern region, safety is not a major concern for travelers these days. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state from the Soviet Union in 1991, when the parliament of Ukraine proclaimed that Ukraine would no longer follow the laws of USSR.

The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, an East Slavic language that is the native language of 67.5% of the population. Approximately, 29.6% of Ukraine's population living mostly in urban areas speaks Russian as their native language. According to Ethnologue, the remaining 2.9% of Ukrainians speak one of 40 minority languages. Most of these languages are native languages and dialects of the former Soviet Union. Although Russian and Ukrainian derived from the same roots of Old East Slavic, some say that Ukrainian is a fake language and just a vernacular of Russian. In fact, there are even reports that fake evidence exists to support the Russians claim.

Historically, what had happened was by the middle of the 17th century Ukrainian territories were being torn between allegiance to numerous countries. Over the next few centuries, the Ukrainian language became a mix with some Polish, Hungarian, Austrian and Romanian grammar and vocabulary, whereas Russian steadily evolved into the modern form we know today. As for the written word, Russian and Ukrainian use the Cyrillic alphabet and both alphabets consist of 33 letters. However, the same word in both languages can mean different things and, although the grammar of both languages is similar, there are noticeable differences with how tense is conveyed.

Since nearly every native Ukrainian is bilingual, the chances are good that anyone living in the Ukraine can easily communicate with anyone else. Although Ukraine is the largest country that is part of the European Union, it is the poorest country in Europe alongside Moldova in terms of GDP per capita. Conversely, Russia is the largest country on the planet. For Americans wishing to travel to Ukraine for business or pleasure, there is not much English spoken throughout the country. Nonetheless, restaurants, bars and hotels in the major metropolitan areas do have English-speaking staff.


Photo Courtesy of Andreas Wolochow

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