July 11, 2023
Ukrainian is a beautiful, melodic language that is more than seven centuries old and spoken by 46 million people. In this blog, we introduce our Ukrainian teacher, Oksii (@Oksii33), and explore the complex history of this wonderful language.
You can find more of Oksii’s videos about Ukrainian and Ukraine on YouTube. In an interview with Oksii, we asked her about the Ukrainian language and her motivations for providing lessons for us:
“Hi, Oksii. Thank you so much for teaching us Ukrainian! We’d like to hear more about you. Are you a teacher?”
“I am not a teacher at all. I have never taught anyone in my life. I just started tweeting on Twitter to spread information about Ukraine and as people kept asking me ‘How would you say that in Ukrainian?’, I asked them if they would be interested in daily small Ukrainian lessons. People liked the idea. That is it!”
“What motivated you to provide lessons in Ukrainian?”
“My reason for providing lessons is to explain to people that Ukrainians have our own language: Ukrainian. I have been travelling all over Europe for the last 8 years. Most people, when they heard that I am from Ukraine, said, “It's Russia, you speak Russian, right?” People didn't know that Ukraine is a separate country and that we have our own language which was oppressed by Russians for centuries and was banned 134 times. For Ukrainians, we still need to protect the Ukrainian language, as centuries of oppression, unfortunately, can't be stopped in one day. Before 2014, only 10% of books online and in bookshops in Ukraine were written in Ukrainian, the rest were in Russian. In terms of education, school books were in Ukrainian (though not in all schools), but besides this, it was almost impossible to find any Ukrainian material, for example, for university, relaxation or for interest.”
“Why do you think it is important for international people to learn Ukrainian?”
“First, it's amazing to know that your culture is finally appreciated as it deserves and not oppressed as it has always been. Also, only 70% of Ukrainians use Ukrainian in daily life, and some are afraid to change, but I have seen how many Ukrainians started changing when they saw that international people are learning our language and appreciating it. That's really encouraging. Now Ukrainian TV shows and movies are booming, they are awesome, and Ukrainians are talented, especially in making shows.
“How do you see the future?”
“I believe Ukraine has a bright future. The new younger generation of Ukrainians is awesome, they are really amazing kids. The new younger generation is reviving our traditions and looking into our culture. Our country is changing radically.”
Speaking Ukrainian, even if only a few words, is an important way of showing solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Here’s why:
The history of the Ukrainian language is one of relentless suppression and oppression by Russian authorities. During the 400 years of Russian occupation and the era of the USSR (1922-1991), speaking and writing in Ukrainian has been banned over 134 times. Attempts to enforce Russian as the primary language of Ukraine include the persecution and execution of Ukrainian speakers and bans on producing Ukrainian books, Ukrainian-language schoolstraditional songslibraries and theatresUnder the USSR, 33 thousand Ukrainian words were banned and words similar to Russian were introduced in a policy of “russifying” the Ukrainian language and culture.
Russian propaganda has spread the idea that Ukrainian is merely a dialect of Russian, rather than a distinct language. In fact, there is strong evidence that the Ukrainian language predates the Russian language. A similar strategy to minimise the uniqueness of the Ukrainian language is the claim that Russian and Ukrainian languages are very similar – in fact, Ukrainian shares many more similarities with Polish than Russian.
Until 2014, only half of Ukrainian citizens used Ukrainian in daily life; some Ukrainian speakers were forced to switch to Russian in the face of bullying comments such as “Ukrainian is a village language,” “Ukrainian is just a dialect of Russian” and other Russian propaganda. However, in 2014 the Revolution of Dignity (Maidan or Euromaidan) and the Russian-Ukrainian war brought significant change and citizens became more aware of the importance of preserving the Ukrainian language and protecting it from Russian influence.
The Ukrainian language is now protected and enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine as the state language. In 2019, the law "On supporting the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the State language" ensures the development and functioning of Ukrainian in all spheres of social life throughout Ukraine.
However, the Russian policy of persecution continues today, with Russian soldiers destroying Ukrainian literature in occupied territories. The photo below shows the destruction in March 2022 of school books at the Chernihiv Library for Young People.
Learning a new language can feel like a bit of a challenge. However, even short phrases such as “Slava Ukrainia!” (Victory to Ukraine) can express your dedication to supporting the people of Ukraine. You can learn the basics of the Ukrainian language on our social media pages with Oksii , who has kindly provided lessons in Ukrainian for the complete beginner that will help you learn the essentials.
September 8, 2023
Culture and History