Prospect MagazineProspect Magazine

Ukraine’s war of the words

By Jen Stout

14 Jun 2023 · 7 min read

informed Summary

  1. Language is at the heart of Ukraine's struggle for independence from Russia, with many Ukrainians now rejecting the Russian language.

Do you mind not speaking Russian?” The tobacconist cut me off abruptly, his voice catching with anger. “I am so fucking sick of Russian.” I’d tried to speak to him in my rudimentary Ukrainian, but it had brought an uncomprehending stare, so I’d switched. Everyone can in Ukraine, where bilingualism is the norm. But this was Lviv, a thoroughly Ukrainian- speaking city, and it was six months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country. Of course this guy was sick of Russian.

As in so many colonial struggles, language is at the heart of Ukraine’s attempt to free itself from the stifling and frequently deadly embrace of its larger neighbour. Until the invasion of 2014, establishing Ukrainian as the first language was almost unthinkable—despite the committed work of writers and poets to raise the profile of their mother tongue.

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