Screenshot from Volodymyr Tyravsky's YouTube video

Ukrainian is a Slavic language written in the Cyrillic script and spoken by around 40 million people. Ukrainian speakers live mostly in Ukraine, but given the large and historical migration dating back to the 19th century, Soviet deportations, and the massive displacement of people following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian can be heard and seen in Central and Eastern Europe, North and South America, Australia, Russia, and many other places. 

There are between 12 to 15 different Slavic languages traditionally grouped into three linguistic branches: the southern, the western, and the eastern, which is what Ukrainian falls into, along with Belarussian and Russian. Those three predominantly use the Cyrillic alphabet and allow for some degree of mutual understanding, yet function as three separate languages. However, Moscow’s colonial view has often been that Belarussian and Ukrainian are “dialects” of Russian, and it has at times banned the use of Ukrainian in Ukrainian territories. The irony is that Kievan Rus, the civilization that combined Byzantine and early Slavic elements from the 9th to the 13th centuries, had its origins in today’s Kyiv, and then spread to what is today the European part of Russia. 

For a more detailed history of Ukrainian, here is a YouTube video in English by Volodymyr Tyravsky, Global Voices Ukrainian translation manager. 

During the Soviet period, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine established Ukrainian as one of its official languages and allowed for some media content, school education, and literature in Ukrainian, yet Russian was overall privileged as the gateway language to better job prospects and social status, as was the case in all non-Russian Soviet Republics. 

As the Soviet Union neared its dissolution, Ukrainian was declared the official language of the Ukrainian SSR in 1989. Shortly after that, in 1991, Ukraine gained independence. In Ukraine, November 9 is the Day of Ukrainian Writing and Language since its proclamation in 1997, in reference to Nestor the Chronicler.

The modern Ukrainian language appears in print in the late 18th century, and has since produced rich literature that is finally getting the attention it deserves outside of Ukraine, thanks to a renewed interest from global publishers. The Ukrainian language has also gained wider visibility through music, including via global events such as the Eurovision, where Ukraine won twice.  

Here is a selection of Global Voices’ reporting on the Ukrainian language and its presence in literature, music, and humor. Global Voices also translates its stories into Ukrainian

Stories about Ukrainian language, arts, and culture

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