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Ukraine/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

According to the Constitution of the Ukraine (Article 10), the official language is Ukrainian. The same Article guarantees the free development, use and protection of Russian and other languages of national minorities. The Law on Culture (2011) establishes that the "State ensures the comprehensive development and functioning of the national language in cultures all over Ukraine, promotes the creation of the domestic (national) culture product in Ukrainian and its popularisation in Ukraine and abroad; free use of other languages is guaranteed in the sphere of culture".

According to the 2001 census, 67.5% of the population of the Ukraine consider Ukrainian their native language and 29.6% name Russian as their native language. According to social monitoring studies undertaken by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences, the Ukrainian language is used in daily communication by 42% of families, Russian by 36%, and both languages by 21%. The ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages by the Ukrainian Parliament on 15 May 2003 revived the debate on language policies and emphasised the need for a new basic law. The Presidential Decree on the Concept of Linguistic Policy (see also chapter 5.1.9) proclaimed the need, in particularly, to improve existing language laws.

However, the Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy in Ukraine, authored by representatives of the ruling Party of Regions and adopted by parliament in July 2012, triggered protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. On signing this bill into law on 8 August 2012, the President, Viktor Yanukovych, ordered the Cabinet of Ministers to form a working group to draw up proposals to improve laws regulating the use of languages in the country.

On 23 February 2014, Verkhovna Rada annulled the 2012 law returning to previous principles. However, such a decision approved by the parliament after revolutionary events in Kyiv provoked tensions in the eastern part of Ukraine and Crimea. Local and Russian politicians argued that such a shift might lead to a ban of the Russian language in these, mainly Russian speaking territories. Reacting to this situation, young people from Ukrainian speaking Lviv organised a day of Russian speaking while activists from Eastern Ukraine (Luhansk, Donetsk) organised a day of Ukrainian speaking. The acting parliament speaker who acted as well for the president, Mr Turchynov, vetoed the new law, and the new prime minister, A. Yatseniuk, ordered the elaboration of an updated version of the Language Law.

The new President of Ukraine, P. Poroshenko, said that the new Language Law should be worked out considering all challenges. As of January 2015, the Law on Annulment of the Language Law 2012 was not vetoed or signed by the President.

Table 2:     Printed output (general data), 2011-2014 (9 months)


Number of titles (2011)

Number of copies (2011)

Number of titles (2012)

Number of copies (2012)

Number of titles (2013)

Number of copies (2013)

Number of copies (2014, 9 months)

Share of 2013

Books and booklets

22 826

46 565 700

15 595

33 927 600

17 193

46 360 200

24 127.5


In Ukrainian

14 962

23 509 900

9 603

15 806 100

10 463

23 671 000

11 720.5


In Russian

5 420

19 072 500

4 474

16 225 100

4 949

20 102 900

11 425.5


Abstracts of theses

7 920

807 500

4 640

472 600

5 600

567 500

316 700


Source:     Book Chamber of Ukraine, 2013, 2014.

The Law on Education grants Ukrainian families (parents and their children) a right to choose their native language for schools and studies. In 2001, there were 20 988 secondary schools in Ukraine, including 16 677 schools teaching in Ukrainian, 1 154 in Russian, 88 in Romanian, 66 in Hungarian, 15 in Crimean Tatar, 6 in Moldavian, 5 in Polish, etc. The network of educational establishments is formed according to the national composition of a territory.

2012 periodicals for national minorities were registered in the Ukraine on different levels in 2012, 75 of which were published in the language of a national minority: Russian, Polish, Crimean Tatar, Bulgarian, Romanian, Byelorussian, German, and Turkish (see chapter 4.2.4). 137 periodicals are bilingual or trilingual, for example: Russian and Crimean Tatar, Ukrainian and Hungarian, Ukrainian and Russian, etc. At the same time, a huge number of mainstream periodicals are printed in Russian.

National TV and radio stations provide special programmes in the languages of national minorities: Russian, Crimean Tatar, German, Greek, Bulgarian, Armenian, Hungarian, and Romanian (see chapter 5.1.9).

Chapter published: 05-06-2015

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