Ukraine has been using the Ukrainian and Russian languages as the two most commonly spoken languages for a long time now. Officially speaking, however, Ukrainian is the language of the state, so as you can probably imagine the situation is somewhat complex. To get a greater understanding of the situation, let’s go back through their history.

Ukrainian Language in the Past

Over the 19th century, there was a rapid escalation of the Russian Empire’s imperialistic language policy. During this time, not only was the Ukrainian language banned in public, but so too was Ukrainian literature, Ukrainian lyrics in folk songs, and any Ukrainian language stage performances.

At this point in time most Ukrainians lived in small towns and villages, and the population of Kyiv, for example, was made up of 54% Russians and only 22% Ukrainians. Kyiv was naturally growing as a Russian speaking city, however, when the industrial revolution kicked in, more and more started to travel into the city from the small towns and villages.

The language was not banned during the USSR as it had been in the 19th century, however, it was merging somewhat with Russian. The USSR’s language policy sought to remove differences between each nationality and feature Russian as the predominant, cross-national language, which lead to the Ukrainian language losing many of its own words and much of its grammar.

Ukrainian Language in the Present

Today, the majority of Ukrainian citizens can speak both languages fluently. Statistically, things break down as such:

On the question of what people consider to be their native language, 67.7% say Ukrainian, 17.4% say both, 13.8% say Russian, 0.7% say Other and 0.4% say Unsure.

Geographically, Ukrainian is the dominant language in the western regions of Ukraine, while Russian is more commonly spoken in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. Russian speakers will also dominate in large cities and industrial hubs, while Ukrainian will do so in the villages.

Ukrainians today will also often choose which language to speak depending on the situation they’re in. A 2017 study determined that 60% of Ukrainian citizens see the Ukrainian language as one to be used for formal communication, and 40% say they hear Ukrainian on public transport, in cafes, in shops or with family and friends.