ERR in Ukraine: War boosting interest in Ukrainian language

Ukrainian language lesson in Kolomyia.
Ukrainian language lesson in Kolomyia. Source: ERR

While Russian as well as other languages are widespread alongside the Ukrainian language in Ukraine, interest in Ukrainian has increased due to the ongoing war. Teacher Artur Proidakov has made it his mission to teach Ukrainian to Russian-speaking internally displaced persons who have reached western Ukraine, ERR's Anton Aleksejev and Kristjan Svirgsden report.

Until recently, Kolomyia had been home to some 60,000 people, 95 percent of whom primarily spoke in Ukrainian. When Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, more than 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) ended up in Kolomyia, primarily from Russian-speaking parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.

"If not all, then at least most of them understand Ukrainian very well," Proidakov said. "They understand what I'm saying, but it's difficult for them to speak in Ukrainian, avoid code-switching and [speaking with] a Russian accent. It's difficult for them to switch from Russian to Ukrainian and start speaking. That is why we're focusing on spoken language specifically, to avoid Russian-language expressions, code-switching — so that one can clearly express their thoughts in Ukrainian specifically."

Last year, Proidakov was crowned Ukraine's Teacher of the Year. A native of Luhansk Oblast, he moved to Sumy Oblast when the war began in Donbas in 2014, and to Kyiv two years ago. This February, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he and his family had to move once again — this time to western Ukraine.

"I'm not a professional soldier; I don't get a lot of military matters," he admitted. "Then I decided that I need to be active on my own front, meaning on the education front. Right now there are a lot of Russian-speaking people who want to speak Ukrainian better. People want to learn the language; due to Russian aggression, many even want to switch completely over to the Ukrainian language. I think I have enough experience and materials to teach the Ukrainian language to children and adults. I'm doing it for free, systematically, but also in an interesting way."

Those attending his language classes include fellow IDPs, whose native language, unlike his, is Russian. They no longer want to speak Russian, however.

"For one thing, it is currently the language of the occupiers," Yevgeny said. "For another, we're currently in a part of Ukraine where people speak to one another in Ukrainian. It would be rude to talk to them in some other language. It would be unpleasant for these people, and besides, we are their guests."

"Right now, living in Kolomyia, this is a good opportunity to improve my Ukrainian," Natalya said. "These classes provide a good opportunity to do so; I'm learning to speak it correctly here. As for Odesa, Russian, Moldovan and Turkish are also spoken there."

When the war ends and Natalya is able to return to her native Odesa, she does not intend to speak Russian there anymore.

"Believe me, after everything that has happened, I'm going to start speaking Ukrainian," she said. "It's very cool."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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