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Ukraine Seeks Nationwide Linguistic Revival

The collapse of the Soviet Union left a complex mixture of ethnic groups in republics of the former empire. Their common language, Russian, expanded at the expense of native languages, which former Soviet republics are seeking to revive. Ukraine is demanding that students pass college entrance exams in Ukrainian, and the language is taught in all of the country's elementary and high schools. But as VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports, the effort involves practical obstacles, even outright hostility from some who are content to speak Russian.

A Ukrainian literature class in the Crimean city of Simferopol at School Number 25, where all other subjects are taught in Russian. Ukrainian is not the first language of these students, some of whom reveal greater proficiency than others. Eleventh grader Arthur Trotsky feels comfortable in both languages.

Arthur says there are people who do not like the Ukrainian language - basically grownups, because it is difficult for them to adapt. He says that children, however, are learning Ukrainian in school from grade one, and some even study it in depth. He adds that while older people are opposed, young ones support the Ukrainian language.

The vast majority of schools in Crimea use Russian for all subject matter, except Ukrainian. Raisa Masliuk, the principal of School #25, says if parents demanded that more courses be taught in Ukrainian, she would respond accordingly.

Masliuk says if there was a need to introduce Ukrainian classes, she would already be involved in personnel decisions, but her school does not face that issue. She says there are no applications that indicate children want to study in Ukrainian.

Demand for all-Ukranian schools increasing

But demand for all-Ukrainian schools in Crimea is slowly increasing. The 842 students at the Ukrainian School (Gymnasium) on the outskirts of Simferopol exceed the building's capacity. Half of the pupils are ethnic Russians and many have been turned away for lack of space.

Principal Natalia Rudenko says Crimean colleges do not prepare teachers for specialized Ukrainian language instruction.

Rudenko says colleges prepare teachers of Ukrainian language and literature, but not subjects such as history, mathematics and physics, which makes it difficult for all concerned. The administrator says the school tries to get around the problem by searching for teachers and instructing them on the spot in the local Ukrainian language community.

Teacher shortage breeds resentment

This teacher shortage breeds resentment among those who are otherwise favorably disposed to the Ukrainian language. Emine, a Crimean Tatar, is a student at the Ukrainian Publishing Academy in Simferopol.

Emine says teaching chemistry in Ukrainian, for example, is very difficult for the teacher and even more difficult for the student to understand. She notes that everything between Ukrainian and Russian is different - different words and different letters, which makes if difficult.

Older Russian speakers complain that Ukrainian is being forced upon the people of Ukraine. Magazines sold at newsstands, radio and television broadcasts, theater productions and virtually all conversations on the streets of eastern and southern Ukraine are in Russian.

Younger generation is comfortable speaking Russsian

Not surprisingly, Alexander Kolomayets, an elementary student at Simferopol's all-Ukrainian school, feels comfortable speaking Russian with friends.

Alexander says that when necessary, he and his friends speak Russian and switch into the language occasionally when they relax.

Some young people say speaking Ukrainian is cool or patriotic; those who grew up speaking Russian say their language is a fact of life and that they are no less patriotic Ukrainians. Ultimately, the resolution of Ukraine's linguistic divide may depend upon the recognition that learning any language is a difficult task that requires dedication and patience.