Ukraine and Russia are countries with intertwined histories. The last few years have however been disrupted by political conflicts which have affected intercultural relationships. The main weapon employed to pull these two nations away from each other has been a new language law. Since the early 2010s, many restrictions have been introduced to minimize the usage of the Russian language in Ukraine. Now Russian theatres in Ukraine have to translate their plays in Ukrainian, and all TV channels must exclude any comments in Russian, even though everybody speaks Russian there. The most dramatic example of a nation erasing its own history is the removing from the school curriculum of Nicolai Gogol, the world famous 19th century Ukrainian writer, because for a long time he lived in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Interestingly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Ukraine, as part of the Russian Empire, was almost completely converted to Russian speaking. The Ukrainian (‘malorussian – eg. ‘small’ Russian) language was considered the rough slang of Russian.
Today, communication in Ukraine is a real mixed-up challenge. Some people only speak Ukrainian, some only Russian. My family lives in East Ukraine, where the Russian language is the only language used, but in schools and universities student are forced to use only Ukrainian. As a result, nobody can write in Russian and speak Ukrainian. Language discrimination has led to real complications for the citizens, the ‘language weapon’ used by the government has been well and truly turned against its own people. The photo above is the illustration of the last tangible cultural connection between these two countries with intertwined histories.
On the plaque on the photo [in Ukrainian]: In this house in 1906 Anna Akhmatova, great Russian poet, lived here.
By Ekaterina Provornaya