Many Ukrainians renounced the use of the Russian language after the invasion, , even those who were their native language.
On the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Oleksiy Savchenko stopped speaking his mother tongue.
“Before the invasion, I spoke Russian,” the former businessman told Al Jazeera, in Ukrainian language.
Since 2014. in the year when Russia annexed Crimea and supported separatists in Donbass, Savchenko led Army SOS, a non-governmental organization that supplied the Ukrainian army with precision guidance software.
Despite his anti-Russian stance, he used Russian language every day.
He was born and raised in Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, with a pre-war population of about 1.5 million, located near the border with Russia, where the Russian language was dominant.
But after the invasion began on February 24th, Russian forces targeted Kharkov almost daily, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing thousands.
Change of language balance
The Russian language dominates both the East and south of the country, while it is widely used in the rest of the country, including the capital Kiev, where Savchenko now lives, where Russian is still more widely spoken than Ukrainian.
The linguistic balance of Russian and Ukrainian, brother languages, has changed drastically over the past decade.
In 2012. 40 percent of Ukrainians considered Russian their mother tongue, while 57 percent said Ukrainian was their primary language, according to Ratings Group, an independent organization.
A month after the invasion began, 76 percent of Ukrainians described Ukrainian as their primary language, and only one in five said they still used Russian more, according to a survey of 25. March.
A third of those who speak Russian say they plan to “switch” only to Ukrainian.
Ukraine is home to many ethnic groups, including Hungarians, Roma and Crimean Tatars, whose languages are recognized and protected.
” Commitment to Russia is not determined by the language of communication, but by political attitudes and the interference of propaganda, and correlation with the level of support for pro-Russian parties,” the survey authors concluded.
Savchenko, who for years was critical of Russian politics but still spoke Russian until he decided to stop using the language of the invading nation.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, “protection of the Russian language” became the subject of many diplomatic conflicts with the former Soviet republics and the West.
The reason for the annexation of Crimea
Moscow has repeatedly complained to the United Nations, the European Union and international institutions about the “violation” of the rights of Russian speakers from the Baltic states to Central Asia.
But the focus of Moscow’s concern for language was Ukraine, and Putin has often said that Russians and Ukrainians are not two separate ethnic groups.
“I will never give up on the conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people,” he told the Russian Security Council on March 3.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded: “We are definitely not one people. “Each of them took their own path,“ he replied.
Kiev, on the other hand, encouraged “Ukrainization”, abolishing in 2014. the use of Russian as the” regional language ” of administration and education in the eastern and southern provinces.
This was the reason for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists in the Donbas.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is ignoring the linguistic rights of nearly two million Ukrainians who lived in Russia before the annexation of Crimea, where they were the second largest minority.
Public schools in Russia do not allow the use of the Ukrainian language, while many Ukrainians are under pressure to register as ethnic Russians in censuses.
For many in Ukraine, the war became the strongest reason for giving up the Russian language and culture to which it is associated.
“We don’t just have to stop speaking Russian, we have to stop thinking about it,” said Olena Pribitko, a 59-year-old lawyer who graduated from a Russian-speaking school and University in Kiev in the 1980s.
Ukrainian is the language of the peasants’
She is still outraged that Ukrainian has been stigmatized as a “low” language befitting only peasants in the Soviet era and post-Soviet 1990s.
“Anyone who spoke Ukrainian was immediately declared a peasant. We were told that only peasants speak Ukrainian,” she said.
Meanwhile, Zelensky’s government has declared a comprehensive de-russification project.
However, the Ukrainian leader, whose popularity exceeds 90 percent, did not always advocate monolingualism.
He grew up in a Russian-speaking Jewish family in the southeastern town of Krivi Rih, and made a name for himself by appearing in comedy shows on Russian television.
During the election campaign, he often spoke in Russian.
The de-russification of Ukraine accelerated drastically during the war.
Hundreds of streets, squares and other sites across Ukraine no longer bear the names of Russian figures, while memorial plaques bearing the names of ethnic Russian authors, artists and scientists have been removed. Their statues will be destroyed.
The curriculum of Ukrainian schools no longer prescribes works by Russian authors, and books written by Russian citizens can no longer be published. Songs and music of Russian performers are not performed in public. This can only be granted by the Ukrainian Security Service, after artists or authors necessarily condemn the “Russian aggression”.
Many Ukrainians support this.
“Everything related to Russia is foreign to me-songs, music, cinema,” said Savchenko, who in 2014. he stopped even listening to his favorite music band Ljube, a Russian group known for its nationalist image.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA