War in Ukraine spurs decline in Russian-language use, survey shows

Since the onset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians’ attitudes on language policy appear to be shifting, according to a recent survey of people residing in the country.

Rating Group, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was established in 2008 to conduct sociological research in Ukraine, released the results of its most recent survey on the country’s national identity, patriotism, and values. In its report of the survey results (link is in Ukrainian), Rating Group included the results of past iterations of the same survey (which it has now conducted 17 times), allowing for a longitudinal analysis of the sociolinguistic shifts taking place across the nation.

“On the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day (which was last month, Aug. 24), the respondents were asked the questions about their confidence in victory, emotions they feel today about the country and themselves, assessment of the position of Ukraine in the world, their civic and linguistic identity, the frequency of consumption of Russian content, and their attitude towards various ethnic groups,” Rating Group wrote in an English-language summary of the survey results.

On the whole, the survey suggests that Ukrainian citizens are making more of an effort to speak Ukrainian in face of the war with Russian. The group polled 1,000 Ukrainians all across the country, excluding occupied areas in Donbas and Crimea. Since the survey was conducted in December 2021, the number of people using Russian as their primary language at home has fallen from 26% to just 13%. 

Perhaps the most striking data is the respondents’ attitudes toward the country’s language policy — since the NGO first began conducting this survey, the number of respondents saying they supported giving official status to Russian alongside Ukrainian throughout the country (not just in specific regions) hovered between one-fifth and one-quarter of respondents. Since Russia’s invasion of the country, however, that number has fallen dramatically, to just 3% (from 22% in September 2021).

Even in regions with large proportions of Russian speakers, this number is fairly slim — only 3% of respondents in the eastern part of Ukraine and 5% in the southern part support giving Russian official status. 

Additionally, the report notes that there’s been a “sharp decrease” in consumption of Russian-language media within the country, with the number of people saying they “never” watch Russian television shows increasing nearly threefold. Euromaidan Press, another Ukrainian NGO, claims that the results of this survey show the country is undergoing a “Ukrainization” process as a result of the war in Ukraine — a sort of counter-reaction to the Russification the country endured under Russian Imperial and Soviet policies.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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