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Russification of Ukraine

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Russification of Ukraine

The Russification of Ukraine was a body of laws, decrees, and other actions undertaken by the Imperial Russian and later Soviet authorities to strengthen Russian national, political and linguistic positions in Ukraine.


Russian Empire

In 1720 Tsar Peter I of Russia issued a decree in which he ordered the expurgation of all Ukrainian linguistic elements in theological literature printed in Ukrainian typographical establishments. Later Empress Catherine II of Russia issued a secret order to Count Aleksandr Alekseyevich Vyazemsky (the Prosecutor General of the Russian Empire from 1764 to 1792) in which she instructed him to institute a program of Russification for the provinces of Ukraine ("malorossia"), Livonia and Finland, "using light-handed methods". In the opinion of Vladimir Vernadsky, by the 17th century, Muscovy already had a long-standing policy to absorb Ukraine and liquidate the foundation for local cultural life. In 1862, all Ukrainian Sunday schools, numbering over 100 at the time, were abolished and proscribed. In 1863, minister of internal affairs Pyotr Valuyev issued the so-called Valuev Circular, in which he stated that the Ukrainian language never existed, doesn't exist, and cannot exist. In 1876, tsar Alexander II of Russia issued the Ems Ukaz, a secret decree banning the use of the Ukrainian language in print, with the exception of reprinting of old documents.

Soviet period

After World War I, Ukrainian culture was revived due to the Bolshevik policy of Korenization ("indigenisation"). While it was meant to bolster the power of the Party in local cadres, the policy was at odds with the concept of a Soviet people with a shared Russian heritage. Under Stalin, "korenization" took second stage to the idea of a united Soviet Union, where competing national cultures were no longer tolerated, and the Russian language increasingly became the only official language of Soviet socialism.

The times of restructuring of farming and the introduction of industrialization brought about a wide campaign against "nationalist deviation," which in Ukraine translated into the end of "korenization" policy and an assault on the political and cultural elite. The first wave of purges between 1929 and 1934 targeted the revolutionary generation of the party that in Ukraine included many supporters of Ukrainization. Soviet authorities specifically targeted the commissar of education in Ukraine, Mykola Skrypnyk, for promoting Ukrainian language reforms that were seen as dangerous and counterrevolutionary; Skrypnyk committed suicide in 1933. The next 1936–1938 wave of political purges eliminated much of the new political generation that replaced those who perished in the first wave. The purges nearly halved the membership of the Ukrainian communist party, and purged Ukrainian political leadership was largely replaced by the cadre sent from Russia that was also largely "rotated" by Stalin's purges.

Russification of Soviet-occupied Ukraine intensified in 1938 under Nikita Krushchev, then secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party, but was briefly halted during World War II, when Axis forces occupied large areas of the country. After the war ended, Western Ukraine was reabsorbed into the Soviet Union, and most prominent Ukrainian intellectuals living there were purged or exiled to Siberia. Leonid Brezhnev continued the Russification policies of Krushchev in postwar Ukraine.

In the 1960s, the Ukrainian language began to be used more widely and frequently in spite of these policies. In response, Soviet authorities increased their focus on early education in Russian. After 1980, Russian language classes were instituted from the first grade onward. In 1990 Russian became legally the official all-Union language of the Soviet Union, with constituent republics having rights to declare their own official languages.


Russification policy was more intense in Ukraine than in other parts of the Soviet Union, and the country now contains the largest group of Russian speakers who are not ethnically Russian: as of 2009, there were about 5.5 million Ukrainians whose first language was Russian. Russian speakers are more prevalent in the southeastern half of the country, while both Ukrainian and Russian are used equally in the center, and Ukrainian dominates in the west. Some of these "russified Ukrainians" speak Russian, while others speak a mix of Ukrainian and Russian known as "surzhyk"; many do have some proficiency in Ukrainian. Estimates of their prevalence in the country vary, but according to different studies, "russified Ukrainians" comprise a third to a half of the total population of Ukraine.

Post-Independence (1991-2012)

In post-Soviet Ukraine, Ukrainian remains the only official language in the country; however, in 2012, President Victor Yanukovitch introduced a bill recognizing "regional languages", according to which, in particular, Russian could be used officially in the predominantly Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine, in schools, courts, and government institutions. While the bill was supported by Ukrainians in the eastern and southern regions, the legislation triggered protests in Kyiv, where representatives from opposition parties argued that it would further divide the Ukrainian-speaking and Russian-speaking parts of the country and make Russian a de facto official language there.

Television and other media cater both languages. In Ukraine there have been attempts to make Ukrainian the main language for the media and the press, see Ukrainization: Mass media/entertainment for more details.


Russification of Ukraine Wikipedia

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