Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

By Aussiegirl

Now here's a subject my heart has been aching to address. The miserable, orphaned state of my beautiful language of Ukrainian in its own homeland. As hard as it is to believe, I probably speak better Ukrainian, or as good Ukrainian, as many natives of that country. We have many Ukrainian scholars, professionals, students and embassy personnel who attend St. Andrew's Orthodox Cathedral in Washington. And the one thing that has struck me so powerfully is the fact that while these people speak Ukrainian to us, the emigre or diaspora population, (albeit often with a Russian accent, particularly on the "i" -- or as it most commonly transliterated "y" sound, a kind of "i" as in hid.), when they speak to one another, they immediately switch to Russian. I asked a sympathetic visitor once, what was the reason for this? Was it because they were used to speaking Russian and so were more at ease in the language - as most probably I am more at ease speaking English than Ukrainian, even with a fluency of the latter. Or was it that they did not value their own language?

Sadly, he replied, Ukrainian is considered by Ukrainians to be the language of the "selo" -- the village, the backwater, the provincial and small town -- the uneducated. He related that when he first came to Kyiv to attend university, whenever he spoke Ukrainian he was reprimanded with the admonition, "What's the matter? Are you a country bumpkin?" Can you not speak the cultivated language of Russian? The tragic fact seems to be, that Ukrainians still have a deep seated sensed of inferiority, and after years of domination, oppression and Russification by their Russian masters, they have come to accept their second-class status. But how tragic - nothing is more beautiful to the ear than Ukrainian. A dear friend is a linguist, and he hears Ukrainian and Russian spoken all the time in the company he keeps. He has also studied both languages and read some of the literature of both. He often tells me that Ukrainian has a beautiful soft sound, and that Russian has a distinctly gutteral and more course sound to his trained ear.

How heartbroken are we out here in the diaspora to see that what hundreds of years of oppression had not been able to exterminate - our beautiful language - has been voluntarily given up by Ukrainians themselves, now that they have finally won their freedom. Without language, there can be no national identity. Can an Englishman voluntarily decide that French is by far the superior language of culture and still consider himself an Englishman?

This is a question that every Ukrainian must ask himself. I know many there express the feeling of "What's the difference? Speak what language you want -- who cares?" But, oh my friends, it does matter. If the language dies -- your culture dies, your literature dies. There are things about the Ukrainian experience that only our language can express, it is only our own beautiful native language which can give expression to the ancient song of your ancestors that still sings in your soul. It is the echo of Shevchenko that you must harken to - not Pushkin -- as beautiful and worthy as Pushkin is. His heart belongs to Russia. Shevchenko is your father, he gave you your language, and died defending the right to publish in it and to speak it. He knew that Ukraine would cease to exist if its language ceased to exist. Do not let go voluntarily, what has been fought for by the generations of great writers and brave speakers before you, who did so at the cost of their lives.

Here's a wonderful article on the subject from a Ukrainian language website, which gives some history and explanation of this curious, and tragic phenomenon.

NovaMova.com.ua -- Educational and media Internet site about Ukraine and the Ukrainian language

349 years of Russification in Ukraine
Have you ever wondered if there is a capital city in Europe in which the language heard in the street is not a native one. Surprisingly but this is the case in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. What's more, the like situation is common for many cities in this country.

At first glance there is no reason for concern over the language situation in Ukraine. People of the Ukrainian nationality live in this territory from old times and make up almost 80 percent of all population. The Ukrainian language itself has long history and strong traditions. For instance, at a linguistic contest held in Paris in 1934 Ukrainian was ranked as the third most beautiful language after French and Persian. However, you can't say that the Ukrainian language 'feels at home' in present-day Ukraine.

Despite the fact that in 1990 it was declared the official language of Ukraine and is obligatory now in the entire territory of the country, the number of Ukrainian-speaking people continues to drop and now makes up less than 40% of overall population.

Ukraine's residents are still subjected to Russian television, newspapers, books and magazines. According to government data, Russian-language newspapers outnumber Ukrainian 10 to one across the country, Russian books account for almost 90 percent of the country's book market. Almost two thirds of all radio and TV programs are in Russian.

This situation is viewed by many as legacy of century-long Russification. Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire and later - the Soviet Union for more than three centuries. In the second half of the 19th century schools in Ukraine began teaching exclusively in Russian, administrative bodies could use only Russian, and publication in Ukrainian was forbidden. It was done because of the fears that the multiethnic empire would disintegrate unless its population was drawn more closely together in culture and language.

Russification that started in tsarists times was accelerated in the Soviet period. From the 1930's to the 1980's the authorities were using all possible means to intensify it especially in the large cities, in which the population was considerably mixed. The Ukrainian people were forced to use the Russian language in government, schools, newspapers and on television. Those who tried to protect the rights to speak in Ukrainian were deported to Siberia. And not only were the Russian language and culture promoted, but also it became essential for Ukrainians to know and speak Russian in order to secure career growth. What's more, such policy caused many Ukrainians to know the Russian language better than Ukrainian.

Many of Ukraine's scholars believe that it will take a long time to heal the wounds of the past, and even after, the scars will still remain for several generations.

13 Comments:

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous blackminorcapullets said...

Don't let them do to Ukrainian what happened to Lemko. This is the language that most US immigrants from eastern europe spoke.

When they arrived in the US, they were told they were one of several nationalities ( their political horizons seldom went beyond the next 2 or 3 villages), and they were told to speak only english.

Now this whole culture of millions has lapsed. No language and not even the realization of where their ancestors originated.

 
At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The situation in Kyiv has improved somewhat. I was happy to hear from a russian professor that she had difficulty understanding people there.
It is more a matter of the degree to which they use Ukrainian, most can speak it. Obviously, they need to develop a new national language policy. Ukrainian should be the only language used in national broadcasts, newspapers, schools and the government.

OEC

 
At 4:54 PM, Anonymous One Eyed Cat said...

I don't know why that published anonymously. Ukrainian is an incredibly rich and fluid language. It is, in fact, older than Russian. Church slavonic is infinitely more similar to Ukrainian than Russian. To me, gutteral russian is the language for the unsophisticated. I have no use for it other than cursing. :)

OEC

 
At 6:40 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Oh, wonderful comments, all -- thanks so much. You give me so many ideas to pursue. Lemko -- I have of course, heard of Lemkivshchyna, and I knew that a different dialect of Ukrainian was spoken there, but now that I have just delved slightly into the subject I see that there is an entire fascinating cultural, geographic, historical and linguistic heritage there. Anyone who cares to submit an article or thoughts on the subject are welcome to send them to my email address.

Also -- I am so pleased to hear that things in Kyiv are improving. Perhaps the winds of patriotism that blew on the Maidan are starting to make themselves felt in the urge to speak Ukrainian. Ukrainians caught the whiff of the Yevshan zilya out there -- and suddenly remembered who they were -- and perhaps the taste of that herb of remembrance will awaken their own native language on their tongues. Oh, I pray it will be so. Ukraine must have a common language, that is understood everywhere, the official language.

And, OEC, you bring yet more subjects to my mind -- the subject of cursing. I also have a dear friend who is a linguistics professor at Columbia, and he wrote an interesting book on cursing in various languages. I have now in mind another post about my interesting talks with him. It turns out Ukrainian curses are so mild as to be almost useless, where Russian is one of the most strongest and, how shall I say it, colorful languages in which to curse.

Nothing like great comments to spur more thoughts. Keep them coming -- I love to read them all.

 
At 3:23 AM, Blogger Veronica Khokhlova said...

I wonder if there are many Ukrainians living in the Diaspora who are seriously considering moving back permanently to Ukraine, now that we've won our freedom the second time in 14 years. Their return would probably do good not only to the Ukrainian language but to the economy of our beloved motherland as well.

 
At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One-Eyed Cat, you chose your name well...I will have to read Evgenii Onegin again, just to find the parts written in the language that is only good for swearing.

To argue that one language is more beautiful than another is ridiculous. I guarantee that I could place a Russian, a Ukrainian, a Pole, a Lithuanian and a Maori in one room and they would all argue (and back it up with scholarly arguments from their own compatriots) that each of their respective languages is by far the most beautiful. It's just silly.

Also, who could argue that the Irish have no national identity, or the Scots? I happen to be one of the latter, and the fact that Scots Gaelic is essentially dead does not mean that the Scottish nation or pride in its achievements have disappeared.

 
At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Mala said...

If the language and culture is forced to be lost then of course national identity is lost, becuase you have nothing to differ yourself from one another apart from a name, that will have become meaningless over the years and eventually die.

 
At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi to the Ukrainian-American Aussiegirl (what a georaphy and what a nickname. Hmm). But it is obvious that your heart belongs to Ukraine and this is all you highly value, your beautiful country. So, why hiding in some foreign land in "diaspora", when the the land of your ancestors needs you? Why live in the well-fed USA instead, discussing Ukrainian? Come on, come to Ukraine. If you are truly Ukrainian, come home. Bring your knowledge and English here. If you value Ukraine better than American donuts, show it, why just talk. Help your country here. It's easy to talk hoe bad are those who left Ukrain and forgot their language -didn't you do the same? Come and see what it is for yourself.

 
At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Tatiana the Russian said...

To the Aussiegirl

Hi, I am Russian (please, people, don't spit until you read it). I searched the net and found what I was looking for-your website (I am writting an essay on cultural stereotypes). I see your point that one's language shouldn't die. Any language. What a waste that would be. As a human being (and Russians are just as human as Ukrainians - with their good and bad sides), I want to tell you that I regret, sorry and sad that Ukrainians lost their freedom in the past and that they were forced to learn Russian. And that my country was (and I guess is?) forceful in all those acts (through the political systems). This is unfair, this is degradating-(to both sides). I am sad in my heart that many people died from the man-made starvation (how devolish this was)...I am sad about the opression the Ukrainians went through during the Communism and at any other times. I am sad seeing those Ukrainians (and Moldovians, etc) in Moscow and other cities, trying to earn some money to send home and that they don't have as much rights overthere... I look at these people as my brothers of humanity (not as a communist but as a Christian). None of us is different in our needs and rights. We are one human family...I believe everyone is entitled to use own language and to live in the context of own culture with respect and dignity. What happened in the past? Don't forget that Russians suffered from Stalin as well (he was Georgian, by the way). But this doesn't matter-satan doesn't have a preference for a nation, he brings miseries, pain, injustice, hatered, death to all nations. He uses people of all nations to spreads the spirit of suspeciousness,unforgiveness, desire to dominate and to manipulate others. So, your battle, Aussiegirl, is much bigger than you think. You won't win by simply reversing the roles. Don't use Satan's methods to win the battle(through the return hatered and humiliation of "swearing Russian words, etc". By feeding the anger in others, you will bring them to personal destructions.Ask Jesus what He would ask you to do here.

Yes, I am Russian and I love the expressiveness of this language in literature (I hate swearing, this is disguisting. I guess swearing is all what is left to the people to express anger and disagreement to thier state in their learnt helplessness. I love Russian mainly because I grew up with it understanding this world). It is natural. When I hear Ukrainian, no doubt, I sense how gently it sounds. This is like a melody.

I have Ukrainian friends and they are as dear to me as Russian friends. I see no difference between us as human beings - do you?

I think stereotypes are dangerous: to generalise everything means not to get the meaning and have black-and-white glasses on.

In conclusion: wishing you, Ukrainian people, the very best - in preserving your language and to maintaining your freedom and uniqueness. But most of all - preserving the spirit of kindness and love in whatever you do. Remember that this earth is not our final home. Jesus promised to have His people in the Heavenly home. No doubt - every nation and tongue will be highly valued there and the pain will be forgotten: "I will wipe all the tears from your eyes, said Jesus". Revelation 21:3.

With sad reflection of the painful pages of history,

Tatiana the Russian

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

My thanks to all that commented on this article -- all are welcome. Since it is an older article I only just now found your wonderful new comments. To Mala -- yes -- you are right -- Shevchenko said it, and President Yushchenko said it just recently when he laid a wreath at the burial place of Taras Shevchenko, that without language, the culture and your nationhood perish.

To my friends who urge me to move back to Ukraine, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for such warm invitations, but for me, it is too late. I have lived in America since I was a young child, I am an American citizen, and as such I love this country which gave my family and so many others freedom and the chance to live out our dreams and also to continue our ways and to worship in our Ukrainian churches and to continue to nurture our culture while Ukraine languished under communism and Soviet domination.
But it is true, even though I wasn't born in Ukraine, I was born in a refugee camp in post-war Germany, and lived my early years in Australia, my mother and father instilled in me such a great love for their homeland, that I have always felt in my heart that I am Ukrainian. The first language I heard and learned was Ukrainian, when we were living in refugee camps in the outback of Australia. My mother taught us Ukrainian folk songs from even before we could talk. As a family we would sing often, and we knew hundreds of songs. The ancient historical ones, of the time of the Hetmans, of the times when the Turks ruled. My father sang bass, my mother alto, and my sister and I soprano -- and later my mother taught me to sing alto. We all know how Ukrainians love to sing. But to get back to the subject.

It is too late for me to leave, I have all my roots here now, and my family as well. But many Ukrainians from the diaspora have returned to live and work in Ukraine. You have as your first example your first lady, Kateryna Yushchenko, who was born in Chicago, but was raised in a very similar way as I was. She returned to Ukraine and is now active in helping Ukrainians to rebuild their broken country. And the diaspora is further helpful to Ukraine in many other ways, even those who do not return. Ukraine would not be too happy if all the millions of Ukrainians in the diaspora suddenly returned. There would not be enough jobs for them for one thing.

But the diaspora helps Ukraine in many ways. During the elections many Ukrainians from abroad returned in order to monitor the elections and to ensure that the revote was fair and just. Ukrainian churches and civic organizations in the diaspora do much charitable work, helping churches, schools and orphanages with money, goods and other kinds of help. There are also many professional people in the diaspora who regularly return and spend considerable time in Ukraine giving of their expertise in various fields. For instance, in our parish alone, there is one man who works for the National Institutes of Health who regularly travels to Ukraine and consults in the field of health care and particularly the care of patients suffering the effects of radiation from Chernobyl. Another member who is a professor of economics travels to Ukraine ever year and spends several weeks there teaching courses in economics to students at his own expense. There are many such organizations helping in many fields, political, economic, medical, etc. So Ukraine benefits from the diaspora.

And to Tatiana the Russian I would like to say -- thank you from the bottom of my heart for your beautiful words which have touched me to my very soul.

It has never been my wish to say that I blame the Russian people -- never -- The Russian people have themselves suffered greatly at the hands of the Tsars and then the communists. Russians also want freedom and democracy and to live in peace. Always it is the rulers who want to do otherwise. It is important that the Russian people have the opportunity to have free elections also, and to elect democratic leaders who look back to Russia's great history, to the great men who set an example of Russian greatness. To your great writers, who also criticized in their day the rulers who oppressed the people. Tolstoy and Pushkin and Dostoevsky and other greats. Russians can be proud of the brave men and women who opposed communist oppression -- do not forget Andrei Sakharov and his wife Elena Bonner, Solzhenitsyn who exposed the Gulag Archipelago, all the other dissidents of the 60's and 70's and 80's who were imprisoned for years but never gave up their beliefs.

Even Shevchenko, Ukraine's beloved bard and prophet did not blame the Russian people. He said that they were our brothers, because they too were oppressed by the evil leaders who were in power.

Free men and women everywhere, whatever their nationality, deserve to live in dignity and freedom and brotherhood -- free of hate, free of oppression, free of lies.

Let us all be brothers and sisters. Those in the diaspora and those in Ukraine --- Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Poles together -- all the nations -- we are all people who deserve to live in dignity and freedom in our own native lands, speaking our own languages and guiding our own countries to a peaceful future.

Thank you all for your comments and for visiting the blog. You are all welcome. Come again and leave your comments whenever you wish.

 
At 3:40 PM, Anonymous viagra online said...

As Ukrainian I feel that lemko is our legacy for the future generations so we must protect it a t any cost against the normative of our government.

 
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At 4:16 PM, Anonymous Elliott Broidy said...

Sad. I hope this situation will be resolved everyone around the world.

 

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