Ukrainian Diary: “Ireland Knows What It’s Like For An Empire To Suppress Your Language”

“Why do Ukrainians speak Russian when there is a war with Russia?” an Irish woman asked me. “Why do the Irish speak English?” I answered.

The history of kraine is in many ways similar to that of Ireland. There is a large empire next door that has tried to conquer you and destroy your identity, including your language.

The violent Russification of Ukraine began in 1622 when Tsar Michael ordered the burning of all copies of the Gospels printed in Ukraine. Subsequent rulers closed schools, prevented prayer in Ukrainian from churches, and banned baptism with Ukrainian names. Ukrainian theaters, writers, books and newspapers were banned.

In the 1920s, the Soviet government created a concept where Russian was the language of the city and educated people, and Ukrainian was the language of the country. Stalin not only destroyed the independent Ukrainian village during the great famine, the Holodomor, but also imprisoned and killed scientists, writers, musicians, poets and artists. In the history of Ukraine this period is called the Executed Renaissance.

Unfortunately, all these events greatly Russified my family. My grandmother Natasha was afraid of everything Ukrainian, both language and Vyshyvanka — traditional embroidered clothing with national ornaments. One day, the Soviet authorities at her school arrested all the teachers who were not afraid to identify themselves as Ukrainians and took them away in handcuffs. The children remembered it for a long time.

But my grandmother did not know that at that time her mother Lidia hid a forbidden book in the attic, a history of Ukraine. If that book had been found, she would have been put in jail or maybe shot. My great-grandfather Ilya was executed as a Ukrainian patriot.

After the end of the Second World War, the Ukrainian language gradually began to appear in schools. But my family was a family of scientists and professors, and scientific works and books were published only in Russian.

Where did our language evolve freely? Folk songs, dances and culinary art were not so strictly forbidden. Ukrainian was only spoken in western Ukraine, which was temporarily under Polish rule.

I only started to learn the language well when I was 12, like my son is doing now. The transfer of all TV channels and cinemas into Ukrainian, as well as the appearance of Ukrainian publishing houses and popular musicians, contributed a lot to the development of our language.

In 2017, my son was no longer taught Russian at school, and now all schoolchildren are taught only in Ukrainian.

Vladimir Putin has done more than anyone to promote the Ukrainian language. He said that anyone who speaks Russian belongs to the Russian people. In the occupied territories, the Russians banned Ukrainian schools, books and arrested teachers, as they have done for 400 years.

In response, Ukrainians began banning anything that reminded them of Russia, and companies abandoned Russian on their websites. For a new generation of Ukrainian children, Russian is the language of the enemy. In 2022, more than 1.3 million people started learning the Ukrainian language as a show of solidarity. It’s interesting that according to language-learning app Duolingo, the increase in interest has been greatest in Ireland, up 22-fold in one year. Who knows, maybe one day Ukrainian will be taught at schools and universities here. Ukrainian Diary: “Ireland Knows What It’s Like For An Empire To Suppress Your Language”

Fry Electronics Team

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