Ukrainians in Poland

Cliff observes that in Poland, where there are many migrants from Ukraine, all of the ads and signs targeting Ukrainians are in Ukrainian, even though most of the migrants speak Russian to each other.

It is, indeed, a somewhat paradoxical situation where Ukrainians whose primary or only language is Russian, feel offended when addressed in Russian. I’ve had people tell me in Russian, “And then they came up to me and addressed me in Russian. The gall! I completely ignored them.”

Ukrainians these days find it very important that others recognize them as not Russian, as different from Russians, and repudiate all attempts to address them in what is often their only language.

When a stranger addresses me in Russian (for instance, a visiting scholar at my school), I turn standoffish and unpleasant. But if they talk to me in Ukrainian, which I find extremely hard to speak these days, I become the nicest person known to humanity.

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7 thoughts on “Ukrainians in Poland”

    1. I barely speak it any more, so I can’t teach it myself. But I’ll definitely find her a teacher of any language (or sport or musical instrument) if she shows interest.

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        1. I emigrated 20 years ago. But I’m from Kharkiv. We never spoke Ukrainian at home or in the streets.

          If you are in Ukraine, of course your kids will speak it. But if you are an immigrant, there is some chance your grandchildren might have some interest in the language. Children won’t and will resent all efforts to teach them.

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  1. As far as I know, most Ukrainian work immigrants in Poland come from Western Ukraine where Ukrainian language is spoken everywhere. I have relatives who live almost on the Ukrainian-Polish boarder and they always spoke Ukrainian. Being a child, every summer I came to visit them and I would immediately switch to Ukrainian, practicing it much more often than I used to do it in Kyiv.

    Frankly speaking, there is not much of a paradox in Ukrainians disliking foreigners addressing them in Russian or, even worse, identifying them as Russians. The war in the Eastern Ukraine is still going on, the Crimean peninsula was still aggressively stolen from Ukraine. I know Ukrainians who switched from Russian to Ukrainian after 2014, solely because they didn’t want to speak the language of the country who keeps on killing Ukrains and bullshitting about the suppression of the “rights and freedoms” of poor Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. In fact, up until recently most Ukrainian mass media used to be at least 70% Russian. Now the situation is getting better, more and more high-quality Ukrainian informational sources are appearing on the Ukrainian media map.

    I started writing in Ukrainian for Ukrainian speaking people on UAmodna.com web platform. I am proud to be one of the journalists who supports Ukrainian mass media content. My personal page is: https://kolena.uamodna.com in case someone is interested in reading articles written in the Ukrainian language.


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    1. “As far as I know, most Ukrainian work immigrants in Poland come from Western Ukraine ”

      Maybe originally, but not now. When I see signs in buses (listing the beginning and end stops) the Ukrainian end is more likely to be Kiev than Lviv (and I’ve seen Kharkiv too). Most estimates are that there are around two million in Poland at any given moment (unofficial estimates are even higher).
      I did recently see a sign addressed to Ukrainians written in Russian – it was on a bulletin board and seemed to be from a Ukrainian offering language lessons (for those wanting or needing more than survival Polish).
      I remember back in the early 90s hearing ambitious plans for the Ukrainization of the education system within 5 or 6 years and thinking that was very unrealistic – languages can lose speakers very quickly but gaining them back takes generations.

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