The Language Question

Russian troops in Ukraine started wearing Ukrainian uniforms to disorient the population and sneak deep into the territory. In response, the Ukrainian army switched entirely to speaking Ukrainian.

In Ukraine, everybody is bilingual. People who don’t speak fluent Ukrainian understand it completely. But Russians don’t understand Ukrainian at all.

All of the rumors about the supposed persecution of Russian-speakers in Ukraine are pure rubbish. Ukrainian TV, for instance, is completely bilingual. Somebody speaks in Ukrainian, another person responds in Russian, and everybody is happy. In public spaces, the languages are used interchangeably. Official documents are all in Ukrainian but that’s always been the case. Back in 1998, I ran into trouble in Canada when I was applying to college and the Canadian bureaucrats kept demanding that I send them documents in Russian. I obviously didn’t have such documents because Russian wasn’t our official language.

17 thoughts on “The Language Question

  1. So I’ve switched from Kiev to Kyiv in writing, which – you know – virtue signaling.

    I’ve had repeated conversations with my mom when she kept going on and on about the provincialism of Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian and decrying it being pushed on the Eastern half of the population to the point of it being the main contributing cause to the war.

    She has also said numerous times that Ukrainians are not ready for self-government because they keep putting/tolerating corrupt people in power, or something along those lines. I want to strangle her every time I hear the phrase “not ready for self-government”, which she loves repeating. I managed to restrain myself and just asked if Russians with a dictator who murders political opponents and journalists display the readiness for self-government she has in mind.

    I don’t mind Ukrainian much. When I lived there, I was borderline-fluid in spoken Ukrainian thanks to reading books in it and studying it in school. I enjoyed understanding the differences, especially in vocabulary.

    Here’s a recent text I sent to my mom (verbatim):

    “By the way, you sent me to a good school in Kiev, where they taught languages well, including Ukrainian. I think that’s why I feel differently about it from you. It’s also a bridge to Polish.

    I also just have so much sympathy for Ukraine from learning history, which they taught well in the great school you sent me to, and remembering how it was taken over by Poland and Russia, and how hard it struggled for independence. And if there’s no Ukrainian language, then what’s left?”

    When we talked about the 13 men and women who died on Snake island and the soldier who blew up the bridge himself, she agreed that these people are ready for self-government.

    I don’t think I’ll able to restrain myself if I hear about Ukraine not being ready for self-governance or complaints about the Ukrainian language again from my mom. I hope I won’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good for you. Did you see the video of the Ukrainian guy who stepped in front of the Russian tanks unarmed and tried to stop them? Or the old gentleman who showed up at the recruitment center with a small valise of spare clothing and demanded to be given a rifle so that he can go shoot the bastards “like we did when the Nazis came”? The people are united and they don’t want to be anybody’s vassal.


      1. Which one? I’ve seen at least 2 such videos. In both cases, thankfully, the tanks didn’t drive over the civilians.

        Yes, I saw the old gentlemen. I also saw a video that I know can’t easily find a link to where an older guy – late middle-age – somewhere in the occupied Eastern part approaches 2 soldiers standing on patrol and speaks to them in Russian.

        Using at least one swear word per sentence for emphasis, he asks them

        “what the fuck are you, brothers, doing here? We have our country. You have your own. Don’t you have enough problems there? Are you all rich? I’m also Russian. But I’m living here, in this sovereign state, so go the fuck back to your own, you fucking trash”

        or something along those lines.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, I didn’t see the one you describe. It would have made me cry for an hour. OK, I’m already crying. I’m a mess.

          Thank you for telling me about it. It’s beautiful.


    2. “It’s also a bridge to Polish”

      One reason that there have been so few problems with Ukrainian migrants in Poland… even if they normally don’t speak Ukrainian they’ve had it at school and so whatever level of Polish they need is very easy.

      One small but palpable effect of the war in Poland (very trivial in the big scheme of things) is the disruption of supply chains. A very large percentage of delivery drivers here are Ukrainian men and as they go back there’s not much to take their place…. (I’m not complaining and I completely understand and support them but there’s no such thing as a conflict that doesn’t effect other countries now….).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very true. And this is why complete isolationism is no longer a viable approach. Pouting about how you don’t want to care about a situation won’t change that. I mean, why should I care about the sloppy security procedures at some boring Chinese lab in Wuhan? I don’t want to care. But then a virus escapes and all of our lives change.

        But I don’t wanna! Mommy, make the boo-boo go away!

        It doesn’t work that way.


        1. And. . . now most of my social media feed is about how there’s no war, it’s all fake news. It’s about 60% of all posts I’m seeing on Twitter. Scary shit.


          1. Curiously, what is causing the most doubt are stories about the heroicism of Ukrainians. It’s pure projection. People have been so atomized and weakened that they are naturally suspicious of anybody seriously, honestly sacrificing oneself for the homeland.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. I trust that you will draw the right conclusions on this. I’m not talking about changing your mind about everything, but perhaps re-examining the motivations behind everything the people that you follow say. Do they believe in anything but power and money for themselves? Are they saying reasonable things we agree with to accomplish other things we both very much disagree on?

            As I’ve been meeting with contractors over Covid times, I’ve started telling them I’m totally fine with them not wearing a mask in my presence when vaccines became available. I don’t enjoy wearing masks, I think it’s completely pointless to do so outside, and haven’t been. I can’t jog in a mask and have no idea how people manage. I’d roll it under my chin and only unroll it in very few rare cases. I think masks have become complete security theater by now. I have never and would never berate anyone for not wearing a mask.

            I’m excited about the mask guidance coming down.

            I completely understand the tragedy of masking and remote schooling for children. But I find that on some level, maybe 15 or 10% of your feelings on masks is pure unreasonable self-centeredness (or “childish me-me-me whining” in your vocabulary) that right-wing ideologues hook into to try to enact their agenda.


            1. Thing is, I always wore a mask myself, never made an issue out of it. On masking for children, we agree. My problem isn’t the mask itself. It’s the utter unreasonableness and arbitrariness of the demand. The insanity of the people who publish articles titled “yes, masks don’t work but here’s why you should still wear them.” (A few days ago in The Atlantic, I think.)

              I have such an intense reaction to this because I have childhood trauma in the area of emotional abuse. And rolling out unreasonable and ever -changing demands was a large component of that. I believe that both the people who are passionately pro-mask and passionately against have this kind of childhood trauma. These are people who weren’t allowed to develop age-appropriate agency. In that sense, you are absolutely right, this is a legacy of childhood trauma, so it can definitely be termed childish.


              1. Please note – I didn’t call it childish – I said you would. I said “unreasonable self-centeredness”.

                I so completely understand everything you’ve said. I have observed the effects of emotional abuse on my own mother, on how it made her particularly vulnerable to some things, and caused completely unreasonable reactions, which she believed were completely reasonable. And this is perpetuated with people’s own children – I was supervised at all times was allowed very little interaction with other children until I started school, so I wouldn’t be kidnapped by pedophiles. I wasn’t, but it had understandable detrimental effects otherwise.

                I observe the effects of it in myself, in how I’m unreasonably upset or vulnerable to some things. You tend to get angry, whereas I tend to get sad and cynical.

                In any case, “unreasonable self-centeredness” is actually a good definition of what a psychological vulnerability is, don’t you think?

                In not calling it childish and specifically saying that you would, I’m kind of expressing my general feelings on how you complain about people and the terminology you use. When it’s others, it’s their fee-fees. But with you, it’s Fauci’s fault that you were so terrified of AIDS. I know I’m a bit younger than you, so I wasn’t exposed to the same information at the same age. But I was nowhere near that impression ever, and didn’t know of anyone who was, my age or older.

                Is it possible that you’re overreacting to information others processed differently? And that’s all I will say on that today, thanks for listening.

                Is this the type of stuff you discuss in psychoanalysis? For me, it’s just way too much of thinking about myself and analyzing things, a bit of therapy, which mostly had a placebo effect of paying for a friend, observing other people’s reactions to things, and lots of fighting and talking with my mother.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Ah, it’s all good when I feel works of art more deeply than most people but less good when I’m as intense about everything else. 🙂 You should hear me express my opinions on mashed potatoes over French fries. It sounds like WWIII has begun.

                I’m very intense, that’s my #1 quality. It’s both good and bad. But hey, who’d be reading the blog of a mild, timid half -dead fish for years, right? I live in a day what others do in a year. And on a complete aside, people keep saying “homeschooling.” Can you imagine having a person of such intensity inflicted on you all day? The poor kid would become a schizophrenic.


      2. My mom speaks fluent Polish because back when she lived in USSR and there weren’t enough translated books available, she read the books of a crime novelist that she loved in their native Polish. This ability of hers was wonderful to have in Toronto, where there are so many Polish immigrants. I’m very proud of her for having been asked at least twice where in Poland she was from.

        In my high school in Toronto, the Western Ukrainians were able to speak varying degrees of Polish, and some Polish vocabulary had already bled into their native speech. They didn’t speak English to each other. I can pretty easily understand spoken Polish. My own is pretty atrocious – I’m all out of practice. I can say a few basic phrases correctly, but I’d pick more up if needed.

        I can try to read written Polish, with great difficulty. I haven’t seen another language more suited for the Cyrillic alphabet. We have individual letters for the 5-6 consonants that it doesn’t but uses so often.

        I had been to Georgia and to Moscow as a child, but my very first and only international trip before emigrating was to Kraków in 1995 or 1996. I loved it. I could see similarities to the Soviet countries further out from the center, and I knew it wasn’t a rich country like Germany, but it was still wonderful. The city center is gorgeous.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Right?? Polish should totally be in the Cyrillic alphabet. I can also read Polish with difficulty but it’s exhausting and I give up fast. It only works if I try to pronounce every word. Then I can understand the meaning.


          1. ” Cyrillic alphabet”

            I think every Slavic language should have both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets llike Serbian and pre-Soviet Belarusian (with the Latin alphabets being more based on Czech with č and š and ž….)

            A former boss told me there was talk of Polish adopting an orthography more in line with Czech in the 1950s but nothing ever came of it….


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