Ukraine Will Stop Speaking in Russian: The Language Law From the Times of Yanukovych Was Abolished

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The Constitutional Court of Ukraine recognised the “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law as not being in compliance with the basic law. Nationalists are preparing to bring their version of the law that regulates the fundamentals of the language policy…

Attempts were made to cancel the symbolic “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law – adopted in 2012 – after the Maidan victory, but they failed. And on March 1st, 2018, it was indeed abolished.

“Yesterday the Constitutional Court adopted a decision whereby the Law on the fundamentals of the State language policy adopted on July 3rd, 2012, is unconstitutional. I sincerely congratulate all Ukrainians on this decision made by the Ukrainian Constitutional Court,” stated the speaker Andrey Parubiy at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada on March 1st.

The head of the Ukrainian parliament immediately reported that, for deputies, this decision made by the Constitutional Court opens the door to adopt a new linguistic law.

“I ask factions to hold consultations on those projects that were registered so that we can have a discussion and reach a positive solution,” noted Parubiy.

Ukrainian nationalists are already preparing to put their proposals forward. Meanwhile, the Russians of Ukraine unexpectedly received a unique opportunity to protect their rights.

A fatal law for Ukraine

The adoption of the Law in 2012 caused protests among the nationalist part of society, which received the name “Linguistic Maidan”. However, by attempting to cancel this law even more damage was done, which was inflicted by Maidan protesters on February 23rd after they seized power and control over the Rada.

Back then the entire country watched the footage of the voting in the Rada. However, it didn’t give that effect that “patriots” had hoped for. The loss of the Law, which guaranteed the regional status of the language that over 10% of the inhabitants of the region communicate in, was apprehended especially painfully in the southeast of the country. As even the supporters of Maidan later admitted, the Rada’s cancellation of the “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law became the catalyst that pushed Crimea to leave Ukraine. In Ukraine there were frantic attempts to rectify the situation. In the capital of Ukrainian nationalism – Lvov – it was declared that one day they will speak Russian, showing that Ukraine is open to the world.

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However, the southeast didn’t really believe in demonstrative actions and appeals. As a result, on February 28th the newly appointed representative of the President in Crimea Sergey Kunitsyn stated that Aleksandr Turchynov, who back then was not only the head of parliament, but also fulfilled the duties of the President of Ukraine, will veto the law. According to Kunitsyn, he managed to convince Turchynov to do this, having given the example of Crimea, the inhabitants of which didn’t tolerate an infringement of their rights, and started organising their exit from Ukraine. However, Turchynov didn’t bring the matter to a veto. He simply didn’t sign the Law.

“Back then they wore the togas of democrats, trying to hold on to Crimea and Donbass, and understood that they were hurrying around too much. The State Department and Europe pressured them, there were many angry statements from the West – saying that they were foolish, and the cancellation of the Law wasn’t signed at the level of the speaker,” remembered the political scientist Vladimir Kornilov in comment to the publication.

Thus, for all this time Ukraine lived under the “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law de jure. This didn’t suit Ukrainian nationalists. Svoboda, whose members on February 23rd also raised the question of cancelling the “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law, didn’t calm down. In the same 2014 members of “Svoboda” sent a claim to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which was satisfied by judges four years later.

However, recognising the “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law as unconstitutional has negative consequences first of all for Ukrainian nationalists.

The return of the Russian language

Legal lacunas are peculiar gaps in the law that are undesirable for any State. Usually attempts are made to eliminate them. The linguistic policy isn’t an exception in this case. Already at the time of the USSR the language issue was resolved in Ukraine. By the way, Ukraine owes precisely the Soviet era for the rapid development of the Ukrainian language and its codification. The “Kivalov-Kolesnichenko” Law was supposed to replace the norms of the Soviet linguistic law, which de jure remained in force in Ukraine, but de facto was almost never used.

“It’s amusing that by cancelling this Law they thereby restored the 1989 Law on languages from the still-Soviet Ukraine. Now, since the moment of the official cancellation of the ‘Kivalov-Kolesnichenko’ Law, the Russian language again receives the status of a language of interethnic communication. I.e., Russian should be taught in places of the compact accommodation of Russian inhabitants, and so on. I.e., the Russian language again has an official status in Ukraine,” specified Kornilov.

However, Ukrainian nationalists have their own response even for this. The odious children’s writer Larisa Nitsoy – known for her attacks on the Russian language, which she calls “Tambov’s language” – stated on this occasion that Russian won’t return as a language of interethnic communication.

“I call on Shishkin. He is a biiiiiig authority, the first Prosecutor-General of Ukraine, a former judge of the Constitutional Court. ‘And what will happen now?’ I ask him, ‘the previous Soviet law on language comes into force?’. ‘No, we have no such rule of the return to action of a previous law. Now it’s the Constitution that’s in force. A partial vacuum was created. It is necessary to adopt the new law on language,” she shared on Facebook.

However even Nitsoy recognises: Ukraine will now have more problems. And not with Russians, but with neighboring country who earlier reacted very nervously towards attempts to make education in Ukraine in exclusively the Ukrainian-language.

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And again dzień dobry [“good day” in Polish – ed]

Supporters of nationalists are sure: it’s unlikely that the new language law, which will be developed by like-minded persons, will please Ukraine’s neighbors.

“I can imagine what the fight with minorities will be like! More precisely – with the countries that stand behind them. After all, minorities are simply a tool that they twist our arms with. I imagine how they will take us by the throat,” wrote the same Nitsoy.

Ukrainian nationalists still remember how Hungary, Poland, and Romania rallied in their desire to resist the new Law on education, which destroys school learning in languages that are native for national minorities. Thanks to the efforts mainly of Budapest and, in a smaller measure, Warsaw and Bucharest, the entry into force of this law was delayed by three years.

Now, according to Nitsoy’s words, there are already a whole three draft bills, which are supposed to solve the language issue in Ukraine.

“I was against the ‘Kivalov-Kolesnichenko’ law because I considered that the language Law from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1989 to be ideal, since it established the status of two languages in the country. Why it was necessary to make a fuss and to adopt a new Law, I don’t understand (…) I very much hope that the existence of three draft bills can mean that none of them will be adopted as a result,” stated the political scientist Konstantin Bondarenko in comment to

At the same time, he notes that now the Law of 1989 must come into force.

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So far the western partners of Ukraine are silent, which is understandable — there is nothing to answer to here. So far the new language Law hasn’t been adopted, so it means that the liberal Soviet law is relatively in force. But nationalists intend to correct this situation as soon as possible.

“Svoboda will continue to fight for the Ukrainian language and so that there is a normal language law in Ukraine,” stated the People’s Deputy and “Svoboda” member Andrey Ilyenko.

This means that a new round awaits Kiev in the near future, first of all with Budapest and Warsaw, which are known for their zealous upholding of the rights of representatives of their people in Ukraine.

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