in this article, we will discuss. What Language is Spoken in Ukraine?

Ukraine is situated and is a part of Eastern Europe. It is the second-largest country after Russia in Eastern Europe. Ukraine has an area covering around 600,000 square kilometers and it has a population of more than 40 million people. Kyiv is not only the largest city in Ukraine, but it is also the capital city.

The national language of the country 2s Ukrainian and a lot of people are quite fluent in the Russian language too. East Slavic language is also an official language of Ukraine and a native language of around 67% of Ukraine’s population.

Ethnologue which is an annual reference publication in print and online talks about the data of the living languages of the world. As listed by Ethnologue, there are 40 minority languages and dialects which are spoken in Ukraine.

Almost all of these are the Soviet Union former. Gallup which is an American analytics and advisory company in Washington D.C is famous for its public opinion polls conducted worldwide quoted that 83% of respondents of the survey preferred to have interviews in the Russian language.

Ukrainian Language

The Ukrainian language is an East Slavic language that comes from the Indo-European family. It is the official language of Ukraine and the native language of more than 40 million people. The font which is used in the Ukrainian alphabet is one variant of Cyrillic script.

A lot of bodies and official organizations run and regulate the Ukraine language. These are the National academy of sciences of Ukraine, the Ukrainian language information fund, and the Potebnia Institute of Linguistics.

Ukraine language’s comparisons are often made and practiced with the Russian language which is another prominent Slavic language. However, is more mutually intelligible to Belarusian which is the closest relative of the language under discussion.

As per the constitution, the state language in Ukraine, Russian language is widely spoken in eastern and southern Ukraine specially. A lot of native Ukraine speakers know Russian as a second language.

Russian once was a de facto dominant language of the Soviet Union however, Ukrainian also enjoyed official status. The schools of Ukrainian SSR made learning the Ukrainian language mandatory.

Historical Background of the Ukrainian Language

Historical linguists trace back the origin of the Ukrainian language to Old East Slavic. This is a language that belongs to the early medieval state of Kievan Rus’. The language started developing into a form sooner after the Kingdom of Ruthenia and Kievan Rus fell.

Moreover, with Ruthenian Kivyu version of Church Slavonic also got into practice in liturgical services in the modern Ukraine group. The Ukrainian language is in practice since the late 17th century and it also has its affiliation with the establishment of the Cossack Hetmanate.

During the Ukrainian war of independence from 1804 to 1917-1921, they banned the Ukrainian language in the Russian empire. The biggest part of Ukraine including Central, Southern, and East was part of the Russian Empire at that time.

The language flourished through folk songs, itinerant musicians, and a lot of other notable authors, which has always maintained a sufficient base in western Ukraine as the language never saw a ban in this region of the country.


The chronology of the Ukrainian language which is accepted worldwide division the language into three ages which are

  1. Old
  2. Middle
  3. Modern Ukrainian

George Shevelov, a famous Ukrainian American linguist and literary historian report that this division is based on temporary written sources which reflect socio-historical developments. He also divided the Modern Ukrainian period into early and late times.

Proto Ukrainian

This age which is also abbreviated as PU and was there until the 11th century has no written extant sources by speakers in Ukraine. It has its corresponding history to Old East Slavic.

Old Ukrainian

Also known as OU, which was in practice from the 11th to 14th century and the end date is reported to be 1387. The elements of phonology are, however, deduced from written texts and these were mainly in Church Slavic, a part of the broader old East Slavic.

Middle Ukrainian

It was there from the 15th to 18th c and is historically called Ruthenian. It has a further three periods.

Early middle Ukrainian

It is abbreviated as EMU and was in practice from the 15th to the mid-16th century. Its analysis focus on distinguishing Ukrainian and Belarusian texts.

Middle Ukranian MU

It was in practice from the 16th to early 18th century 1575 to 1720. During this period there was a representation of a lot of vernacular language varieties along with versions of church Slavic.

The late Middle Ukranian this period remained in the trend during the rest of the 18th century starting from 1720 to 1818. It was found in a lot of Ukrainian-Russian and Russian Ukrainian texts.

Modern Ukrainian

MoU started at the very end of the 18th c. period or in 1818. The first-ever vernacular was recognized in literature and later all other genres. Ukraine celebrates Ukrainian language day on November 9th.

Dialects of the Ukrainian Language

The Ukrainian language has a number of dialects.

The existing Ukrainian dialects are

Northern Dialects

It includes

1. Eastern Polissian

It is spoken in Chernihiv (excluding southeastern districts), Sumy’s northern parts, and in the southeastern portion of the Kyiv Oblast along with adjacent areas of Russia. These areas include the southwestern part of the Bryansk Oblast. It further is spoken in the areas of the Kursk, Voronezh, and Belgorod Oblasts. There are no boundaries defined for linguists. These dialects are for both Ukrainian as well as Russian dialects.

2. Central Polissian

It is spoken in the northwestern part of the Kyiv Oblast. It is further in practice in the northern part of Zhytomyr and the northeastern part of the Rivne Oblast.

3. West Polissian

This dialect is popular in the northern part of the Volyn Oblast and northwestern part of Rivne Oblast and also in the adjacent districts of Brest Voblast in Belarus. Moreover, the dialects which are spoken in Belarus use Belarusian grammar and people often consider it as a dialect of Belarusian.

Southeastern Dialects

The southern dialects include

1. Middle Dnieprian

The basics of the standard Literary Ukrainian belong to Middle Dnieprian. It is spoken in the central region of Ukraine. It is primarily in the southern and eastern parts of the Kyiv Oblast. Additionally, the dialects of Cherkasy, Poltava, and Kyiv are taken the best closest to the standard form of the Ukrainian language.

2. Slobodan

It is a dialect of Kharkiv, usmy Luhansk and northern part of Donetsk. Also, it is a regional dialect of Voronezh and Belgorod. It is interesting to note that this dialect has been formed with a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian languages as there is more Russian in the eastern and northern parts of the region. Moreover, there is no defined linguistic border between both languages and making it open to both grammar.

3. Steppe

This dialect is common in southern and southeastern Ukraine. Also, this dialect was once the language of the main Zaporozhian Cossacks.

4. Kuban

This variant of dialect is related to the Steppe dialect and is also often referred to as Balachka. It has its speakers in Kuban Cossacks and also the Kuban region of Russia. A loft of Russian vocabulary with Russian grammar has been featured in these dialects.

Southwestern Dialects

It has the following dialects

1. Boyko

It is one dialect that is spoken by the Boyko people on the northern side of the Carpathian Mountains in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk Oblasts. People from across the border in Poland’s Subcarpathian Voivodeship also speak it.

2. Hutsul

It is spoken by Jutsul people who reside over the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. These are extreme southern parts of Ivano Frankivsk oblasts. Additionally, it is there in the parts of the Chernivtsi and Transcarpathian oblasts.

3. Lemko

It is spoken by Lemko people who have their homeland resting outside the borders of Ukraine in Slovakia’s Presov region along with the northern sides of the Carpathians.

4. Podillian

This is common in the regions of the Vinnytsia and Khmelnytskyi oblasts. It is in the northern part of the Odesa Oblast and also in the adjacent districts of the Cherkasy blast with Kirovohrad and Mykolaiv.

5. Volynian

It is mainly spoken in Rivne and Volyn and also in some parts of Zhytomyr and Ternopil. People of Chelm in Poland also speak it profoundly.

6. Pokuttia (Bukovynian)

This is spoken in Ukraine’s Chernivtsi oblast. This dialect is famous for its borrowed vocabulary from the Romanian language.

7. Upper Dniestrian

It is one of the main Galician dialects and is spoken in Ternopil, Lviv, and Ivano Frankivsk Oblasts. Moreover, it has further distinguishing characteristics of having the influence of Polish and German vocabulary and it is reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian rule.

8. Upper Simonian

It is the dialect that people speak between Ukraine and Poland in the San river valley.

Language Structure


Ukrainian is one fusional, nominative-accusative, satellite-framed language. It is a null subject and T-V distinction which is the contextual use of different pronouns. The sentence order followed in the Ukrainian language is Subject-Verb-Object.

As Ukrainian’s inflectional (an inflection in linguistic morphology is a process of word formation in which a word is twisted to express different grammatical categories) system has enabled the free word order so word orders are quite common.

The nouns of the Ukrainian language have 3 genders which are

  1. Masculine
  2. Feminine
  3. Neuter.

Nouns decline for

7 cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, locative, vocative

2 numbers: singular, plural.

An adjective in the Ukrainian language agrees with nouns of gender, case, and number.

Verbs in the language conjugate for

  • Past, present, future, pluperfect making 4 tenses
  • Active, mediopassive making 2 voices
  • First, second, third 3 persons
  • 2 numbers: singular and plural.


Ukrainian verbs are there in aspect pairs: perfective and imperfective. These pairs are usually made by the prepositional prefix and a root change too. Past tense in the language agrees with its subject in number and gender after having developed from the perfect participle.

Russian and old east Slavic o with the words and syllables ending in a consonant correspond to Ukrainian I as in pod → pid. Therefore, in the declension of nouns, the o can reappear when it is not available in the closed syllable such as

  1. Rik (pik, ‘year’) (nom) nominative case
  2. Rotsi (loc) locative case

Some words can also have I in some cases, while most of the cases have o. The case ending of the Ukrainian language is somehow different from the Old East Slavic. Moreover, the vocabulary also includes an overlay of Polish terminology.

Na pervom etaže in Russian is a locative and prepositional case with the translation ‘on the first floor.


The Ukrainian language has vowels which are six. These are /i/, /u/, /ɪ/, /ɛ/, /ɔ/, /a/.

Several consonants come in three forms: hard soft and long

A few examples are, /l/, /lʲ/, and /lː/ or /n/, /nʲ/, and /nː/

The letter ⟨г⟩ represents voice glottal fricative /h/ also transliterated as Latin h. Also, it is voiced equivalent of English /h/. The speakers of Russian who are living in Ukraine use soft Ukrainian /h/ despite Russian /g/ and it comes from the northern dialect of the Old East Slavic language.

Ukrainian alphabet has the additional letter (r) for /g/ which is there in a few native words such as ‘sleigh’ ґринджоли gryndžoly and ‘button’ ґудзик Dudzik. However, it is worth mentioning that /g/ appears in the loanwords exclusively and is usually simply written as (r).

Public signs which have the loanwords from English have g and h. Another phonetic divergence between Russian and Ukrainian stands in the pronunciation of Cyrillic (B) v/w.

However, for standard Russian it is /v/. It also gets denoted as /w/ in a word or out of the word boundary. It further allophone [u] and like off glide in the English words such as flow and cow.

The Ukrainian language does not have final devoicing in it unlike many other Russian and other Slavic languages.


Ukrainian has 33 letters and is written in Cyrillic. It represents 38 phonemes. There is an apostrophe also used. Its orthography has its base on the phonemic principle. It has one letter which corresponds to one phoneme; however, exceptions are there.

The orthography of Ukrainian has also such cases where semantic, historical, and other morphological principles are applied.

When comes to the alphabet of modern Ukrainian alphabet is a mixture of the proposed alphabetic reforms which were in practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was the time when Ukraine was under the Russian empire. However, the proper and uniformed alphabet was officially introduced at an international orthographic conference in 1927 in Kharkiv during the movement of Ukranization in Soviet Ukraine.

However, interestingly the policy got reversed in the 1930s and Soviet Ukrainian orthography diverged from that of diaspora. It is also worth mentioning that the Ukrainian letter ge r was banned in the Soviet Union for a long time till the period of Glasnost til 1990. A consonant letter also gets doubled to emphasize sound and make it double or even longer.


The Ukrainian language has its dictionary and it is the dictionary of the Ukrainian language. It is available in 11 volumes and has 253,000 entries. Moreover, there are more than 6 million cards that the lexical card catalog of the Ukrainian Institute of Language studies contains.

The language is quite close to Belarusian and polish language with Russian too so it has lexical ties with these languages too.

Ukrainian and Russian False Comparisons

People often perceive the Ukrainian language as the same as the Russian language, however, this is not the case. Though Russian is widely spoken and in use in the Ukraine and Ukraine was part of the Russian empire, however, both are totally different languages.

Also, standard Ukraine and its dialect have a plethora of false friends with that of the Standard Russian language and which is related to the Moscow dialect. A lot of people avoid using these words.

It causes their language to shift into Surzhyk (It refers to a range of mixed sociolects of Ukrainian and Russian languages used in particular regions of Ukraine). This is the state when the meaning of a few words mimicking Russian could go wrong and taken out of content rather than literal meaning in Ukrainian.

Final words

The people of Ukraine speak more or less 20 languages. Ukraine is a multi-ethnic country where 77.8% of the population is Ukrainian with other ethnic groups. Ukrainian is the main language that is spoken in Ukraine. Also, Ukraine has a rich historical background and shares close lexical ties with Belarusian, Polish and other languages. It has also the same grammar sets as in Russian.

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