Understanding the Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian Languages

Even though they may sound rather similar, there is a huge difference between Ukrainian and Russian languages. Though for people from Russia someone who speaks Ukrainian sounds rather odd and sometimes funny. Both have the same origins but the history shaped them a lot different and, please, don’t think that it is the same language. These two languages have only 62 percent of words which are the same.

The Ukrainian language is much more similar to Belarusian, Czech, Slovakian and Polish languages and that is not only words but also the way they are pronounced. You can see that looking at this table:

UkraineLiving.com Presents:

The Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian


Both languages use the same Cyrillic alphabet. But there are some letters that you will never see in the Ukrainian language. Those are:

  • «э»
  • «ы»
  • «ъ»
  • «ё»

When you see any of them, it definitely means that you are not reading in Ukrainian.

The letters which are used only in the Ukrainian language are:

  • «є» (which has a different direction and pronunciation that Russian «э»)
  • «ї»
  • «і»
  • «ґ»
  • «’» (which is used to separate the pronunciation).

Letters «и» and «е» are in both languages, but the have not the same pronunciation.


The problem which you may have studying the Russian language is that not all words are spelled the same way as you need to write them. The most common problem is that letter «о» is often spelled like «а» or «з» /«с» in the prefix. So even if you are a native speaker that can be sometimes problematic to decide what you should write. The Ukrainian language is much easier at that. However, some words still can be difficult.


The grammar in both languages is almost the same. To contrast with English – Ukrainian and Russian have rather random words order which you can change. There is a big difference in rules how you should write words, but that is a subject for the whole book.


The other common thing is that stress in the word usually can be in any part of the word. It doesn’t have at the beginning or at the end of the sentence, so for each word you need to remember it. It also can change a meaning of words. For example words «мукá» (flour, both languages) / «мýка» (torture, both), «зáмок» (castle, both) / «замóк» (lock, both), плáчу (I cry, both) / плачý (I pay, both), гори̒ (Burn, ukr) / гóри (mountains, ukr).

Another Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian: Swear Words

One of the interesting subjects is the abusive or obscene language. In Russian, there is even separate word for it – «Мат». It has the same F*** words, its’ various forms and rude words forms for genitalia. Anyone who has ever met someone who is a native speaker in Russian for sure knows some of them. Or more likely they were the first words you ever learned.

Those who speak Ukrainian also often use Russian Mat with an accent and the meaning will be the same.

However, people from Ukraine use as well the dialectic words that are popular at Western part or some unusual phrases which Russian-speaking people won’t understand.


At Ukraine also exists such thing as a mix of both languages. Surzhyk is Russian and Ukrainian words combined in one. It is typical for rural areas, but sometimes you can hear it also in big cities. I think it is better to choose one language than blending them together and not be able to communicate normally using one of them.

Dialects of Ukrainian Language

The most significant difference between Ukrainian and Russian can be seen in the Western part of Ukraine. The dialects of the Ukrainian language sometimes are even not understandable for people from other regions, such as Kiev.

That is a result of an influence of Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian. A lot of people think that those who live at the west do not understand Russian, but that is definitely not right and reasonable people will not treat you worse because of that. Though they will be much more hospital and happy if tourist speaks Ukrainian or just a little bit of it.

Language problem in Ukraine is very common. However, it often occurs when the public attention should be distracted from some other current affairs. The language question is always getting a lot of attention and discussions. At Ukraine, we have a lot of laws which are trying to prohibit the Russian language on TV or radio. Russian TV shows and sitcoms are already not allowed on the Ukrainian TV channels.

But I would like to abstract from the propaganda that I usually see or read and say that for me doesn’t really matter which language person speaks. I think both languages are rather challenging to learn but also want people to understand that Ukrainian is not some kind of Russian dialect—there is a HUGE difference between Ukrainian and Russian.

If you will listen to those who speak these languages, you can hear how differently they sound even though there are a lot of words in common.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by the same local Ukrainian girl who penned the article about reasons to travel to Kiev. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

– UkraineLiving

PS: There aren’t really any programs out there to learn Ukrainian on the internet, but Rocket Russian is a fantastic course. To find out more, and take a free trial, click here.

  • March 4, 2017
Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 8 comments

Nice and detailed article.
Quite informative and logical too.

Difference Between Ukrainian and Russian Languages - This Is Trouble

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1. The note in this article about origin of Ukrainian dialects is definitely misleading. Actually, the ancient history of Kyivan Rus (= modern Ukraine and Ukrainian-populated region of RF) clear defined kingdoms and tribes (ethnic nations) corresponding the modern Ukrainian dialects (both in East, Central, and West parts of this biggest European country). Nothing new, except South steppe regions new Black Sea (under numerous flows of nomad tribes in past centuries).

2. Word “surzhik” usually corresponds to subcultures of immigrant communities. E.g., there is a well-known Jewish-Ukrainian mixed “surzhik” in Odessa port or Tatar-Jewish-Ukrainian “surzhik” of criminal groups in coal-mining areas (prisoners used for mining both in collapsed Romanoff empire and during collapsed Soviet occupation too).

3. It would be reasonable also to mention that Ukrainian is one of the oldest Slavic languages, influenced also be Old Bulgarian language of ancient Bible translation (so-called, “Church Rus language” or Cyrillic one due to name of famous Greek monk-translator). The same Old Bolgarian also had been used by Mr. Alex Pushkin in his successful attempt to form a new North-Russian language for Romanoff ruling class (this artificial language is now usually named as “the Russian” language). Their ruling class had been based on West and Tatarian immigrants (“dvoryanye”, literary meaning “in-yard servants”). So, they used a lot of foreign words and, therefore, there are so many differences with other Slavic languages.

Hence, actually, all main differences between Ukrainian (“Rus”) and Neorussian (“Russian”) are usual differences between any original folk-n-literature language and any author-made language for the immigrant-originated social groups.

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The difference between UA and RU is about as much as between German and Dutch. The Dutch can understand most of German. But, if you are a Dutchman and speak Dutch at a normal speed to a German, he will hardly understand anything.

While many words are ” the same” ( in Slavic languages), their pronunciation is often different and they are used differently.

If you know Slavic roots, you will be able to figure out what a piece of writing is all about. However, when people start speaking, this is when it becomes hard to understand.


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