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What Language Do They Speak In Ukraine?

A common question received here at Ukraine Living is this: What language do they speak in Ukraine?

And between Russian, Ukrainian, and the Cyrillic alphabet, it’s enough to scare the daylights out of most people. Truth be told, both of these languages are incredibly complex, especially for those who speak English natively.

They’re so drastically different from English in regards to rules, sounds, and pronunciation that it’s not even realistic to be close to fluent even after two years of studying and speaking consistently.

With that being said, you can prepare yourself to handle the basics with a little practice. But the question then is which one to learn. Are they different? Will certain people and places speak Russian, and the other Ukrainian?

Okay, enough questions. Let’s get started.

What Language Do They Speak In Ukraine?

Firstly, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. That’s important to know.

With that being said, here are some quick-hitting general rules about the languages used in Ukraine.

  • The more west you go, the more Ukrainian there will be.
  • The more east you go, the more Russian there will be.
  • Some people really hate speaking Russian.
  • Most people consider Ukrainian their “native tongue”, but as far as business Russian tends to be used more often.
  • They are pretty similar, and most people speak both. If not speak, they can understand each other (similar to how Spanish and Portuguese speakers can often communicate).
  • Russian is used in a lot of countries. Ukrainian is not.

Let’s break these points down.

The Further West You Venture…

what-language

Not too long ago, in Lviv you would be getting glares of distaste if you spoke in Russian. Simply put, the further west you go in Ukraine, the more the native tongue shifts to Ukrainian. This is because this region has been part of other countries at times, and they have a general distaste of Russia.

They are very proud of their heritage and so they much prefer to speak Ukrainian as their one and only language versus Russian.

However, this has changed in the past few years and they are seemingly more willing to speak Russian with you. It’s possible that the people of Lviv have realized that their touristic based economy needs good customer service. This means speaking Russian at times.

The Further East You Go…

what language do they speak in ukraine

Well, in the most Eastern part of Ukraine, they want to rejoin Ukraine and Russia together.

So it goes without saying that in those regions, Russian tends to be utilized more often.

The Business Aspect

In Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Russian is simply used everywhere.

You generally have to get out to the country to hear people speaking Ukrainian. Sure, some people speak it with their friends (especially if they originally are from the smaller villages), but Russian is generally used everywhere.

Which leads to this: Russian is used on a much more global level. Several very large countries (in addition to Russia) use it as their official language. Dozens of other countries speak it as a secondary one.

Therefore, any business dealings on a global level are going to be in Russian.

So it makes sense that in the capital, Russian is spoken more often–even if it’s not the official language.

What Language Do They Speak In Ukraine: Conclusion (And Which Should You Learn?)

You can use Ukrainian in one country, and one country only.

You can use Russian in dozens.

The choice seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it.

In addition, learning Russian will result in pretty much everyone in Ukraine being able to at least understand you. Knowing Russian and not Ukrainian will not hurt your ability to communicate unless you venture way out into the countryside.

The genuine advice from Ukraine Living is to learn Russian over Ukrainian. Also, make sure you meet a nice Ukrainian girl to help you out in a pinch. That can be worth it’s weight in gold!

If you’ve got questions what language they speak in Ukraine, drop them below.

– UL

PS: This is one of the best resources we’ve found towards learning Russian effectively and quickly.

  • September 21, 2016
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