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Neighbours Irate Over Ukrainian Language Law

While Russian would be most affected, the proposal to restrict teaching in foreign languages could hit many minorities.

26 September 2017

A Ukrainian education reform package passed on 5 September has ignited a diplomatic row with Ukraine’s neighbours, reports RFE/RL. The bill is controversial because the language-related provisions stipulate that the main language of instruction in schools after grade 5 must be Ukrainian.


In comments made at the UN General Assembly, Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis said he was “very, very unpleasantly surprised” to learn of the bill, and that he has cancelled an upcoming visit to Bucharest by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his own trip to Kyiv next month in protest, the Associated Press reports.


Earlier this month, President Igor Dodon of Moldova said that the large community of Moldovans and Romanians was at risk and encouraged Kyiv to reconsider the law, reported Ukrainian news service 122.


In a strongly worded statement, the Hungarian foreign minister, Peter Sijjarto, called the bill “shameful and insulting” and said the legislation threatened the survival of Hungarian culture in the far western Transcarpathia region, as the Budapest Beacon reported.


On 5 September the Russian Foreign Ministry also condemned the law, saying that it is designed to "forcefully establish a mono-ethnic language regime in a multi-national state.”


The issue of language and minority rights is extremely sensitive in Ukraine and goes to the heart of the conflict in the east of the country, where Russian is widely spoken. At an early stage in the hostilities the Kremlin said Russians in Ukraine faced “genocide” and should be protected, by military means if necessary, according to the BBC.


Ukrainian students. Public domain photo.


Although Ukraine is not a EU member, the legislation privileges the union’s official languages. It allows some subjects to be taught in EU languages after grade 5, Previously, regions where minorities make up more than 10 percent of the population were able to introduce their languages in schools.


Yaroslav Halas, a spokesman for Transcarpathia Governor Hennadiy Moskal, told RFE/RL "We understand that this law is primarily directed against the Russian language, because it dominates the capital, the eastern regions. But in Transcarpathia, it hits the national minorities."


President Petro Poroshenko has signed the bill into law yesterday, according to RFE.



  • About 17 percent of the Ukrainian population identified as Russian in 2001, although Russian was the mother tongue of 29 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.


  • This March a law was passed stipulating that 75 percent of national TV broadcasts be in Ukrainian, as well as 50 percent of broadcasts on local TV and radio.

Compiled by Kate Syme-Lamont

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Moldovan diaries

The Moldovan Diaries is a multimedia, interactive examination of the country's ethnic, religious, social and political identities by Paolo Paterlini and Cesare De Giglio.

This innovative approach to story telling gives voice to ordinary people and takes the reader on the virtual trip across Moldovan rural and urban landscapes. 

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