An opposition protester wears the Ukrainian flag on his head in front of the parliament in Kyiv on July 6, 2012 during a permanent rally against a controversial bill elevating the status of Russian.
Turn on the TV news in Ukraine and the presenter may be asking a question in Ukrainian to a guest who answers in Russian. Such bilingual exchanges are heard not just in the capital, Kiev, but also across the country’s mostly Ukrainian-speaking western half and Russian-speaking east.
“It may look weird [to foreigners], but each person understands the other perfectly well,” says Misha Reutsky, an unemployed marketing executive in Kyiv.
But the delicate linguistic balance achieved since Ukraine, with a population of 45m, won independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union and its centuries-long overlord, Moscow, could be upset. The ruling party of President Viktor Yanukovich is pushing through a contentious bill giving enhanced rights to Russian speakers.