Cossack apparel, embroidered vyshyvanka shirts and a huge Ukrainian blue-and yellow flag stretched along the street next to parliament. That’s how some 500 Ukrainians protested on July 30 against the language bill adopted earlier this month that elevates the status of Russian.
People gathered by the Verkhovna Rada for its extraordinary session, during which lawmakers planned to review the controversial bill. Initiated by the ruling Party of Regions, the law was passed on July 3. It is supposed to grant secondary official status to minority languages spoken by over 10 percent in a given region. Experts claim, however, it would boost the official standing of Russian, though practical results would likely be insignificant.
“I came here to protect the Ukrainian language and Ukrainian state,” said 63-year-old pensioner Maria Bugera while sitting on the pavement holding a Ukrainian flag. “We are tired of fighting against this gang that has captured the state,” she added. To identify the “gang” the protesters brandished a papier-mache dragon with the heads of President Viktor Yanukovych, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Minister of Education Dmytro Tabachnyk, known for his pro-Russian statements.
Most of the protesters held symbols of opposition Batkivshchyna and Svoboda parties, but Burega held the stripes of both forces, saying “all the opposition is now united.”
The deputies, however, failed to pass any legislation tied to the language bill and refused to accept the resignation of speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who stepped down on July 4 in protest against the language law. Lytvyn refused to sign the language bill, a necessary step in Ukraine's legislative process. The speaker left immediately after hastily opening the session on July 30.
“I’m very sorry lawmakers weren’t able to repeal the language law,” said Igor Petrenko, a 25-year-old engineer from Western Ukraine wearing a T-shirt of the nationalist Svoboda party. Petrenko assured the protests will continue until the controversial bill is annulled.
Story by Oksana Grytsenko