Make English a regional language in Kyiv

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July 16, 2012, 1:41 p.m. | Op-ed — by Katya Gorchinskaya

Ukrainian officials should be pushed to learn English, using the new law that so far has only caused trouble.

Katya Gorchinskaya

Katya Gorchinskaya has been the Kyiv Post's deputy chief editor since 2009 and is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal and other publications. Follow her on Twitter @kgorchinskaya.

If you can't change the wind, adjust your sails. And that's exactly what I think Kyivans should do, with the backing of the Kyiv Post, about the new law on languages. They should use it to make English a regional language.

The law was designed by the pro-presidential Party of Regions to upgrade the status of Russian language in Ukraine on the eve of the parliamentary election. But there is no reason why we can't use it to our advantage and upgrade the status of English in at least one region – Ukraine’s capital city.

In a nutshell, I suggest launching a campaign to grant English official status if the minority language law signed into law by President Viktor Yanukovych. This law states that people in Ukraine are allowed to choose their language of communication. Under this law, they are generously granted the right to use any language in their social and private lives. We might as well use this right for English.

There is more! The law claims that the state facilitates the development of multi-linguism, learning the languages of international communication – particularly those which are official in the United Nations and other international organizations. Of course, English is one of them.

There are two main obstacles to making this campaign work, as far as the text of the law goes – but neither is insurmountable, lawyers say.

Obstacle 1

The law states that 10 percent of people have to speak the language for it to become regional. But typically for Ukrainian legislation, a loophole exists that bypasses this requirement.

If 10 percent of the residents of a particular territory sign a petition that they want a certain language to become regional, and then the local council votes to support the petition, the language comes into use as regional.

But actually, even less than 10 percent is ok if the local council supports such a decision anyway.

But even if it turns out that making English a regional language in Kyiv is too ambitious a goal, it's possible to make it work on a smaller territory, such as an individual district in Kyiv. My vote goes for the Pechersk district, where most central government organs are located.

It's possible to apply the law this way because it gives no definition “territory” where “a regional language” can be introduced. So, any community can become such a territory, in theory. Even if the residents of my house that has 10 flats in it decide to proclaim themselves as such a territory, they can.

Obstacle 2

The other problem is that the law defines 18 languages that can become regional. Some of them are far more exotic for much of Ukraine's population than even English (like Gagauz or Ruthenian languages).

These are the languages that automatically got onto the list because of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which Ukraine signed up to. The treaty is designed to protect minority languages that are not official in a particular country.

But the law gives no explicit prohibition of using another language for the purpose, so English can be made a regional language if residents of a territory choose to do so. Bingo!


The law allows for parallel use of the regional language in all spheres of life along with and sometime instead of the national language. It also requires that the officials living and working on the territory where a regional language is used have to speak the language.

For any reader of this article, there is no reason to explain how fantastic it would be for officials in Kyiv to be legally obliged to speak and conduct their business in English.

Of course, it would be wishful thinking to expect that one would be able to write their applications and file their tax declarations in English, but a legal requirement like that, followed by pressure from the citizens, can eventually change the hiring policy in the rigid Ukrainian government. In other words, it would eventually help to modernize government by bringing a younger, new English-speaking generation to power. This alone is reason enough to make English a regional language throughout Ukraine!

Looking further into the future, English will have to become available at schools as the language of teaching, even if small groups of parents start to demand it for their children.

The threat of Russian taking over Ukraine as a language would vanish. Activists and patriots would, hopefully, keep Ukrainian alive. The country would change within a generation.

Kyiv Post editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at

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IvanovPetrovSidorov July 16, 2012, 2:21 p.m.    

The idea is ludicrous, but good luck with it anyway! I'd like to see you actually put your money (as it were) where your mouth is, or are you just playing "silly"! Probably the latter.

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Spectator July 16, 2012, 3:41 p.m.    

It's a not silly attempt to show how ludicrous the provisions of the new law are as result of the attempt by its authors to portray it as a "Euro-compatible" defence of "minority" languages rather than what, notwithsanding the camoflague, everyone knows is its actual purpose, the promotion of one particular language which, many Ukranians feel, so far from needing protection as a minority language is threatening the viability of the offical state language.

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IvanovPetrovSidorov July 16, 2012, 8:14 p.m.    

When one is bluffing to make a point, one should be prepared to have one's bluff called. So, go on Katya (or perhaps you would have liked to be called Kate instead), do us all a bid favour, launch your petition! Please, stop pontificating and practise what you preach!

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Mykhayl July 16, 2012, 11:04 p.m.    

Слава Ісу~

John Peter,

Hate to take the wind out of your sails but Kate isn't exactly thinking outside of the box. Yanukovych's Presidential PR Secretary said the same the first time these boys bullied language for a camouflage. Worst that happens is Ukrainian be used for songs & secrets: you want to know about savings at a restaurant, read the Ukrainian. English in the Universities, on the web and amongst those catering to the tourist's lucrative dollar. Russian at the bars and shanghai hell holes. Mandarin like Spanish on welfare forms. The Church, He knows them all even Sluzshit but Slavonic is Their favorite.

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elmer-елмер July 16, 2012, 6:06 p.m.    

Katya, I'm a bit befuddled by your suggestion.

You just had an excellent show on TVi - вільні люди - "Free People" - where Oksana Prodan was one of your guests.

Your co-host was in Slovenia talking about what Slovenia did as far as business development and education, as a successful example of what could be done.

True, the woman in Slovenia spoke English - but it's not necessary to pass a law to speak English to do business.

The conversation flowed very easily and smoothly back and forth between Ukrainian and Russian. People had no problem understanding each other.

And, as has become the habit in Ukraine, there were several English words thrown in - converted to Ukrainian or Russian.

Today, in Ukraine, people are free to speak whatever language they want - even English.

And they do so.

A law is not necessary. Your excellent program proves it.

So I am a bit confused.

Are you pulling our legs?

The idea of a "pox on all the languages - just make it English" has been thrown around previously around blogs and forums.

There is absolutely no need for the law that was proposed by Kivalov-Kolesnichenko, except in their minds, they think that they can fool a certain segment of voters.

We call these "one-issue" voters.

The governmental system is horridly dysfunctional, corruption on the Party of Regions is out of control, disregard and disrespect by the Party of Regions for the office of president and Parliament is psychotic - but, hurrah, we have a Russian language bill, so that makes the poverty in Ukraine OK.

Again - I really liked your program, it was excellent, there was good analysis and discussion.

So I'm a bit puzzled.

seig heil
der fuhrer fascist Governor yanusvoloch of the Russian province of Ukraine - serving at Putler's whim and pleasure

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Mykhayl July 16, 2012, 11:14 p.m.    

Слава Ісу`!



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elmer-елмер July 18, 2012, 3:55 a.m.    

слава на віки віков

я також служив

і навіть читав апостол на старо-словянські

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kpxoxol July 16, 2012, 7:30 p.m.    

The most popular language in the World is MANDARIN - spoken by the owners of the BROKE & SINKING US and the ONLY economy superpower in the World - the COMMUNIST China.

When Ukraine joins the Eurasian Union, the mandarin will be recognized as a regional language instead of the ukrainian language, because more Chinese will live in Ukraine than orange idiots who speak bastardized polish they call "ucrainian tongue", HA HA HA, gasp, HO HO HO :D

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Mykhayl July 16, 2012, 10:16 p.m.    

Слава Ісу~

Many Years Kpkhokhol,
What ever happens ,
may the Good Lord grant that you live to endure it.

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Eugene Al Gagins July 17, 2012, 1:18 a.m.    

popular in the world or being spoken in the most popular language in the most populous country :-)))

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kpxoxol July 18, 2012, 6:07 a.m.    

Here's a listing of the ten most popular languages spoken worldwide, along with the approximate number of primary or first language speakers for that language.

1. Mandarin Chinese - 882 million
2. Spanish - 325 million
3. English - 312-380 million
4. Arabic - 206-422 million
5. Hindi - 181 million
6. Portuguese - 178 million
7. Bengali - 173 million
8. Russian - 146 million
9. Japanese - 128 million
10. German - 96 million

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brian1121 July 23, 2012, 12:11 p.m.    

It's a good list, but it's a list of native speakers. Check here for a nice chart showing native and second language speakers of major global languages:

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Mykhayl July 16, 2012, 11:25 p.m.    

Слава Ісу~

Ms Gorchinsky,

Provocative, now think outside of the box.
Presentation is everything.
Will English transliteration come from the Ukrainian or Russian
if English is the second language in Kiev? Sorry; Kyiv.

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Eugene Al Gagins July 17, 2012, 1:16 a.m.    

Native languages. The law is about native languages. Russian is the native language of Odessa!

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Mykhayl July 17, 2012, 6:21 a.m.    

Слава Ісу~

Odessa; in 1819 the city became a free port, a status it retained until 1859. It became home to an extremely diverse population of Albanians, Armenians, Azeris, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans (including Mennonites), Greeks, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Turks, Ukrainians, and traders representing many other nationalities hence numerous "ethnic" native languages.

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Eugene Al Gagins July 17, 2012, 1:19 a.m.    

Katarina has an inspiration to multiply the articles on the same topic...keeps the water boiling... Katya may I meet you for a debate?

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Mykhayl July 17, 2012, 6:33 a.m.    

Слава Ісусу Христу!

Andy Warhol once said, "In the future, everyone will be world- famous for '15 Minutes Of Fame' ..."

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Eugene Al Gagins July 17, 2012, 11:21 p.m.    

Прото тобі, роде мой, Кленуся жывым богом, За печальный пот і труд твой Повинуюся долгом. - І оддам ті, кілько могу, Прийми мой щірый дарунок, Прийми вот маленьку книгу І сей письменный рядок, Прочеє же не забуду, Сердця моєго скруху Пожертвити, - а твой буду, Твоїм другом і умру

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Eugene Al Gagins July 17, 2012, 11:22 p.m.    

Я Русин был, єсьмъ і буду, Я родился Русином, Честный мой род не забуду, Останусь єго сыном, Русин был мой отец, мати, Руская вся родина, Русины сестры і братя И шырока дружина, Великый мой род і главный Миру єсть современный. Духом і силою славный, Всім народам приємный. Я світ узріл под Бескідом, Первый воздух рускый ссал І кормился рускым хлібом,

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elmer-елмер July 18, 2012, 3:58 a.m.    

як ти хочиш как-ати на русським язьиком ти цілком сміло маєш право

і от дивись - как-аєш на цьому сайті на русським язьиком

без цього закону

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IvanovPetrovSidorov July 18, 2012, 6:54 p.m.    

як-як-як. Stop yaking!

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AL BALA Aug. 7, 2012, 4:43 a.m.    

Indeed, the linguistic and even socio-linguistic impacts were great, as the Russians borrowed thousands of words, phrases and other significant linguistic features from the Mongol and the Turkic languages that were united under the Mongol Empire.[18]

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elmer-елмер July 18, 2012, 6:55 a.m.    

Katya, it looks like the TVi site is down.

"404 Not Found" message appears instead.

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Mykhayl July 18, 2012, 10:17 a.m.    

Слава Ісу~

Which Ruthenian your mama and daddy spoke, when the TV is censored is the only language spoken between you, mama and daddy.

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Garry July 18, 2012, 2:49 p.m.    

Forget the law! You need English as a second language. That is not because I am English, but it is the language of aviation trade and business and that's why Ukraine and specifically Kyiv need it.
You have a great country and it deserves prosperity.

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kpxoxol July 20, 2012, 10:31 a.m.    

The english is a language of BEGGARS now days. If Ukraine wants to join the club of economy WINNERS, Ukraine needs to introduce the Russian and Mandarin languages as the sole official/regional languages in Ukraine, heh, heh, heh :D

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Roman Dawydiak July 22, 2012, 11:13 p.m.    

I can truly understand your resentment in the current language debate. For some unknown reason the little russian xoxol pidgin form of primitive communication used primarily in areas of eastern and southern Ukraine as well as borderlands between Russia and Ukraine has been largely ignored. I am sure that you can attest to the confusion since hardly anyone else in the world can understand this bastardisation of Russian and Ukrainian. You are very fortunate to understand some English as that is your only saving grace.

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IvanovPetrovSidorov July 31, 2012, 7:49 p.m.    

So, after all that, 3 weeks now gone by, has our Kate managed to launch her dreamed up petition? The answer is NO! Why? Because some people have only rubber mouths with which to pontificate and chew fat.

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