A 70-year-old woman in the southeastern city of Dnipro who spoke Russian all her life has adopted the Ukrainian language, joining many others throughout the country who have switched their personal vernacular amid the Russo-Ukrainian war.

To practice the linguistic transition, Iryna Vinnichenko told the Ukrainian service Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that she joined a club called Little Mariupol, as posted in Facebook.

“I spoke Russian for 70 years. When I saw how powerful and strong our country is, I felt like a Ukrainian. I felt like a part of this great country,” she said. “And this [Russia] became so disgusting to me: these people, their ‘culture,’ which made them such cruel, disgusting people. And ‘this language’ – it became disgusting to me.”

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When asked if use of the Russian language is being suppressed in Ukraine, as often Russian propaganda alleges, she plainly said, “no.”

She laughed by saying that there were only two Ukrainian-language schools in Dnipro (formerly Dnipropetrovsk) when she went to school in a city of 1 million people.

Vinnichenko said she now exclusively reads Ukrainian-language books and has attended the linguistic club for 1.5 years.

“I don’t understand how it is possible to justify what people say: ‘It’s hard for me, I’ve been speaking Russian all my life. I would speak Ukrainian, but it’s more convenient for me [to speak Russian],’” the woman said in the interview.

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For decades under Soviet occupation, Ukraine was under what is now considered a “Russification” policy by Kremlin authorities.

After World War II, the western parts of Ukraine were also taken over, including Lviv, the fifth most populous city. The other, majority part was occupied after the Bolshevik Revolution and experienced the genocidal man-made Holodomor famine in the 1930s, which killed millions of Ukrainians.

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Guerilla warfare to resist Soviet occupation in the western part of the country, known as Halychyna, was active until 1960 when the last recorded battle took place between a Ukrainian resistance unit and Soviet NKVD personnel took place, according to historian Prof. Yarolslav Hrytsak of the Lviv Ukrainian Catholic University.

He said that had “one more generation of western Ukrainians lived under Soviet control, most of us would have been ‘Russified,’” he said in audio interview.

After the full-scale Russian invasion of 2022, more Ukrainians have switched over to speaking their language as opposed to Russian.

Many former Russian speakers switched to posting messages on the X (formerly Twitter) social media platform in Ukrainian, a joint German and British study found in January.

The research was conducted by the Ludwig Maximillian University in southern Germany and the University of Bath, which is located southwest England.

“In 2020 there were over 2,000 tweets daily in Russian compared to around 1,000 in Ukrainian and around 400 in English,” the study found.

“By March 2022, the numbers of tweets in Russian and Ukrainian were roughly equal at around 1,000 a day, with around 250 in English, but by November of that year, Ukrainian tweets had surged to nearly 2,500 a day while Russian and English language tweets were now around 500.”

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