Ukrainian Parliament Adopts Language Law
25 April, 2019

278 Ukrainian MPs have voted in favor of protecting the Ukrainian language as the only official state language by law.

In that way, now every Ukrainian citizen, as well as those seeking Ukrainian citizenship, must know Ukrainian. High-level state officials and law enforcement leadership representatives must use the language as well. The use of the language is also mandatory for deputies (at all levels), court judges, lawyers, educational institutions directors,  medical care workers, among others. A considerable amount of the law is dedicated to the service sector, sale of goods and services. The law also stipulates that every website should be available in Ukrainian by default (while other language options are allowed to be on offer).

The law does not concern the citizens' private conversations and the conduction language of religious services.

Hundreds of Ukrainians took to the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on April 25, 2019 to demonstrate their support for the language law. Photo credit: Victoria Roshchyna

The law states that the only official language in Ukraine is Ukrainian and therefore "any attempts to implement multilingualism in Ukraine" are against the Ukrainian Constitution and seen as those "provoking a language schism in the country, as well as ethnic strifes aimed at a forceful change or overthrow of the constitutional order."

The adoption of the law comes after months of considerations and thousands of amendments to the draft bill (which was approved in first reading back in October 2018). The law also attracted widespread attention among the civil society, as well as culture representatives such as writers, poets, activists, academics, actors, and church leaders.

Hours before the law was voted on, hundreds of Ukrainians took to the parliament to demonstrate their support for the law and demand it be approved. Among their reasons, they listed the desire to hear Ukrainian in customer service. 

"I'm fed up with having to constantly beg [to be served in] Ukrainian," said one demonstration participant Yulia. "In service sectors, it always [ends up in] arguments... I constantly hear 'I speak however I want to,' but people don't understand that there's a difference between 'speaking' and 'serving.' Nobody prohibits you from speaking whatever language you want at home or within society. But service sectors must be Ukrainian-speaking."

One demonstrator's poster reads "Language matters!" on April 25, 2019 outside the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv. Photo credit: Victoria Roshchyna

The law now needs to be signed by the outgoing President Petro Poroshenko who earlier reassured the nation that he will do so. It is expected to come into force two months after it's published with the exception of some articles.

/By Maria Romanenko