Ukrainian President-Elect Unlikely to Lift Russian Status

Paton bridge over the river Dnieper, Mother Motherland monument in Kiev, Ukraine

After actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky’s landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections, his campaign spokesperson, Dmytro Razumkov, said that the only official language in Ukraine is Ukrainian, according to the news outlet, Ukrainian Pravda. The Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, is currently considering a bill that would require all media published in other languages to produce an identical Ukrainian version both online and in print. Radio and TV are also required to be in Ukrainian, with programs dubbed into other languages. If passed, the law would threaten the existence of several major publications, including the English-language daily, Kyiv Post, and alienate large Russian-speaking communities.  

When asked whether Zelensky’s team are ready to politically support the law, which is currently considering, Razumkov replied that, for a start, parliament must agree on all amendments and then adopt the document. “Based on Zelensky’s position voiced earlier, the only state language in Ukraine is Ukrainian,” he said.

“Development and support of the state language is one of the key prerogatives of the president. But it should be done through encouragement, not with a ‘stick’. Using a ‘carrot’ can be much more efficient in this particular area,” explained Razumkov. Earlier, as a presidential candidate, Zelensky promised to defend the Ukrainian language.

Prior to his bid for the presidency, Zelensky was best known for his role in the Ukrainian comedy series, “Servant of the People,” where he played a destitute schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president of Ukraine after becoming famous for an anti-corruption rant that goes viral on social media. In real life, his entertainment empire is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars.

In the show, his character primarily speaks Russian, along with many other cast members. Thirty percent of the Ukrainian population speaks Russian.

In 2017, Ukrainian became the required language of study in state schools from the fifth grade, and Russian-language media were restricted in western Ukraine, where Russian speakers are in the minority.

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