Language of the Enemy: Impacts of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War on Linguistic and National Identity Paradigms in Ukraine
Date of Degree
José del Valle
Russia, Ukraine, sociolinguistics, politics of language, glottopolitics
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, attempts at nation-building in newly independent Ukraine were stymied by disagreements over two competing narratives of national identity. Both the Eastern Slavic and ethnic Ukrainian national identity complexes evolved over the course of centuries of Russian subjugation of ethnic Ukrainians through imperial control, cultural erasure, and linguistic russification and standardization. This master’s thesis examines the oppositional complexes that have long defined conceptions of Ukrainian nationhood and examines how they developed in response to nationality policies imposed by Russian imperial rulers, and evaluates the glottopolitical dimension of recent events, focusing on the Russo-Ukrainian War that resumed in February 2022.
Clashes between proponents of the Eastern Slavic and ethnic Ukrainian national identity complexes in the early years of Ukrainian independence contributed to the politicization of national identity and its components, particularly language. Whereas supporters of the ethnic Ukrainian national identity complex believed that independent Ukraine should distance itself from Russia both culturally and linguistically in order to align itself with the West, proponents of the Eastern Slavic national identity complex wished to maintain Ukraine’s kinship with Russia and honor the countries’ shared cultural and linguistic heritage.
In the absence of one agreed-upon conception of national identity, tensions between the pro-West and pro-Russia camps have fomented in post-independence Ukraine. The two matters at the heart of Ukraine’s nationhood debate—the country’s relationship with Russia and the ethnic language of the Ukrainian people—have become deeply political. In 2013, those tensions came to a head, resulting in two Ukrainian nationalist movements: the Euromaidan Uprising and the Revolution of Dignity.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia has long maintained an irredentist attitude toward Ukraine that is rooted in the historic view of Ukraine as “Little Russia”—an inferior Slavic state whose cultural, linguistic, and historical similarities to “Great Russia”, coupled with its perceived comparative weakness, beg for intervention from its powerful neighbor. When Euromaidan began in November 2013, Putin utilized the revolution as a justification to invade Ukraine, claiming the uprising threatened Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Crimea and the Donbas. The annexation of Crimea and the Russian Spring in the Donbas marked the first time since Ukrainian independence that Russia acted in direct violation of the country’s sovereignty. The ensuing Russo-Ukrainian War completely reshaped Russian-speaking Ukrainians’ attitudes toward Russia and in turn resulted in the breakdown of the Eastern Slavic national identity complex and subsequent birth of a new Ukrainian identity paradigm. This new conception of Ukrainian nationhood, which this thesis identifies as the Russophone Ukrainian national identity complex, espoused the same cultural values and historical beliefs as the ethnic Ukrainian national identity complex but justified its adherents’ use of Russian, viewing the language’s long history of use by Ukrainians as evidence of its significance as an ethnic Ukrainian tongue. Although the events of 2014-2015 resulted in Ukrainians’ increasingly negative views of Russia, Russian-speaking Eastern Ukrainians continued to view the Russian language as an entity that was independent from the Russian Federation and continued to speak it, despite distancing themselves from Russia politically and culturally.
However, when Russia revived its attack on Ukraine in February 2022, once again violating Ukrainian autonomy in an attempt to reassert its imperial control, Russian-speaking Ukrainians further distanced themselves from their would-be oppressor by severing the last remaining tie: their language practices. In the months since Russia launched its most recent assault on Ukraine, citizens in the country’s east have swiftly abandoned the Russian language in favor of Ukrainian.
This large-scale linguistic shift has been well-documented. In order to assess how Eastern Ukrainians’ linguistic practices have changed in response to Russia’s military mobilization in February 2022, this thesis examines news articles from several Russian-language news sources in Ukraine. The primary sources that will be utilized in this study were selected because they reference both the Russian and/or Ukrainian languages within the context of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War. A thematic analysis is presented in order to reveal how Ukrainians’ perceptions and usage of the Russian language have shifted as a result of the war.
Panter, Julia, "Language of the Enemy: Impacts of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War on Linguistic and National Identity Paradigms in Ukraine" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.