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Ukrainian or Russian- which language to learn?

by Julia Khrypko

As a private tutor of both Ukrainian and Russian languages I am often asked by my new students: "Which one of the two languages should I learn in order to survive my trip to Ukraine?" And my answer is - it depends...
Most of Ukrainians are bilingual which means that they can  fluently speak both Ukrainian and Russian, some do not speak Ukrainian at all or mix it well with Russian and speak so called "surzhik".

Now, it looks at a glance that there is no reason to learn Ukrainian at all if you are planing your trip to Ukraine. It can be especially true if your destination are big cities in Eastern or Central Ukraine such as Kyiv, Donetsk, Lugansk etc. People there speak mostly Russian. However, if you plan to travel to the Western regions of the country - to the cities of Lviv, Uzhgorod, Ivano-Frankivsk, I would suggest you to learn Ukrainian. Local people there may be able to understand your Russian but would either ignore you or respond in Ukrainian. It is a patriotic issue and has nothing to do with you personally - they just believe that in Ukraine people have to speak the language of the country which is Ukrainian. It makes sense, right?

Also if you are planning to visit not just Ukraine but also Poland and Czech Republic, Ukrainian will help you to understand Polish and Czech languages - they are quite similar. However, if your next destination is Russia - then go ahead and learn Russian.

Thus, the conclusion is - your destination in Ukraine determines the language you will need there - either Ukrainian or Russian. And if you want to be extra flexible - why not learn both?! But please do not do it at the same time. In my next post I will explain why.

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