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Despite being famed port city’s primary language, Ukrainian authorities in Odessa strip Russian of its status as official tongue

Despite being famed port city’s primary language, Ukrainian authorities in Odessa strip Russian of its status as official tongue
A district court in the Ukrainian city of Odessa has opted to remove Russian as an official regional language. The move comes despite the fact Russian is the main spoken tongue in the famous city, founded by Catherine the Great

Of course, that was in the 18th century, but Odessa historically wasn't a Ukrainian city. Until the Nazis invaded in the 1940s, Russian Jews comprised the main ethnic group. Even in 2001, amazingly the last time Ukraine conducted a census, almost 30% of locals still identified as Russian. 

According to a 2015 study by the US State Department-funded International Republican Institute, 78 percent of Odessan homes use Russian as the primary tongue, with Ukrainian at just six percent.

Svyatoslav Litynsky, a political campaigner famous for his advocacy of the Ukrainian language, says his work with the prosecutor’s office “managed to force them to file a lawsuit to overturn the illegal decision.” The 2012 legislation passed by the Odessa City Council to give a special status to the Russian language was found to be inconsistent with Ukrainian law.

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Litynsky is famously litigious when it comes to Russian. In 2014, he requested that he receive a Ukrainian passport without a page in the Russian language, and was successful. In 2015, he used the courts to force the country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs to provide a Ukrainian-language translation of the Interior Minister’s Russian-language speech. He has also sued businesses to force them to provide Ukrainian language services.

Despite Russian being the native language of millions of Ukrainians, the usage of the tongue is the subject of regular debate within the country. Since the events of Euromaidan in 2014, the government has pushed several laws aimed at encouraging the supremacy of Ukrainian over Russian. In 2017, the parliament passed a law requiring TV channels to broadcast at least 75 percent of their content in Ukrainian. Similar rules are in effect for radio.

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Debates on the Russian language have also recently come to the forefront in other former Soviet countries, such as Belarus. Last week, Stanislav Shushkevich, the country’s first post-independence leader, proposed removing Russian as one of the official state languages, leaving only Belarusian, which is not widely spoken. As in Odessa, residents of Belarus primarily speak Russian at home.

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