The linguistic dilemmas of Ukrainian writers

The linguistic dilemmas of Ukrainian writers

The linguistic dilemmas of Ukrainian writers

In a bookshop in the Kyiv book market in June.  Should Olexander Drobin part with his Russian books?

Speaking the enemy’s language is not comfortable, but writing it can become downright undesirable. In any case, this is what a number of Ukrainian authors hear, in this country where support for the Ukrainian language is progressing, especially since the beginning of the war, but where in March about 20% of citizens declared themselves Russian asylum 2022 (compared to 42% in 2012). Out of loyalty to their country, many of them have therefore decided either to switch to Ukrainian or to stop publishing part of their texts. They are under no obligation to do so, since Russian is not banned in Ukraine, contrary to what Kremlin propaganda claims, but their approach reflects a climate where culture is heavily involved in the war effort.

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In Kyiv, Parliament has clearly taken a position in this direction: two laws passed on 19 June confirm that the conflict is not limited to military maneuvers. These texts, still pending the presidential signature, state that from now on it is forbidden to broadcast Russian music in public places (in any case music whose authors acquired Russian nationality after 1991 and the fall of the USSR) and that the import of Russian books is now banned in Ukraine. After six months of fighting, tens of thousands of dead and displaced, hundreds of buildings bombed, the announcement may seem symbolic. Yet it is capital, in a country where the defense of the Ukrainian is also a struggle for national identity.

The movement started after the Maidan revolution in 2014. Before that, “80% of the books sold in Ukraine were imported from Russia”, says publisher Oleksandr Krassovytsky. In June 2022, after ten years of continuous decline, the share of Russian pounds was only 45%. A Folio, a house founded in Kharkiv, a city where Russian speakers are very numerous, “We haven’t published Russians in Russian since February, explains Mr. Krassovytsky, neither the classics nor the contemporaries. Bulgakov, for example, we first translate it into Ukrainian ”. The only works still to appear in Russian under the Folio label are written by Ukrainian authors whose mother tongue is Russian.

Pushkin’s language and Putin’s language

According to Mr. Krassovytsky, 75% of Ukrainians can read in both languages, but writing is something else. Born in Chernivtsi in 1950, Boris Khersonsky has almost always lived in the predominantly Russian city of Odessa, but he can write Ukrainian after learning it in his youth, when he was studying psychology in Kyiv. “Before 2014 we had the opportunity to express ourselves in one language or another without any problem”underlines this white-bearded poet, interviewed with the assistance of Iryna Dmytrychyn, professor at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco), for translation.

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