Abstracts – Ukraine

November 6, 10.15-11.45 Language in conflict an war – focus: Ukraine

Dr. Liudmyla Pidkuimukha (Justus Liebig University Giessen): Weaponizing Language: How Russia Commits Linguicide on the Occupied Territories of Ukraine

Russia’s centuries-long war against the Ukrainian language as, perhaps, the most powerful element of the national identity, is becoming ever more apparent now. Bolshevik’s discriminative language and cultural policy have been already investigated (Masenko 2005, 2017; Pavlova 2010; Renchka 2018), and new manifestations of linguicide require a more meticulous analysis. Currently, the concept of linguicide is argued in the public space and considered by intellectuals. For instance, the linguicide of the Russian Empire, USSR, and Russian Federation towards Ukraine has been recently discussed at the round table “Linguicide as One of the Tools of Racism” (September 14, 2023). Moreover, it is actively presented at press events, in media, and at conferences by Taras Kremin, State Language Protection Commissioner.

The proposed research focuses on the problem of linguicide in the occupied territories of Ukraine after the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. The database for the study is taken from open sources (social media, publications in media, local and state authorities) as well as from the data collected by the State Language Protection Commissioner to whom people can report any acts by the occupiers or collaborators involving the discrimination or repression of Ukrainians based on language. The tools of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), namely the sociognitive approach, have been applied to the study.

To cover the aforementioned issue, I will outline the processes of linguicide in the following areas:
• Linguistic landscape (replacement of Ukrainian signs and road signs with Russian ones, renaming of streets, etc.)
• Education (switching of schools to the Russian language of instruction, teaching according to the Russian programs, replacement of history textbooks)
• Document management (organization of ceremonies in Russian, filing of applications in Russian, etc.)
• Culture (destruction of libraries, holding of cultural events in Russian, removal of Ukrainian-language books from libraries, in particular books on the history of Ukraine, opening so-called museums of military glory, etc.)
• Media (shelling of Ukrainian television towers, switching off or seizing of Ukrainian TV channels and radio stations, launching Russian propaganda television, and distribution of Russian newspapers).
The results demonstrate that the current Russian language and cultural policy on the occupied territories aims to destroy Ukrainian identity, minimize Ukrainian culture and distort the Ukrainian language.


Svetlana L’nyavsky (Lund University): I am a Russian Ukrainian, but I will not learn Ukrainian just for you! Language ideological debates, linguistic vigilantism, and Internally Displaced People at the time of war

This presentation analyses language ideological debates in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook. The importance of language choices in offline and online communication is investigated in language-related and non-language-related discussions collected between the years 2016 to 2022.

The social network study of language practices focuses on social action and relies on language management and ethnolinguistic identity theories. Multidimensional discursive approach to language policy studies is applied to research of social practices offline and online relying on flexible methods of digital and critical ethnography with elements of Nexus analysis.

The analysis of language-related debates reveals an intense dissatisfaction of Ukrainian speakers with largely declarative state language politics, alleged disregard for the new state language law by the Russian speakers, and inconsistent use of national language in all spheres of official communication. On the contrary, the analysis of non-language related debates demonstrates the indifference for the language of communication, non-accommodating bilingualism, and code-switching if the need arises.

Russian speakers perceive the implementation of the new language law as discriminating and destructive to the country’s already fragile unity. Moreover, the ongoing military aggression causes anxiety among Ukrainian speakers and overestimation of the quantity and quality of the anti-Ukrainian sentiment among Ukrainian speakers of Russian, resulting in sharp debates about identities and language, questioning its importance at the time of hardship. Furthermore, the close analysis reveals tension, mistrust, and misunderstanding between the ethnic nationalism-oriented language rights activists and the speakers of the two main languages in Ukraine revived by the events of 2014, exacerbated by the indecisive language politics and the inability of the government to cut ties the with the imperial legacies and he” “Russian World”.

Language-related discussions provided corpus data based on personal offline conflicts that received a new “digital” life online in media and social networks. The analysis of personal conflicts points at female Russian speakers as the most frequent subjects of unwanted public exposure, shaming, and hate campaigns, amounting to 80% of cases documented for the last five years. Most of the confrontations occur in the service sphere, where most service personnel are females, usually working long hours for minimal wages. Among those women, some are described as the IDPs in denigrating language; many women belong to the IDP group, judging by the meta-data in the discussions, the others are passive bilinguals whose family, education, and work history did not provide opportunities to become active users of spoken Ukrainian. The issues of eventual reintegration of the occupied territories are often found in official and public discourse – what those reintegration discussions often ignore are the people.


Solomija Buk, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, Department of General Linguistics: Ukrainian for Foreigners in Russian-Ukrainian War: Changes and Challenges

The impact of wars on culture, communication and the status of languages is crucial. Full scale Russian invasion in Ukraine opened multiple questions not only in geopolitical and economical, but also in humanitarian sphere, in particular in linguistics. Language situation in Ukraine before and during the war, as well as modelling postwar language situation; redistribution of language functions in a bilingual society; war migration and language; language problems of education in the conditions of war and post-war times; language of war, propaganda with manipulation and the ways of their neutralization; this is a not complete list of the problems we are facing in Ukraine right now.

Covering itself with a screen of protection of Russian language, Moskow’s so called “special operation” made the opposite effect on the sociolinguistic situation in Ukraine: Rusian-Ukrainian war discredited the perception of Russian language and culture in eyes of Ukrainians, moreover, even in its Eastern regions. De iure Ukraine has one official state language (Ukrainian), and de facto because of the long period of Russian colonization of Ukraine, Russian became very widespread in the Central and Eastern parts of Ukraine as a lingua franca needed to make career and to be seen as loyal to the ruling government. So, even here instead of strengthening the foundations of the “Russian world”, the full scale invasion activated the self-identification, nation-building, and unifying function of the Ukrainian, not the Russian, language. While Russian became to be seen as the language of the enemy, invaders, and occupants.
Such the geopolitical and sociolinguistic situation in Ukraine had the huge impact on the perception of Ukrainian in eyes of many foreign citizens, in particular in eyes of people learning Ukrainian.

The conclusions about the change in attitude towards the Ukrainian language were made on the basis of the conducted research, which involved 256 people: 121 foreign respondents in 2003–2021 and 125 foreign respondents in 2022–2023. All of them were learning Ukrainian in individual classes or in private language schools in Lviv and Kyiv. Starting from 2022, new groups of interested foreigners were identified, significant changes in their perception of Ukrainian language as well as in their motivation to study it were monitored. Often Ukrainian learners substantiate their choice to learn this language with solidarity, help, political position, “right thing”, identification with the heroes, marker of friends/allies, reconstruction of Ukraine etc.
It is interesting to identify and track how the perception of the Ukrainian and Russian languages depends on the political, social, war and other factors in the region.


November 7, 13.00-14.15 Afternoon session 1

Nadiya Kiss (JLU Giessen): Languages at war: Language shift, contested language diversity and ambivalent enmity in Ukraine

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the cultural and language situation in Ukraine has experienced tremendous changes. Sociolinguists and cultural anthropologists, particularly, Corinne Seals and Lada Bilaniuk observed a language shift from Russian to Ukrainian even before the full-scale invasion, marking it as a “choosing mother tongue” movement (Seals 2019) or “linguistic conversion”, fueled by language activists’ groups (Bilaniuk 2020). Just before the full-scale invasion a flashmob in social media started – influencers, businessmen, and public figures appealed to Russian-speaking Ukrainians to use more Ukrainian in everyday life, demonstrating such a language behaviour by their own example. Sociological data, collected by the sociological group Rating in 2022-2023, have proven that these are not individual cases, but a mass-scale process. During the full-scale war, in public discourse and social media posts, Ukrainian is often defined as a language of resistance and freedom (Kulyk 2022), and Russian as a language of enemy and aggression. Such a shift in language attitudes and use could be explained by different factors: 1) postcolonial resistance towards everything that represents the Russian Federation – language, culture, symbols, and Soviet heritage; 2) forced migration processes within the country and abroad.

The conceptualisations of language resistance are also present in public discourse, literature, and art. As Serhiy Zhadan, a prominent Ukrainian writer, defined it in his book Sky over Kharkiv (2022): “Today history is not simply being rewritten – it is being rewritten in Ukrainian” (p. 26). Language itself reacted to the war with numerous neologisms, starting from the famous phrase about Russian warship, many of these words and phrases became also international, included, for instance, in the online Urban Dictionary. Another Ukrainian writer Ostap Slyvynskyi published a collective book of poems Dictionary of War, in which Ukrainian poets reflected on the sensitivity of language in times of war and how words acquire new meanings. Discussions about language use during the wartimes are also vivid on social media, especially within the circles of public intellectuals. On the level of language policy, recently the decision was made to allow writing the words Russia, Russian Federation, and Moscow using a lowercase letter in unofficial documents. Such a decision just standardised the practice of language use in online and social media which started from the bottom-up level immediately after the full-scale invasion.

The situation of forced migration affected not only the dynamics of Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism, but also minority language communities. Representatives of national minorities also fled abroad, for instance, many Crimean Tatar families, exposed to persecution and fear of mobilization into the Russian army, left the peninsula; many Hungarians fled from Transcarpathia to Hungary, mostly because of the economic crisis in the region, caused by the war. Such a situation has an impact on schooling (not full classes, not enough schoolchildren for minority language lessons), and communication within the national minority groups. Summing up, the complex language situation in Ukraine is even more complicated due to the war situation. On the other hand, postcolonial identity transformation and cultural resistance bring positive effects on language policy and management.        

Bilaniuk, L. (2020). Linguistic Conversion in Ukraine: Nation‐Building on the Self. In: Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 59–82.

Kulyk, V. (2022). Die Sprache des Widerstands. Der Krieg und der Aufschwung des Ukrainischen. In: Osteuropa 6-8, 237–248.

Seals, C. (2019). Choosing a mother tongue: The politics of language and identity in Ukraine. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Slyvynsky, O. (2023). Wörter im Krieg. Edition Foto Tapeta, Berlin. 

Zhadan, S. (2022). Himmel über CharkiwNachrichten vom Überleben im Krieg. Suhrkamp.

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