A nation in transition : language policy and its impact on Russian-language education in Ukraine




Chilstrom, Karen Lynne McCulloch

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In its transition from a Soviet republic to an independent nation, Ukraine has struggled to bridge a centuries-old political, cultural, and linguistic divide that in the twentieth century alone has spawned deadly protests, two revolutions, the ousting of a president, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and an ongoing war in eastern Ukraine. Current political tensions between Russia and Ukraine threaten to split the country in two, so questions of language policy and national unity have taken on even greater urgency since 2014. This dissertation examines the evolution of policy related to Russian-language education in Ukraine at the primary and secondary levels and explores the impact of changes in policy on the teaching of Russian in that country. Based on data collected through interviews with seventeen teachers of Russian in Ukraine, this study presents an ethnographic portrait of Russian-language education after Maidan and answers three broad questions: 1) How have policies related to the role and status of the Russian language in Ukraine evolved since Ukraine became an independent nation, and how has this evolution in language policy affected the teaching of Russian there?; 2) How do geography and political conditions in contemporary Ukraine affect language policy, attitudes toward the Russian language, and the teaching of Russian?; and 3) How has the geopolitical relationship between Ukraine and Russia affected the status of, and attitudes toward, the Russian language and the study of Russian in Ukraine? An analysis of the data leads to several major findings: 1) Modifications to language policy in post-Soviet Ukraine have resulted in sweeping changes in the role of the Russian language within the education system and led to an end to compulsory Russian language studies, a drop in the prestige of the Russian language within the education system, and increasingly negative attitudes toward the study of Russian. 2) Political conditions and the historic cultural and linguist divide between western and eastern Ukraine continue to influence attitudes toward the Russian language in predictable ways. 3) Attitudes toward the Russian language in Ukraine worsened considerably following Euromaidan and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and negative attitudes persist due to Russia’s ongoing support of the war in Donbas. These findings suggest that language issues in Ukraine will continue to be of critical importance in the years to come and, if left unresolved, may lead to further division and conflict on a national and international scale.


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