According to the constitution, the state language of Ukraine is Ukrainian. Russian is widely spoken, especially in eastern and southern Ukraine. According to the 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their native language and 29.6 percent declared Russian. Most native Ukrainian speakers know Russian as a second language. Russian was the de facto dominant language of the Soviet Union but Ukrainian also held official status and in the schools of the Ukrainian SSR learning Ukrainian was mandatory. Effective in August 2012, a new law on regional languages entitles any local language spoken by at least a 10 percent minority be declared official within that area. Russian was within weeks declared as a regional language in several southern and eastern oblasts (provinces) and cities. Russian can now be used in these cities’/oblasts’ administrative office work and documents. On 23 February 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to repeal the law on regional languages, making Ukrainian the sole state language at all levels; however, the repeal was not signed by acting President Turchynov or by President Poroshenko. In February 2019, the law allowing for regional languages was found unconstitutional.
Ukrainian is mainly spoken in western and central Ukraine. In western Ukraine, Ukrainian is also the dominant language in cities (such as Lviv). In central Ukraine, Ukrainian and Russian are both equally used in cities, with Russian being more common in Kyiv,[f] while Ukrainian is the dominant language in rural communities. In eastern and southern Ukraine, Russian is primarily used in cities, and Ukrainian is used in rural areas. These details result in a significant difference across different survey results, as even a small restating of a question switches responses of a significant group of people.[f] Hungarian is spoken in the Zakarpattia Oblast.
For a large part of the Soviet era, the number of Ukrainian speakers declined from generation to generation, and by the mid-1980s, the usage of the Ukrainian language in public life had decreased significantly. Following independence, the government of Ukraine began restoring the image and usage of Ukrainian language through a policy of Ukrainisation. Today, most foreign films and TV programs, including Russian ones, are subtitled or dubbed in Ukrainian. Ukraine’s 2017 education law bars primary education in public schools in grade five and up in any language but Ukrainian. The Unian reported that “A ban on the use of cultural products, namely movies, books, songs, etc., in the Russian language in the public has been introduced” in the Lviv Oblast in September 2018.
According to the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukrainian is the only state language of the republic. However, the republic’s constitution specifically recognises Russian as the language of the majority of its population and guarantees its usage ‘in all spheres of public life’. Similarly, the Crimean Tatar language (the language of 12 percent of population of Crimea) is guaranteed a special state protection as well as the ‘languages of other ethnicities’. Russian speakers constitute an overwhelming majority of the Crimean population (77 percent), with Crimean Tatar speakers 11.4 percent and Ukrainian speakers comprising just 10.1 percent. But in everyday life the majority of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea use Russian.