What is the problem?
Many russian-speaking Ukrainians are the product of years of oppression of the Ukrainian language by the russian empire and then the USSR. Ukraine had been for many years under the occupation of russia where the Ukrainian language and culture were banned, suppressed, and destroyed. Ukrainian writers, poets, playwrights, professors, and other members of the intelligentsia were censured, imprisoned, or executed. In the years of the russian empire and USSR, Ukrainian was banned in some form more than 60 times, and the russian language was forced upon the population.
Now, when russia is waging a destructive and horrifying war of genocide and destruction, mindful Ukrainians have a growing desire to find their identity, improve themselves, and have as little things in common as possible with the enemies, who want Ukraine to turn into a voiceless vassal of their aggressor country. More and more russian-speaking citizens want to switch to Ukrainian. This way they resist the enemy.
What is the solution?
The Yedyni (United in Ukrainian) is a project that has helped many people who want to speak Ukrainian since the beginning of the full-scale war. Hundreds of volunteers record lectures, organize language express courses and organize language clubs. The project's founders are certain Ukrainians have the strongest core. It can't be bombed or blacked out. And in its base are culture and language. If we preserve them, no matter how great the destruction, we will always restore Ukraine.
How does it work?
Two years ago, Natalka Fedechko was looking for Ukrainian-speaking teachers for her children. It turned out to be quite a quest, which pushed her to launch the Teach Ukrainian initiative. Thanks to this project, many teachers and trainers of sports sections went through soft Ukrainianization.
When a full-scale war began, Teach Ukrainian was approached by Ivan Kapeliushnyk, who proposed to expand the initiative making it "large-scale and systemic, so that it has a powerful impact on thousands and millions of people." He recalls that when all the work of volunteers was directed to help the army, the language issue caused some doubts about the relevance of this issue during the war.
However, the initiators of the Yedyni project were confident that the language issue was "timely." People from russian-speaking regions who evacuated to the predominantly Ukrainian-speaking west because of the war wanted to speak the same language as the people who helped them. In addition, people's motivation to stay away from anything related to the enemy has become extremely acute.
This is how language ambassadors Natalka Fedechko, Ivanna Kobielieva, and Ivan Kapeliushnyk launched the Yedyni project and became the founders of the all-Ukrainian language movement.
What the Yedyni course offers
Today, the Yedyni movement is a powerful motivational multi-component project which aims to provide educational and psychological support to russian-speaking Ukrainians in the transition to the Ukrainian language. The project is implemented thanks to representatives of various public organizations and supported by the Commissioner for the Protection of the Ukrainian Language. More than 30 Ukrainian celebrities and bloggers help motivate them to learn the Ukrainian language.
Training lasts for a month and is free. The course starts on the first Monday of each month.
The project's key components are the following:
- The 28-day free online course: theoretical knowledge and interesting practice. Daily tasks and educational materials.
- Lectures and webinars from leading specialists in psychology, eidetic, mnemonics, phonetics, motivation, history, and culture of Ukraine.
- Psychological and technical support: support chats for participants, where they get answers to their questions and advice from a psychologist on overcoming the language barrier.
- Linguistic resilience: forming a community of project participants.
Speaking clubs have a special place in the Yedyni educational course. They take place once a week. Despite rockets, blackouts, being in bomb shelters, or the dark, Ukrainians are learning their language and getting to know the history and culture of their people during live meetings or online.
Does it work?
"Dad? Is that a Muscovite?!"
The story of Oleh Hanchenko from Kyiv is very similar to the stories of many people who were "born in the USSR." His father was a military man. The family moved a lot, so Oleh never learned the Ukrainian language, although he lived in Ukraine for almost all his school years. After school, he studied in russia at a military institute. After his graduation, he returned to Ukraine, but…
"No matter where I lived, I was surrounded only by the russian language everywhere. And, to be honest, I myself used to feel mentally 'russian.'"
Everything changed during the Maidan 2014 Revolution of Dignity, which rose as a response to the pro-russian president's decision to abandon the European direction.
"I joined the ranks of the 14th Kolomyia Hundred called Free People at the protest campsite. I was the only russian speaker in the tent of ten people," says Oleh. "But that's when I probably felt like a Ukrainian for the first time. This was my first step towards realizing the need to speak Ukrainian. I felt proud that I am Ukrainian!"
Oleh tried to communicate to his russian relatives and friends what was happening in Ukraine then, but they did not understand him. Moreover, some of his classmates with whom he once sat at the same table now hatefully wished him to die as a Maidan participant and a "Bandera," a term russian propaganda uses frequently in relation to Ukrainians and which was derived from the name of Stepan Bandera, Ukrainian historical figure and nationalist.
In 2014, on Easter, friends from the Maidan invited Oleh and his family to their home near the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine's West.
"My friend Ruslan invited us to his home. When we entered, he sat down and took his youngest son in his arms. He was 2-3 years old then. As usual, I started speaking in russian, and at that moment, the boy turned to me and asked loudly: 'Dad, what is this, a Muscovite [old foreign name for russians]?!'" Oleh recalls. "I could see undisguised rage. A two-year-old child who clearly identified me as an enemy had just heard the russian language. And then I felt ashamed that I don't know how to communicate in Ukrainian."
Since then, Oleh Hanchenko has tried to speak Ukrainian, at least in conversations with Maidan participants. And in March 2022, a friend of Oleh's, Ruslan, died defending Kyiv at the hand of the russian invaders. He is survived by his wife and five children. At this moment, Oleh Hanchenko felt that he could no longer use the language of those who kill Ukrainians.
Oleh signed up for the Yedyni course. He admits that the transition to Ukrainian is not easy for him. Lack of vocabulary, internal interpretation, and fear of mistakes slows down the progress and distracts. But, as Oleh says, when he understands what exactly is getting in the way, it is easier for him to overcome these difficulties.
"Many of my friends and acquaintances switched to Ukrainian at the beginning of the war. Some only write in Ukrainian, and some have switched completely. Those people, from whom I have not heard a single Ukrainian word for many years, seem to have turned the switch. It inspires me. If they could, I can too."
"From now on, I will only speak Ukrainian!"
Svitlana Tsioma grew up in Kropyvnytskyi. Her whole life was in russian: school, institute, work, and home. However, her parents were born in the village. They spoke surzhyk, a mixed sociolect of Ukrainian and russian languages that formed as a result of the forced russification of the Ukrainian population and the ban on Ukrainian. But in the city, it was considered that speaking Ukrainian was not prestigious. At work, documentation was in Ukrainian, but she spoke Russian with the children (Svitlana works as a table tennis coach). She admits that, like many others, she did not understand "what difference it makes in what language she speaks."
"After February 24, it quickly dawned on me what language to speak," Svitlana Tsioma recalls. "I have decided that I will only speak Ukrainian from now on."
At first, it was difficult, but four and a half months passed, and now Svitlana proudly says that she can no longer speak russian.
"I had difficulties, but everyone helped me. I announced to everyone that from now on, I only speak my native language. The first two months were difficult, and then Ukrainian poured out of me," Svitlana shares. "The impetus to transition to the Ukrainian language was the war. When my son volunteered for the war, he said, 'You taught me to be a patriot of my country.' And I realized that my son has his weapon in the war, but in the rear, my weapon is my language!"
Learning Ukrainian changed not only Svitlana's life but also her environment:
"I really feel my influence on people. My environment switches to Ukrainian with me. This is my sister, friend, and colleagues at work. We opened a Leisure center with IDPs. Many people from Kharkiv visit it. And after some time, they also try to speak with us in Ukrainian."
"I took my first step towards communicating in Ukrainian"
Stefan Far from Germany participated in the Yedyni course seventh wave. He has intently followed russia's invasion of Ukraine since February 24.
"I absorbed information about the war in English, often translated from russian or Ukrainian telegram channels. Once, at the end of the 1990s, I learned a little russian, but all my knowledge had already gone rusty."
Over time, the man wished to receive information about Ukraine in the original language, especially since more and more Ukrainians with whom he communicated "felt awkward with my basic russian."
At the end of August, Stefan started learning his first Ukrainian words by installing a language application on his smartphone. He also found a small textbook on grammar and a Ukrainian language course podcast. Since then, he has been learning 20 new words and repeating 80 words daily, listening to the podcast while shopping, in the car, and even in the shower.
A decisive turning point on Stefan Far's path to Ukrainian occurred in October 2022. At a book fair near a stand with Ukrainian books, he met a Ukrainian woman who told him about the Yedyni.
"I felt that this is a platform where I could learn something about the Ukrainian language and the aspirations of people who want to feel at peace with themselves while speaking Ukrainian. Moreover, it was and remained a place where I don't need to be ashamed of my really weak Ukrainian," Stefan says. "Our teacher and moderator, Kateryna Tkachenko, helped me and many others to feel at ease, to take this important step in our lives — to switch to the Ukrainian language instead of russian or any other language."
Stefan gets emotional recalling his first words in Ukrainian in public:
"I still remember my first lesson, when I listened, listened, and listened, barely understanding the words. And then Ms. Kateryna introduced me to the group as 'exactly that' foreign student who knew almost nothing. She asked me to say something about myself. A virtual drum beat began, and I was sweating before I could even say a word. I managed two sentences about who I am, maybe three. I was exhausted! I couldn't think straight anymore! My heart was beating at a speed of 160 beats per minute! But, most importantly, I took my first step towards communicating in Ukrainian. An unforgettable moment!"
The more Stefan learned about the Yedyni, the more he was impressed by the structure of this project.
"Teachers and other employees give their time on a volunteer basis for the high purpose of building and shaping a nation they want to be proud of. But the Yedyni is also a large community of students who share thoughts and experiences and help each other in life's difficulties," says Stefan Far. "Today, after three months with Yedyni, I see progress and know that there is a group of Ukrainians who will support me in my next steps. I can't wait to go to Ukraine in the next few months."
Helping one million Ukrainians switch to their native tongue
The Yedyni project started in April 2022 and started with just a few volunteers. But the first class had about 11,000 participants! The course organizers were amazed: in terms of the number of students, the Yedini could compete with any university. Later, the initiative went to the national and later to the international level.
For ten months now, Yedyni has been helping everyone who wants to switch to Ukrainian. Every month, the project takes on new groups. During 28 days, course participants complete assignments in a friendly and comfortable atmosphere, listen to lectures from experts and famous people and attend conversation clubs. And what pleases the project's initiators the most is that people switch to the Ukrainian language.
The Yedyni movement shares its winning statistics:
- 60,000 participants switched to Ukrainian.
- 35 team members, 335 teachers, and 400 volunteers joined the project.
- Conversation clubs operate in 25 cities of Ukraine and abroad — in Lublin, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Vilnius, Prague, and Helsinki.
- The project team confidently steps towards its goal — to help 1 million Ukrainians switch to Ukrainian by 2024.
Even more helpful solutions!
For whom is the Yedyni course?
- For people who want to speak Ukrainian and have a vocabulary but cannot dare to use it in everyday life.
- For people who are looking for like-minded people for a confident transition to their native language.
- For parents who want to speak with their children in Ukrainian.
- For those who want to improve their Ukrainian in professional life.
Each course has its own "zest." For example, the January course was held with the participation of Ukrainian singer Oksana Mukha, who shared songs and secrets of Ukrainian traditions with the listeners. In the jubilee tenth course, the project added an advanced course to the regular program. In 28 days, course participants will learn techniques that help to remember difficult words, phrases, and accents in the Ukrainian language and will receive exercises for speech development.
"The Yedyni project is not work but pure pleasure. Being aware of the importance and necessity of our work in such difficult times gives inspires us and doesn't let us stop," says Sofia Denysiuk, the project's operational director. "We have a motto: when you think that you're doing little to approach our victory, switch to Ukrainian; when you think that you are still doing little, help others to switch to Ukrainian. This is what we do because who, if not us? And when, if not now? We are the only ones who have this unique language, and we are only united when we speak Ukrainian."
If you also want to do a good deed to win, switch to Ukrainian in 2023. On February 6, the project starts its tenth 28-day free support course in transitioning to the Ukrainian language. You can find the registration form here.
Social media of the project:
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