Overview of the Languages of the Ukraine

  • Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine although Russian is still widely spoken throughout the country
  • There is a policy in place attempting to establish the Ukrainian language more extensively and eventually create a state where Ukrainian is the only language
  • In a census 67.5% declared Ukrainian as their native language, 29.6% declared Russian as their native language
  • Crimean Tartar language is spoken by approximately 12% of the population 
  • The Ukrainian government recognizes Ukrainian, Russian, Crimean Tartar, and Surzhyk and guarantees that all languages will be accepted.
  • Surzhyk is spoken mostly in rural areas and is a combination of Ukrainian and Russian. It uses Russian vocabulary with Ukrainian pronunciation and grammar.

Similarities and Differences between Ukrainian and Russian

Scholars divide the Slavic languages into three main branches, some of which feature sub-branches:

East Slavic, including Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Rusyn West Slavic, which further subdivide into: Czech and Slovak, Upper and Lower Sorbian (minority languages in Germany), Lechitic languages: Polish , Pomeranian/Kashubian and extinct Polabian. South Slavic, which further subdivide into: Western subgroup composed of Slovenian and the Serbo-Croatian group (Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian; they are mutually intelligible), Croatian-chakavian,Croatian-kajkavian Eastern subgroup composed of Standard Bulgarian and Macedonian (mutually intelligible languages).

Common features fusional morphology; preservation of Proto-Indo-European noun case system - most Slavic languages have seven cases; differentiation between perfective and imperfective aspect of verbs large inventories of consonants (especially sibilants); phonemic palatalization; complex consonant clusters, as in Russian vstryecha “meeting” or Polish bezwzględny “absolute”.

Detailed list with ISO 639 and SIL codes
The following tree for the Slavic languages derives from the Ethnologue report for Slavic languages.[8] It includes the ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2 codes where available as well as the SIL. ISO 639-2 uses the code sla in a general way for Slavic languages not included in one of the other codes.

East Slavic languages:

Belarusian (alternatively Belarusan, Belarussian, Belorussian) - (ISO 639-1 code: be; ISO 639-2 code: bel;SIL code: bel) Ukrainian - (ISO 639-1 code: uk; ISO 639-2 code: ukr; SIL code: ukr) Russian - (ISO 639-1 code: ru; ISO 639-2 code, rus; SIL code: rus) Rusyn - (ISO 639-2 code: sla; SIL code: rue)


  • Like Russian, most Ukrainian consonants come in two forms: unpalatalized (hard) and palatalized (soft). This distinction makes a difference in word meaning. Palatalization refers to a secondary articulation whereby the body of the tongue is raised toward the hard palate during the articulation of the consonant. 


  • Ukrainian has a voiced glottal fricative absent in Russian. This sound is also absent in English (try pronouncing the English /h/ while vibrating your vocal cords).
  • Ukrainian has no /v/ sound. The sound /w/ is used instead. The name Ivanov is pronounced as /ivanof/ in Russian, and as /ivanow/ in Ukrainian.
  • Ukrainian does not devoice final consonants, whereas Russian does. Thus, сад “garden” is pronounced as /sad/ in Ukrainian in contrast to /sat/ in Russian.


  • Like Russian, stress in Ukrainian can fall on any syllable in a word.

source: Ukrainian

The alphabet of the Ukrainian language consists of 33 letters and is derived from the Cyrillic writing system the 33 letters represent thirty-eight phonemes,

Ukrainian vowels

From a modern perspective, the Ukrainian vowels can be divided into 2 categories:

  • Hard Vowels (In Cyrillic: а, е, и, і, о, and у or transliterated as a, e, y, i, o, and u): This category as can be seen from the table is different from the historical hard category. 
  • Iotified Vowel (In Cyrillic: я, є, ї, and ю or transliterated as ja, je, ji, and ju) To this category can also be added the combination of letters йо (transliterated as jo) 2)


Classification of Consonants

In Ukrainian, a four-fold categorisation of consonants can be made:

  • Labials (In Cyrillic: б, в, м, п, and ф or transliterated as b, v, m, p, and f): These letters are in Ukrainian almost always hard (there are orthographic exceptions), can never be doubled, nor can they in general be followed by an iotified vowel (exception: in combinations CL where C is a dental and L is a labial, a soft vowel can follow, e.g. svjato/свято. 
  • Sibilants (In Cyrillic: ж, ч, and ч or transliterated as ž, č, and š. The digraph, щ (šč) should also be included): These letters were in Common Slavic all palatal (soft). In Ukrainian, these harded, leading to the creation of the mixed declension of nouns. None of them can be followed by a soft sign (In Cyrillic: ь; transliterated as apostrophe (')) or any iotified vowel. All but the digraph can be doubled, in which case they can be followed by a soft vowel e.g. zbižžja/збіжжя. 
  • Dentals (In Cyrillic: д, з, л, н, с, т and ц or transliterated as d, z, l, n, s, t, and c): In Ukrainian, as in Common Slavic, these letters can be both hard and soft. These letters can never (unless they are the last letter in a prefix) be followed by an apostrophe. Furthermore, these letters can be doubled. 
  • Velars (In Cyrillic: г (ґ), к, and х or transliterated as h (g), k, and x): In both Ukrainian and Common Slavic, these letters are always hard. Should they ever be followed by an iotified or soft vowel, then they undergo the first and second palatalisations. Hence, these letters can never be doubled or followed by an apostrophe. 
  • Cyrillic: р (transliterated: r): The letter in general behaves similar to the dental category, with the following exception: 
    • Word finally р is always hard. r can never be doubled. 



Ukrainian orthography is based on the phonemic principle, with one letter generally corresponding to one phoneme, although there are a number of exceptions. The orthography also has cases where the semantic, historical, and morphological principles are applied.The letter щ represents two consonants [ʃʧ]. The combination of [j] with some of the vowels is also represented by a single letter ([ja]=я, [je]=є, [ji]=ї, [ju]=ю), while [jo]=йо and the rare regional [jɪ]=йи are written using two letters. These iotated vowel letters and a special soft sign change a preceding consonant from hard to soft. An apostrophe is used to indicate the hardness of the sound in the cases when normally the vowel would change the consonant to soft.
A letter is repeated to indicate that the sound is long.
The phonemes [ʣ] and [ʤ] do not have dedicated letters in the alphabet and are rendered with the digraphs дз and дж, respectively. [ʣ] is pronounced like English ds in pods, [ʤ] is like g in huge.


  • There is no set word order in Ukrainian
  • There are no articles
  • Case endings indicate the function of a word in the sentence

In Ukrainian, there are 4 declension types. The first declension is used for most feminine nouns. The second declension is used for most masculine and neuter nouns. The third declension is used for feminine nouns ending in ь or a sibilant. The fourth declension is used for neuter nouns ending in я/а (Common Slavic *ę). Most of the types consist of 3 different subgroups: hard, mixed, and soft. The soft subgroup consists of nouns whose roots end in a soft letter (followed by iotified vowel or soft vowel). The mixed subgroup consists of the nouns whose roots end in a sibilant or occasionally r. The hard group consists of all other nouns.


  • Declension-In linguistics, declension is the inflection of nouns, pronouns and adjectives to indicate such features as number (typically singular vs. plural) and case (subject, object, and so on). Declension occurs in a great many of the world's languages, and features very prominently in many Indo-European languages, but is much less prominent in English; English nouns only decline to distinguish singular from plural (e.g. book vs. books), English adjectives do not decline at all, and only a few English pronouns show vestiges of case-triggered declension (e.g. subjective he vs. objective him).


References and Resources