Ukrainian [ukrajins'ka mova] is, along with Russian and Belarusian, an East Slavonic language. These three languages were spoken in the Kievan Rus region (9th century). Originally the Ukrainian language area in Poland comprised the eastern voivodships Podlaskie, Lubelskie, Podkarpackie and to the South the Małopolskie Voivodship. Today the Ukrainians are scattered over the voivodships of Dolnośląskie, Lubuskie, Zachodniopomorskie, Pomorskie and Warmińsko-Mazurskie. The denomination for the whole East Slavonic territory often caused confusion as Rus was equated with Russia. That is also why Russian was also called “Great Russian” and Ukrainian “Small Russian” and Ukrainian was often classified as a Russian dialect.
The varieties of Ukrainian in Poland can be classified as Podlasie (often indicated as a Belarusian-Ukrainian transition dialect), Volhynian-Chełm, Dniestr, San, Boyko and Lemko. In the past, Ruthenian (in Polish: Lemkish) was considered as a Ukrainian dialect. In the Middle Ages the term ‘Ruthenian’ was used for the Russians. During the Austrian-Hungarian Empire the (West) Ukrainians living there were called ‘Russinians’ (self-denomination: Rusini) or ‘Ruthenians’. A revival of Ruthenian or Russinian has been pursued since 1980.
In the 18th century, apart from the Church Slavonic which was commonly used until then, a Ukrainian standard language and literature developed from popular speech. In the 19th century the Ukrainian culture and thus its literary language reached its peak. The development focused on scientific rather than political topics. With the establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic in 1918 and later also in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Ukrainian became the state language for the first time. Ukrainian was not prohibited during Soviet times, but the Russian language prevailed in all scientific and literary works as well as the media as the lingua franca. Therefore today’s common language has strong Russian influences. After the independence of the Ukraine in 1991, Ukrainian became the official language of the new state.
Ukrainians are an East Slavonic nation which emerged between the 14th and 16th century in the South-East of the former Old Russian state Kievan Rus. The ethnonym Ukrainian is based on words linked to the territory where the ethnic community emerged: Krai [margin] and Okraina [marginal region]. Since the end of the 12th century the marginal territories of Kiev and Perejaslawl were considered as the Ukraine. At the same time the term “Small Russia” was used. In the 16th-18th century the members of the ethnic community were called “Small Russians” [Čerkasians] in official documents. The province Galicia, which has had this name since the late 17th century, is one of the historical regions of Poland, especially the western part (in the west of the San River). It was called “Small Poland“ [Malopolska] as opposed to “Great Poland” [Wielkopolska], i.e. the Poznań region. The most important city – Kraków – had been the seat of Polish kings for a long time. The eastern part of Galicia was formerly called Ruthenia and was originally inhabited by Ruthenians. From the 14th century onwards, more and more Poles settled in Ruthenia due to the Polish influence and many Ruthenians adopted the Polish language and culture.
For centuries the historical region of Galicia, where Ukrainians live, was characterised by the ethnic and religious heterogeneity of its inhabitants. Its unity is due to the fact that it was part of a transnational state between the 14th and 20th century – first of the Polish kingdom and since the 18th century of the Hapsburg monarchy. After World War I Galicia became part of the re-founded independent Poland. However, as the new Poland considered itself, contrary to the Polish kingdom, as a nation state, conflicts with the non-Polish population of Galicia arose, especially with the nationally conscious Ukrainians in the East. The unity, which was able to bridge the cultural heterogeneity until then, was completely lost with the division of Galicia into separate Polish and Ukrainian parts in 1945. With the outbreak of World War II, tens of thousands of Polish civilians were victims of the policy of ethnic cleansing in East Galicia, which was initiated by the “Ukrainian Rebellion Army” (UPA) in 1943. In that time Galicia lost its Jewish population, which significantly influenced the towns and the cultural life of this region for centuries. After World War II the Soviet Ukraine, which now also incorporated East Galicia, split Galicia into two parts. A far-reaching Polish-Soviet population exchange was made in 1945-46: all Poles from eastern Galicia and all Ukrainians from western Galicia were evacuated and “repatriated” to a country where they had never lived before. Thus more than one million Galician Ukrainians, Ruthenians/Lemks and Poles were uprooted and the region was deprived of another large part of its ancestral population. In 1947 the Communist government of Poland removed Ukrainian settlements at its eastern and south-eastern borders. In the course of the Vistula Operation [Wisła Aktion] around 200,000 Ukrainians were deported to and dispersed over the new western regions along the Oder and Neisse rivers.
According to the 2002 census there were 30,952 persons of Ukrainian nationality. Estimates from different sources indicate 300,000 Ukrainian-speakers without distinguishing between Ruthenians/Lemks (Association for Civic Media 2003; Handbook on Contact Linguistics 1996).
Since the Polish authorities acknowledge the Ukrainians as a regional minority, Article 35 of the Constitution as well as the respective decrees of the Ministry of Education and Sports also apply to them (see country report ). The Ukrainian minority is politically represented on the local level, especially in the Warmińsko-Mazurskie province.
The use of Ukrainian at school is based on the 2002 decree of the Minister for National Education and Sports (see country report). In the school year 2002/2003 there were 80 primary schools where Ukrainian was taught. For a minority living as dispersed as the Ukrainians are it is very important to have boarding schools where the children can stay during the week. The most important schools are in Biały Bór (Pomerania), Bartoszyce (Masuria) and Przemyśl. Moreover, in the school year 2002/2003 there were 46 grammar schools and ten secondary schools where Ukrainian was taught. Boarding schools are to be found in Biały Bór (Pomerania), Górowo Iławeckie (Masuria) and Legnica (Lower Silesia). The Warsaw University has had Ukrainian language faculties for 40 years now. After 1990 Ukrainian language faculties were also established at the Jagiellon University and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie University in Lublin. Since the academic year 2001/2002 there has been a section for Russian and Lemkish at the faculty for Russian philology at the Pedagogical Academy in Kraków.
People who do not speak Polish are allowed to call a Ukrainian-speaking interpreter (see country report ).
Since Polish is the official language, Ukrainian does not play any significant role in public authorities. The same is true at a local level where it is only spoken in unofficial contacts (see country report ).
There are no daily newspapers in Ukrainian. Since 1956 the Ukrainian weekly Nasche Słowo is published with the children’s insert Switanok. Every other week the Ukrainian periodical Nad Buhom i Narwoju is issued in the Podlaskie province. The public Radio Rzeszów broadcasts two programmes for the Ukrainian minority in Poland for 30 minutes every week on 102.0 and 72.41 FM. The programmes include a topical programme in Ukrainian, which is designed by three journalists (one of them employed permanently) in Polish. Further public radio stations with a programme in Ukrainian are: radio Koszalin (30 minutes twice a week from a journalist of the Ukrainian minority), Radio Olsztyn (since 1958, 30 minutes twice a week, since 2000 daily) and Radio Białystok (30 minutes once a week and 15 minutes twice a week). Since 1995 the TV programme Telenowyny (“TV news”) broadcasts nation-wide by regional stations. The local TV station in Rzeszów shows the topical programme Quartet which also deals with minority issues. Most of the radio stations can also be received via the internet and the Ukrainian minority is represented through the following websites: Harazd and Domiwka.
According to experts, 40 books were published in Ukrainian in Poland between 1997 and 2002, including text books, children’s books, poetry, short stories, short novels and religious books. Two books in Ukrainian were officially published in 2002 and one book in 2003. Ukrainian is often used in traditional music but not so much in pop and rock. Since 1996, the student theatre group Lublin-Warszawa performs once or twice a year in Ukrainian. There are the following cultural events: Festival of Ukrainian Culture [Festiwal Kultury Ukraińskiej] every other year in Sopot (near Gdańsk); Lemkish Campfires [Łemkowska Watra] and the annual Ukrainian Youth Fair [Ukraińskie Spotkania Młodych] in Gdańsk and Bytów. The foundation St. Wladimir the Baptist in the Kievan Rus [Fundacja św. Włodzimierza] in Kraków also contributes to the promotion of Ukrainian culture. However, it has to be remarked that the cultural activities of Ukrainians are very restricted due to their geographic dispersal.
Due to article 27 of the Constitution, Ukrainian, along with other minority languages, is of no importance in the business world as an official language. Since the Ukrainians are dispersed their economic situation is comparable to that of Poles living in the same places.
In the 2002 census 22,698 people declared using Ukrainian as their home language. However, Ukrainian organisations and experts estimate the number of Ukrainian-speakers at 300,000 (see 1.2.2). The language is mainly spoken in culturally motivated families. The majority of Ukrainians (80%) belong to the Uniate (Greek) Catholic Church. Services are mostly held in Ukrainian. After 1990 about a dozen organisations emerged in order to promote the Ukrainian language and culture; before 1990, there was just one organisation, founded in 1956. Since 1990 it is known as the Association of Ukrainians in Poland [Związek Ukraińców w Polsce], has 10,000 members and represents Ukrainian rights (address: ul. Koscieliska 7, 03 - 614 Warszawa). Within this framework there are more sub-groups which work on specific tasks. Other than the Belarusian minority the Ukrainian minority receives the highest financial support. According to a CBOS survey (CBOS, Warszawa, August 1996, The attitude of Poles towards other nations) Poles have a positive attitude towards Americans (64%), Italians (63%) and French (60%). They have a rather negative attitude towards Roma/Gypsies (71%), Romanians (66%), Ukrainians (60%) and Russians (53%). Moreover, Ukrainians stress that Poles still have negative stereotypes of their language group.
The European influence is considered very important : since Poland has signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, it is widely expected that the country will also ratify the Charter, which will have a positive influence on language policy. The conflict in the Belarusian/Ukrainian transition area is critical. In addition, there is the Treaty on Good Neighbourhood, Friendly Relations and Cooperation between the Republic of Poland and the Ukraine [Traktat między Rzecząpospolitą Polską a Ukrainą o dobrym sąsiedztwie, przyjaznych stosunkach i współpracy], which was adopted on 18 May 1992. In the scope of this treaty Poland acknowledged its eastern border and Russia accepted the Ukraine as a strategic partner of Poland. However, after the conclusion of a military cooperation agreement in 1993 relations between the two countries stagnated.
The situation of Ukrainian can be compared to the situation of German. Both are marked by post-World War II history and strong oppression until 1990. These historical events still put a strain on relations between Poland and the Ukraine, which should be improved by recent intergovernmental treaties. The tensions become clear with memorials for German and Ukrainian soldiers in Silesia and Galicia, for example, which are regarded quite sceptically by the Polish population and government. Indeed, the Ukraine is considered to be a rather disagreeable neighbour in comparison with other countries.
There are two problematic issues arising for the future : firstly, the cohesion of the Ukrainian group is hampered by the geographical dispersion. Secondly, the recent distinction between the Ukrainian and Ruthenian/Russinian/Lemk groups is problematic as this division means it will be harder for them to pass on their language to the next generation; even though there are clear ethnic and religious differences (Ukrainians in Poland are mostly Uniate (Greek) Catholics and Ruthenians are Orthodox). These differences are reflected in local religious disputes which may even extend to a national level if ethnicity issues are at stake.