Ukrainian is an Eastern Slavonic language closely related to Russian and Belarusian. It is spoken by about 51 million people in Ukraine (Україна) and in many other countries, including Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia.
Ukrainian is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. It is the official state language of Ukraine. Written Ukrainian uses a Cyrillic alphabet. The language shares some vocabulary with the languages of the neighboring Slavic nations, most notably with Polish, Slovak in the West and Belarusan, Russian in the North and the East.
The Ukrainian language traces its origins to the Old Slavic language of the early medieval state of Kievan Rus'. In its earlier stages it was called Ruthenian. Ukrainian is a lineal descendant of the colloquial language used in Kievan Rus (10th–13th century).
The language has persisted despite several periods of bans and/or discouragement throughout centuries as it has always maintained a sufficient base among the people of Ukraine, its folklore songs, itinerant musicians, and prominent authors.
The literary Ukrainian language, which was preceded by Old East Slavic literature, may be subdivided into three stages: old Ukrainian (twelfth to fourteenth centuries), middle Ukrainian (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries), and modern Ukrainian (end of the eighteenth century to the present). Much literature was written in the periods of the old and middle Ukrainian language, including legal acts, polemical articles, science treatises and fiction of all sorts.
Influential literary figures in the development of modern Ukrainian literature include the philosopher Hryhorii Skovoroda, Mykola Kostomarov, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and Lesia Ukrainka. The literary Ukrainian language is based on the dialect of the Poltava region, with some heavy influence from the dialects spoken in the west, notably Galicia (Halychyna). For most of its history, Russian letters were used for written Ukrainian.
The recorded history of the Ukrainian language began in 988, when the principality of Kiev (Київ) was converted to Christianity. Ukrainian religious material, including translations of the Bible, was written in Old Slavonic, the language used by missionaries to spread Christianity to the Slavic peoples.
In the 13th century, Ukraine became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian and Ruthenian, an ancestor of Belarusian and Ukrainian became the main language. The remaining parts of Ukraine were taken over by Poland during the 16th century and Latin and Polish were used for official purposes. Ruthenian began to split into Ukrainian and Belarusian during this period.
The Cossacks later moved into eastern Ukraine and during the 17th century, their leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, invited Russia to help against Polish domination in 1648. During the reign of Catherine the Great, the Cossacks moved to the eastern frontiers of Russia, but Ukraine remained under Russian domination, and the Russians considered the Ukrainian language as little more than a dialect of Russian.
A decree in 1876 banned the printing or importing of Ukrainian books. Inspite of this, there was a revival of Ukrainian poetry and historiography during the 19th century.
Ukraine enjoyed a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1919, then was taken over by the USSR and declared a Soviet Republic. During the Soviet era, Russian was the main language of education and employment and Ukrainian was sidelined.
Ukraine declared independence in 1991. Since then many Ukrainian émigrés have returned to Ukraine, particularly from central Asia and Siberia.
Please note, the capital of Ukraine is written Київ (Kyiv) in Ukrainian, Kiev in English and Киев (Kiev) in Russian.
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