Roman Malanke

Difference Between Russian & Ukrainian

It is known that Ukraine is a bilingual country where everybody understands Ukrainian and Russian languages. In day-to-day life part of the population speaks Ukrainian (western, central and northern regions), another part speaks Russian (eastern and southern regions). In some places you can hear a funny mixture of the two languages called “суржик”.

There is, however, an erroneous belief that Russian and Ukrainian are very similar and some people go as far as to say that the two are almost the same.

Hearing this drives me mad so I feel obligated to contribute my modest share into the dissolution of this fallacy. Without further ado let’s take a look at the two excerpts below and see if any of the words look similar.

  • В отличии от хозяина он, по крайней мере, старался cодействовать делу. Хотя даже эти попытки оказались тщетными.
  • На відміну від господаря він, принаймні, намагався сприяти справі. Щоправда навіть ці спроби виявилися марними.

The first fragment is in Russian and the second is in Ukrainian. They both mean the same and could be roughly translated into English as “Unlike the host he at least tried to facilitate the case. However even these efforts proved to be useless.” As you can see there isn’t a single pair of words that share at least a commont root. Of course this example is a bit of an extreme, and of course there are many words that have the same origins, but the fact is that Russian and Ukrainian are one of the most remote pair among all Slavic languages and share only 62% оf vocabulary. This is by the way much less than between Spanish and French (75%) and about the same as between English and German (60%).

Let’s see on some more examples how significantly basic nouns, adjective and verbs can differ between Russian and Ukrainian. The following sets are written in the English/Russian/Ukrainian order.

  • Time/время/час
  • Man/мужчина/чоловік
  • Interesting/интересный/цікавий
  • Red/красный/червоний
  • To see/видеть/бачити
  • To work/работать/працювати

Lastly, it’s interesting that many Russians don’t understand Ukrainian at all. When my friends and I were in Czech Republic Russian tourists came over to us asking questions in English thinking we were locals when in fact we spoke Ukrainian among ourselves.