How one Ukrainian woman made the switch from her native Russian tongue to Ukrainian

By | February 24, 2023

Sasha Dovzhyk writes:

My mother tongue tastes like ashes. Things scorched by enemy fire, then soaked with rain, touched with rot, smelling of death. I felt the taste of my mother tongue most acutely while driving through Borodianka, Bucha, and Irpin two months after these Ukrainian towns in the Kyiv region were liberated by the Ukrainian army from the Russians’ “brotherly” embrace.

Russian is my mother tongue and liberation means ripping it out of my throat.

I come from Zaporizhzhia, a Russian-speaking city in southeastern Ukraine with a Cossack past. In recent months, Russia illegally annexed my region, though the regional capital remains under Ukrainian control.

Cossacks are the proverbial heroes of Ukrainian history, who carry the weight of Ukrainian nation-building on their shoulders, so one would expect their stronghold to have projected a clear sense of national identity. This was not the case.

One testament to the skewing of the city’s self-perception by Russian imperial narratives is that, in the 1990s and 2000s when I was growing up, the Cossack heritage was considered irrelevant in Zaporizhzhia. Decades of ingrained colonial inferiority led our teachers to make the runaway serfs-turned-warriors sound hopelessly parochial. I knew this feeling of inadequacy intimately. [Continue reading…]

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