by Roman Tymotsko.
On July 16, Kyiv began to enforce aspects of a language law that makes it mandatory for websites in the country to be in Ukrainian.
The law, “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as a State Language,” was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament in April 2019 and entered into force on July 16, 2019. However, aspects of the law only came into force three years later, on July 16, in order to give Ukrainian citizens time to make the website changes needed to adhere to the new law.
“The norms of the law that strengthen the status of the Ukrainian language and protect the rights of Ukrainian citizens to receive information and services in the state language have entered into force,” said Ukraine’s Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language Taras Kremin in a statement on July 16.
“Ukrainian language, especially in the conditions of war, acquires a special sound, and the linguistic front is strengthened” by implementation of the new rule, Mr. Kremin said.
Parts of the law regulate the use of the Ukrainian language on the internet and in computer program interfaces.
“The vast majority of fields are obliged to use Ukrainian. In particular, the state language is mandatory in advertising, medicine, transport, office management, document management, reporting, education and science, technical and project documentation, service, culture, etc.,” Mr. Kremin said.
The commissioner said that, according to the law, every official or state employee who reports on the news, provides official military operational information or describes the situation at the frontline of the ongoing war must use the state language.
“We have determined that 25 officials violate the language law when they report such information. I ask the media to translate such speeches to make the information more accessible. It is not forbidden to use a non-Ukrainian language at meetings with foreign partners. However, if such information is covered in the media, it should be exclusively in the state language,” Mr. Kremin said at a press briefing at the Ukraine Media Center on July 15.
Mr. Kremin pointed out that one of the new regulations applies to all of the information on technological devices and equipment used in various household appliances. He said that most manufacturers have switched to using the Ukrainian language, so the new rule should not cause them problems.
According to the law, any product on which a computer program is installed – a car or a washing machine, for example – must use the Ukrainian language. The product must have a Ukrainian-language interface, whether it is an electronic screen or a control panel.
This includes all displayed information that a user directly interacts with when using a computer program. With interfaces that include multiple languages, the Ukrainian-language interface should have no less information than the foreign-language versions. All online resources must have versions in Ukrainian.
The regulation applies to all state authorities, local government bodies, enterprises, institutions, state organizations and communal forms of ownership, mass media registered in Ukraine, as well as business entities selling goods and services in Ukraine and registered in the country.
The law also applies to social media, including YouTube, Viber, Telegram channels, information bots, mobile applications, etc.
“Since the beginning of my work as the commissioner, we have been closely monitoring compliance by state bodies, local self-governments, legal entities of the state and communal forms of ownership concerning the use of the state language on the Internet. We carry out regular monitoring and reviews, state control and record and demand the elimination of violations. We are making great progress,” Mr. Kremin said.
Ukrainian businesses had three years since adoption of the language law to prepare and comply with the new rules.
Mr. Kremin believes that most manufacturers, importers and sellers have prepared well. Almost all trade networks, online stores and social networking platforms have created versions of their products in Ukrainian.
But making the required changes have been difficult for some.
“We are aware of individual cases when, for example, car manufacturers had difficulties installing a Ukrainian-language interface on models that were developed and launched into global production more than three years ago. But this is rather an exception,” Mr. Kremin said.
However, the Commissioner’s office continues to record violations from some entrepreneurs. In 2021, 1,044 reports were received regarding the lack of a Ukrainian version of online store sites and websites that provide consumer services. In the first half of 2022, there were 138 appeals.
“It is obvious that with the entry into force of the new norms, the number of recorded violations may increase. Undoubtedly, the situation will improve during the first few months – both preventive measures and new administrative sanctions will contribute to this,” Mr Kremin said.
The Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language will be able to impose fines on those who violate the new law.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t as many representatives of the Commissioner in the regions as we recommended, but they will be able to draw up administrative protocols, and then I will consider them and issue resolutions in the form of warnings or fines,” Mr. Kremin said.
The fine will be from 3,400-8,500 ($92-$230) hryvnia for the first violation, while repeat offenders may be fined 8,500-11,900 ($230-$322) hryvnia.
From July 16 to July 25, during the first 10 days of the new requirements of the law, the Commissioner’s secretariat received a record 502 citizen reports of violations of the language law.
“However, the prosecution procedure is not simple. We cannot issue fines like traffic inspectors who can issue a fine immediately after committing an offense,” said Serhiy Syrotenko, deputy head of the Secretariat of the Commissioner for the Protection of the State Language.
“In our case, the procedure will last at least a month from the detection of the offense. In addition, drawing up the protocol provides the mandatory obtaining explanations from the violator. This stage of drafting the protocol is complicated. Therefore, the first fines can be expected no earlier than mid-August,” Mr. Syrotenko said.
The Commissioner’s office emphasized that a preliminary analysis of Ukraine’s most visited internet sites, including informational ones subject to the new requirements, proved that the law is working as those sites were in Ukrainian.
At the same time, citizens’ complaints about violations are an essential source of information about the state of compliance with the law. A preliminary analysis of the messages received during the first 10 days that the law was being enforced showed that many Ukrainians are aware of the law.
The process of ensuring Ukrainian is given more priority in the country, which has gained speed since the beginning of Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine on February 24, requires constant help from the public.
“We are cleaning up the cultural and informational space and getting rid of the remnants of the imperial past, filling it with Ukrainian content,” said Mr. Kremin.
Notably, Ukraine’s train company Ukrzaliznytsia deleted the Russian-language version of its website and now plans to eliminate information written in Russian on train tickets.
More elements of the language law have yet to be implemented, according to Mr. Syrotenko.
By 2030, all citizens of Ukraine must take their national examinations used for entry into the country’s universities in Ukrainian. Today, some 97-98 percent of higher education students take their final exams in Ukrainian, but they do have an opportunity to take their exams in other languages.