Ukraine’s Parliament on Thursday passed a law enforcing the use of the Ukrainian language in official settings, a move likely to rile Russian-speaking areas of the country and Moscow.
Lawmakers approved the measure, which also increases the quota for Ukrainian-language television and radio programming, just days after Russian-speaking Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President.
Officials at all levels as well as doctors, teachers, lawyers and others, will have to speak Ukrainian or face fines. The law will not apply to private communications or religious rites, media reported.
The law will not be enforced for three years as centres are set up around the country to support the learning of Ukrainian language and culture, MP Nikolai Knyazhitsky told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko on Twitter called the vote a “historic event”, comparing it to the regeneration of the Army and the creation of a unified Ukrainian Orthodox church.
President-elect Zelensky, a comedian who has played the role of President in a Russian-language drama but until now has had no political experience, often speaks in Russian. The law makes “public humiliation or neglect” of the Ukrainian language a criminal offence.
The document said that “attempts to introduce official multilingualism in Ukraine” is unconstitutional.
The Bill was approved a day after Russia made it easier for people living in eastern Ukraine’s separatist territories to obtain Russian passports, drawing swift condemnation from Kiev.