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Ukraine’s ‘Anti-Russian Language’ Bill Becomes Law

News Brief

The president of Ukraine has signed a controversial bill into law that requires all state schools to use the Ukrainian language for teaching students from the fifth grade onwards.

As Coda reported last week, the law has been criticized as an effort to squeeze out the Russian language — but it has been backed by Ukrainian lawmakers keen to promote the country’s national identity amidst the three-year-old conflict with Russia.

Under the new law signed by President Petro Poroshenko, government-funded schools must now use Ukrainian for all lessons except where a different language is itself the subject. Other minority groups are also concerned instruction in their languages will be hit, although the law’s proponents say they will still be free to learn their native tongues.

The language law is a particularly sensitive issue in eastern Ukraine, where the majority of the population are native Russian speakers - and where parts of the country are under the control of Russian-backed separatists.

Russia has previously used language to divide Ukrainians — justifying its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its backing for separatists on the grounds that it was protecting Russian-speakers.

Moscow has already criticized the new law, and some Ukrainians fear this move will play into the Kremlin’s hands — providing it with an excuse to prolong the conflict further.