War of Words: Ukraine’s Language Battles Leave Romanian-Speakers Feeling Squeezed

Russia’s aggression has prompted Ukraine to emphasise the public use of Ukrainian – and a shrinking community of Romanian-speakers fears for its identity

”I love school”. Photo from a school teaching in Moldavan language

“We are ethnic Moldovans, but we speak Romanian and Ukrainian just as well, not to mention Russian,” Mariana Cernea, school director in Dolynske, a small village in south-west Ukraine, not far from Odesa, says with pride.

But as we walk through the school corridors framed by plastic curtains and large pots of flowers, his voice loses its firmness as she talks about the present situation.

”All of our problems are now related to the war … Anyway, we are first of all Ukrainian citizens and now we are united more than ever, not to let the oppressor come here.”

Dolynske is hundreds of kilometres from the front line and life is as close to normal as one can get in a country facing its second year of war. The village, like the rest of the country, is going through a recession. There is almost no industry and many locals have gone abroad for work, or a safer life.

Beyond the uncertainty caused by the war, Maria Cernea is also concerned about the future of her school. It now has just some 130 pupils, and while their numbers have declined constantly in recent years, the trend has skyrocketed since the war started.

The children’s mother tongue is Moldovan; Ukraine is now the only country in the world, ironically enough, except Russia, which recognizes the language.

While all reputed linguists and specialists say Moldovan is just a Romanian dialect, Ukraine still maintains the distinction, perpetuating a Soviet-era theme that denies cultural and linguistic links between Moldovans and Romanians.

To read the original story, please go to Balkan Insight.

M.C. / Balkan Insight

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