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Of the population of the areas of Ukraine, now occupied by Russia, where ballots are being conducted, what percentage speak Russian - as opposed to Ukrainian - as their first language?

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    Before or after the full-scale invasion and various population movements stemming from that? And who'd have reliable stats after? Sep 23, 2022 at 7:53
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    Prof. Mearsheimer gives the Ukrainian-Russian split in maps [around 6 minutes]. Note this video is from 7 years ago
    – user44167
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:21
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    @Fizz I think it is relevant to use data that pre-dates the invasion. For it is the ratio who were living there prior to that event which would seem to me the best guide to determining its future. I'm well aware that language is not everything - Ireland is still Ireland even though they nearly all speak English - but there was undoubtedly a large segment of the Ukrainian population which considered itself Russian.
    – WS2
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:32

2 Answers 2

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According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia plans to hold votes in these regions (only using as a source because that's the best map I found)

enter image description here

As for language, it doesn't look like there was much of detailed survey since the 2001 census. According to that:

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Someone with GIS skill might want to create a overlay of just the areas where Russia is holding these referendums.

Or if you want to ignore the finer front line and just want it aggregated by region, the same 2001 data:

enter image description here

Those latter two maps are from Wikipedia.


Almar's comment does seem to have a point that the census “native language” question was apparently used by some (possibly many) Ukrainians to project an identity that may not have coincided with even with (then currently) language spoken "at home", as this 2002 paper by a Westerner relates:

The [2001] Ukrainian census thus kept “native language” as its main language indicator. As argued previously, rodnoy yazyk does have the connotation of origins. (Ridna mova has exactly the same connotation in Ukrainian). This point was driven home to me a number of times as I was observing the census campaign in Kyiv in December 2001. Particularly illuminating was a conversation I had with a college student named Pasha (Kazymirov, 2001). The student, like most Kyivans, was perfectly fluent in Ukrainian, but preferred to use Russian at home and with his friends. Moreover, his parents raised him in Russian. No matter how “mother tongue” is defined—as “the first language(s) spoken in early childhood” (UN/Eurostat Recommendation), or “the language which the person commands best” (in the German tradition)—Pasha clearly has Russian as a mother tongue. Yet the census inquires about native language, not mother tongue, and he interpreted this to mean the language of his nationality. “Why didn’t you say that Russian was your ridna mova?” I inquired. “Because I am not Russian!” The same heartfelt affirmation of identity could be heard from taxi drivers, hotel administrators, and other random Kyivans I chatted with who, otherwise, merrily functioned in Russian. Suddenly, what Soviet and Western scholars had theorized about—that Soviet respondents tended to interpret the census question on rodnoy yazyk as a restatement of their nationality—was coming alive in the streets of Kyiv. [...]

[T]he question on first language—native language—stands out as a case study in census identity politics. Analysts had noted how linguistically assimilated non-Russians during Soviet censuses tended to identify with the language of their nationality. The trend was unmistakable in Ukraine. The census behavior of “Russophone” Ukrainians—i.e., of people claiming a Ukrainian nationality but preferring to speak Russian at home—is intriguing. It is as if Russophone Ukrainians, who can speak Ukrainian but would rather not speak it if they don’t have to, are asserting that the Ukrainian language is, nonetheless, at the root of their identity. Russian-language activists in Ukraine tend to be dismissive of census results on rodnoy yazyk by focusing on the language actually spoken by half of the population (Russian). Yet census results on language, while selective (a question on conversational language was carefully avoided), are a fair representation of popular preferences. Russophone Ukrainians are not pressured to identify with the Ukrainian language (Ukrainian nationalists, as we saw, actually believe that the pressure favors Russian). These Ukrainians appear to be saying, through the census, that the Ukrainian language collectively defines their distinctiveness, even if they would rather use Russian in their daily lives.

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    One comment is that Ukraine has managed to spin "native language" as "the language of nation that you belong to", in that, ethnic Ukrainians are likely to answer Ukrainian in the polls even as their mother talked to them in Russian when they were born. Other sorts of maps give much larger prevalence than displayed here.
    – alamar
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:59
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    @alamar Various things contribute to a sense of nationhood as European history of the last two centuries has shown. Very few Irish speak Gaelic but in Ireland's case, as in Serbia/Croatia's case separate identities evolve from confessional differences - in Ireland Catholic/Protestant, in the Serbia/Croatia case they speak the same language, albeit using different scripts, but the all important thing is the Orthodox/Catholic split. The confessional differences do not seem to play a part in Ukraine, so identity will cling to something else - most likely language.
    – WS2
    Sep 23, 2022 at 12:42
  • @WS2: meh: Switzerland, Austria... all speak German by the Radio Moscow standards. Sep 23, 2022 at 12:45
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    If Switzerland were to try making French the only state language, you would see Volksrepublik of Zürich really quickly @Fizz
    – alamar
    Sep 23, 2022 at 12:48
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    @Fizz I've been in parts of Italy (e.g. Trentino) where all the road signs are in Italian, but people sit in the cafés speaking German and reading Bild. The great thing about the EU is that it makes language and religion peripheral to people's sense of who they are - something that Ireland has now sadly lost.
    – WS2
    Sep 23, 2022 at 12:49
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Almost all of them used either Russian language or Surzhik (a collection of wild varieties of Russian-Ukrainian mix or Ukrainian dialects without stable written form) when they were born. These areas do not have reservoirs of native Ukrainian speakers, as explained by the following map:

Ukraine: languages spoken at home

There are patches of Greek and perhaps even Serbo-Croatian there, but no Ukrainian.

The situation changes, though, and according to the following map, while most people still prefer to use Russian language, the difference is no longer that large, especially for Kherson region. It would be fair to say that significant number of people living in those regions are proficient in standard Ukrainian now, and some of them may prefer to use it in communication.

Language preference in Ukraine

This is a map of language preference in popular VK social network. You can see that most of south of Ukraine is still in blue (they prefer Russian), however it's lighter shades of blue meaning the actual difference may be 1.2x, e.g. 60% to 40%, from the looks of it.

You can also just do an internet search of language distribution in Ukraine to get an endless supply of all kinds of maps and decide for yourself.

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    The first map is fairly useless as it doesn't indicate percentages. (Furthermore, it doesn't mention Serbo-Croatian at all; where are you getting that from?)
    – phoog
    Sep 23, 2022 at 8:58
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    Compared to other maps, the "useless" one is an actual product of a research institution. I'm referring to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovianoserbsk
    – alamar
    Sep 23, 2022 at 9:01
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    "This is a map of language preference in popular VK social network" - Not a very reliable proxy for actual language dominance if you ask me. VK is the Russian alternative to Facebook, because Facebook is banned in Russia. So people in Ukraine who are on VK instead of Facebook will predominantly be people with ties to Russia.
    – Philipp
    Sep 23, 2022 at 9:05
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    @Philipp For many years, VK was the social network in Ukraine - it's not some fringe thing. People may also choose Ukrainian language interface as their political preference even if they really have to use Russian more on day-to-day basis, so biases may go either way.
    – alamar
    Sep 23, 2022 at 9:21
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    @phoog Ukrainian speakers are typically also Russian speakers (which is not always true the other way round). Russian being lingua franca in USSR, people often have to resort to it for information/communication, just like many people in the world need to know English to have access to books, internet communities, etc. Sep 23, 2022 at 9:40

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