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From January 16, according to the law, Ukrainian will become the main language in the service sector in the country. What will change when they start to fine for violations and who will control it?
The state language in Ukraine is Ukrainian. According to the law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as a state language”, adopted in 2019, from January 16, 2021, it should become the main language in the service sector in the country. Enterprises and organizations of all forms of ownership, including online stores, must henceforth serve consumers and provide information about goods and services in the state Ukrainian language. Information can be duplicated in other languages, and at the request of the client, he can be personally served in any other language acceptable to the parties.
The Ombudsman for the Protection of the State Language and employees of his office will monitor the implementation of this norm of the language law. Since July last year, this position has been held by a Ukrainian philologist, former MP Taras Kremin.
Citizens can file a complaint with him in case of violation of the language law. The ombudsman’s office is obliged to consider it and respond to it. If the complaint is motivated, then the institution will be warned and required to eliminate the violation within 30 days. In the event of a repeated violation within a year, the institution can expect a fine from five to seven thousand hryvnia. The commissioner or his representatives draws up a protocol on violation and writes out a fine.
In addition, to monitor compliance with the language law, the Ombudsman, if necessary, may involve employees of the police, state and local authorities. However, first of all, monitoring of compliance with the law falls on the shoulders of consumers.
For the citizens of Ukraine, the language ombudsman offers the following algorithm of actions in case of violation of the language law. First of all, try to resolve the situation on the spot by asking for service in the state language. In case of refusal, contact the management or the “hot line” of the institution: retail network, gas station, pharmacy, etc.
The use of the Ukrainian language is currently mandatory in the work of government officials, teachers, doctors, law enforcement agencies, military personnel, judges, lawyers and notaries. The language of advertising, sports events, posters, signboards, road signs, inscriptions and messages in transport should be exclusively Ukrainian.
The state language should be mandatory when serving passengers, although other languages ​​are also acceptable by agreement of the parties. Since September 2020, the Ukrainian language has also become compulsory in all public secondary schools. At the moment, almost 200 Russian-language schools throughout Ukraine have switched to the Ukrainian language of instruction.
As early as July 2021, a number of other norms concerning the Ukrainian language will come into force. In particular, all cultural and entertainment events, art exhibitions will be held in Ukrainian. It will also carry out tourist services.
There should be more Ukrainian in publishing and distribution – at least 50 percent of the assortment. From 2022, all national print media and websites of mass media, companies, authorities, government and municipal institutions, and online stores should have a Ukrainian-language version. From 2024, these norms will apply to regional media, and language quotas on television and radio will also increase – from 75 to 90 percent at the national level, and from 60 to 80 percent at the local levels.
The language law does not oblige foreigners to know Ukrainian. At the same time, he does not oblige service workers to know any other language other than the state language, and to serve consumers in it, says one of the developers of the law, a member of the expert group on language policy under the Cabinet of Ministers, Sergei Osnach. “The client can only ask for service in another language. Usually in the service industry they switch to the client’s language if they know it,” the specialist comments for DW.
The interlocutor urges foreigners not to rely on a false stereotype, as if everyone in Ukraine knows Russian. “In fact, a whole generation has already grown up in Ukraine that did not learn Russian at school. Taking into account current trends, it can be predicted that over time, more and more institutions will be able to provide services in English,” the expert says.
“By default, the service sector should start a dialogue in Ukrainian. If the client is uncomfortable or does not speak Ukrainian at a sufficient level, he can say about it and ask to explain it in a convenient language – Russian, English or any other”, – indicates in an interview with DW Language Ombudsman Taras Kremin.

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