Russian and Ukrainian Language Study in Ukraine
Last update: March, 2016 (minor update)
Until recently, students have usually gone to Russia (usually Moscow, Saint Petersburg, or historical cities in European Russia) for Russian study abroad programs. But have you considered coming to Ukraine to study Russian? Ukraine has a number of advantages over Russia for students of Russian:
Ukraine is visa-free for up to 90 days for citizens of most developed countries, while obtaining a Russian visa remains a daunting process.
The cost of living in places like Kiev, Lviv, and Odessa is significantly lower than in Moscow and St. Petersburg and now even lower (as of early 2016) due to the fall of Ukraine's currency.
No registration is required for stays of up to 90 days; in Russia you must register within 7 days at any new place of residence.
Ukraine is more western-leaning and is closer to Europe. It won't be difficult at all to come back again to visit, whether by plane, train, bus, car, or hitchhiking. Visiting Russia almost always involves costly travel and visa applications.
Train travel is nearly 3 times cheaper than in Russia.
Wizzair now runs low cost flights to Kiev, Kharkov, and Lviv from many European cities and cities further east.
Ukraine is less of a police state, though it is quite troubled as of 2014-2016.
Russian language still dominant in most of Ukraine's large cities
You may be surprised to know that in ten of the eleven largest cities of Ukraine Russian is the dominant spoken language. You can get by fine knowing only Ukrainian in just two of these eleven cities (Lviv and Kiev), as well and in any of the towns of western and central Ukraine, such as Ivano-Frankivsk, Lutsk, Ternopil, or Chernivtsi (which are not among the 11 most populous cities).
Good places to study Russian include: Kiev, Odessa, Crimea, Chernigov, Sumy, and any of the cities of Ukraine's industrial east from Krivoy Rog (haven't heard of anyone going there explicitly to learn Russian...) to Donetsk or Kharkov.
The Russian spoken in the cities of Ukraine is for all intents and purposes the same as Russian spoken in cities in Russia and all over the former Soviet Union among native local speakers of Russian (more on that here). It is not a regional dialect.
Studying Ukrainian in Ukraine
At the same time, Ukraine is the only place to learn Ukrainian! Ukrainian is spoken as a native tongue by nearly as many people as is Polish, making it the third most widely spoken Slavic language. Its importance in Europe will grow as Ukraine gradually integrates into the European community. Furthermore, the trend since independence is for the Ukrainian language to gradually grow in importance within Ukraine itself (through Ukrainization), gradually becoming the language of public life across most of the country.
To seriously study Ukrainian, it makes the most sense to choose a program in western or central Ukraine (e.g. Lviv) where Ukrainian is preferred by most of the city population. Studying Ukrainian in Kiev makes sense if you are already in Kiev for other reasons and/or already speak Russian, as roughly 60-70% of Kyivites prefer to speak Russian (it depends on the social circle).