The official language is Ukrainian. Russian, Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian are spoken near neighboring nations. Russian is a close cousin of Ukrainian and is often used as a first language in Ukraine’s south and east. It is fair to assume that almost any Ukrainian will understand Russian; however, keep in mind that in the western regions, people may be hesitant to assist you if you speak Russian, but Ukrainians will be more tolerant than Russians to outsiders. You will have the greatest difficulty in Lviv, since they not only speak Ukrainian but also have their own dialect.
In the east, on the other hand, Russian is the most widely spoken language. People speaking transitional dialects may also be found in the country’s center and eastern regions (generically referred to as the surzhyk, i.e. the “mix [of languages]”). It is also usual for individuals to converse in their native tongue, regardless of the interlocutor’s, thus a guest speaking Russian may be answered in Ukrainian and vice versa.
Both languages are spoken in Kiev, the capital, although Russian is more frequently used. As a result, Ukrainian is more often seen in Central and Western Ukraine, whereas Russian is more commonly encountered in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Because English is the most often taught foreign language in schools, young people are more likely to speak a bit of it. The majority of individuals in the tourist sector (hotels, etc.) speak English. Also, as a result of Ukraine’s hosting of Euro 2012, there has been a significant increase in tourism amenities, as well as police officers learning English to better help visitors to the games.
In general, Ukrainian is gaining momentum over time. Certain areas, such as Luhansk, may have unique laws and education in Russian. Russian is still the lingua franca in general, although the younger generation is pushing their children to speak Ukrainian at home. The biggest barrier to Ukrainization is opposition in the East and South who would like Russian to be the state’s official language; additionally, much of the media, such as books, videos, and video games, are only in Russian; however, there have been a few titles with the option of Ukrainian subtitles on DVDs, and some authors write exclusively in Ukrainian, so it is making progress. Universities used to offer the option of teaching in either Ukrainian or Russian, but today, with the exception of those in specialized fields or private institutions, most national universities only teach in Ukrainian. However, many people think that Ukraine will always have two languages and that neither threatens the other’s survival.
It should be emphasized, however, that although everyone there is a Ukrainian citizen, there are more than a million people of Russian ancestry; for example, Kharkiv alone has 1 million ethnic Russians. It is difficult to claim they are ethnically distinct people, but they did move during the Soviet Union and are proud of their origins as Russians, continuing to speak Russian with their children even if they are receiving an education in Ukrainian. The topic of language in Ukrainian is a sensitive one, therefore perhaps the material given seems impartial.
If you’re going to Ukraine, study either basic Ukrainian or basic Russian beforehand (know your phrase book well) and/or have access to a bilingual speaker. A mobile/cell/handy number (nearly everyone has a mobile phone) may be a lifesaver. Nobody in any official capacity (train stations, police, bus drivers, information desks, etc.) will be allowed to communicate in any language other than Ukrainian and Russian. You will, however, be able to converse if you already know another Slavic language since the Slavic languages are closely linked.
It is a good idea to get acquainted with the Cyrillic alphabet in order to save time and effort. Certain terms, if you can read Cyrillic, are near to English, such as telefon (telephone), which you would understand if you saw it, thus understanding the alphabet helps a lot.