Ukrainian Celebs Condemn Language Decision

KIEV, Ukraine -- Cultural figures and celebrities on Friday criticized efforts to grant the Russian language special status in this ex-Soviet republic, calling it an act of war against Ukraine.

Movie Director Yuriy Illenko

Artists, writers, politicians and scientists, meeting in Kiev, condemned recent decisions by several regional councils to have Russian declared a regional language, allowing its use in official business. The overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region of Donetsk on Thursday became the fourth area to do so.

"Today they announced a war, and we must react accordingly,'' said Yuriy Illenko, a movie director.

President Viktor Yushchenko's administration has said it would be unconstitutional to grant Russian special status, contending that the document declares Ukrainian to be the only state language.

His office has said it will challenge the decisions in the two eastern regions, an eastern city and the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

The language issue has become one of the most sensitive in Ukraine, where Russian dominated during Soviet times and today many still consider it their native language, particularly in the east and south.

In western regions, Ukrainian dominates and nationalists see protecting the language as a way to prevent meddling from Moscow.

"Today we have a direct threat to the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian state system,'' said Ivan Zayeyts, a lawmaker.

Council officials say their decision is based on a European charter, which was ratified by the Ukrainian parliament in 2003, that protects regional and minority languages.

Critics, however, say Russian should not be considered a minority language and does not need special protection.

The Party of the Regions, the pro-Moscow opposition party that won the most votes in last month's parliamentary election, campaigned on a promise to make Russian a second state language.

Declaring Russian a regional language is a lesser move than trying to have it declared a second state language, but it could open the door to those efforts.

Source: AP