Ukrainian language protection law comes into force

16 July, 06:57 PM
A girl holds a poster that reads

A girl holds a poster that reads "Please talk to me in Ukrainian" (Photo:Serhii Nuzhnenko / (RFE / RL))

Several provisions of the 2019 Ukrainian as State Language Act have come into force on July 16, Ukraine’s State Language Protection Commissioner Taras Kremin said in an official statement.

Despite the law officially coming into force in July 2019, several of its key provisions had their effect delayed by three years, to allow for a sensible adjustment period.

In particular, sections of the act, covering computer software and website interface, are now active.

What’s new as of July 16

Every electronic device is now mandated to have its interface translated into Ukrainian.

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“In other words, any device that has computer software installed – from cars to washing machines – has to be properly ‘localized’ for use in Ukraine,” said Kremin.

The Ukrainian translation of a given piece of software or website has to be as comprehensive as its version in any other language available. The law defines “interface” as any kind of text information, to which the user may be exposed.

This provision covers websites, including social media pages of the following organizations:

  • State agencies;
  • Local government agencies;
  • State- and publicly-owned enterprises;
  • Media, domiciled in Ukraine;
  • Private businesses that offer their products and services in Ukraine, and are domiciled in the country.
While websites can have versions in any number of languages, the Ukrainian one has to be the default option for users in Ukraine, and must be as complete as any other version.

Effectively, this means that when accessed from Ukraine, most websites should have the Ukrainian-language version as primary.

Private companies, domiciled abroad, can have their Ukrainian version websites be less comprehensive than other language versions, but still complete enough to convey information about the company’s activities to Ukrainian users.

The law expands “website” to also cover social media pages, YouTube, Viber, and Telegram channels, chatbots, mobile apps, and so on.

Penalties and fines

The law introduces various kinds of administrative liability for transgressing its provisions.

According to Kremin, fines can be levied against organizations and individuals:

  • State and local government officials;
  • Employees of publicly- and privately-owned companies;
  • Individuals, found to have broken the law’s provisions.

The State Language Protection Commissioner can levy fines or issue warnings, acting on reports, made by their representatives.

The fines are set at the following amounts:

  • UAH 3,400-8,500 ($115-288) for first-time infractions;
  • UAH 8,500-11,900 ($288-403) for subsequent ones.

“The Ukrainian language has become even more essential during the war,” said Kremin.

“(The law) further cements Ukrainian as the country’s official language of state, and protects the right of Ukrainian citizens to access information and series in their own language.”

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