How similar are Ukrainian and Russian languages? This is probably the most common question foreigners ask us. We are always happy to explain 🙂

In this article, find the similarities and differences between Ukrainian and Russian languages on the different linguistic levels: vocabulary, letters & sounds, grammar, and sentence structure.

All Slavic languages, including Ukrainian and Russian, were dialects at first. They were formed out of the Proto-Slavic language that existed approximately from the 5th to 9th centuries in the pink area here:

Nowadays, there are more than 20 Slavic languages. Traditionally they are divided into three subgroups:

  • East Slavic (Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian),
  • West Slavic (like Polish, Czech or Slovak),
  • South Slavic (like Slovene, Croatian, Macedonian or Bulgarian).

However, modern linguists admit that this division is more geographical (and political) than factual.

Also, because Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian use the Cyrillic alphabet, they tend to be perceived as one group (although, Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian also use the Cyrillic alphabet).

However, in fact, in some aspects, Ukrainian is more similar to Slovak or Polish (from the West group) than to Russian language.

Anyway, there are many similarities between Ukrainian and Russian languages, as the two nations were connected politically and geographically for centuries.

Today Ukraine and Russia share a 2295-kilometer long border. In the past, the countries were two republics of the Soviet Union with very strong political ties. Earlier, for more than a century, a big part of Ukraine was a part of the Russian empire. So, obviously, two languages of the same origin have many similarities.

Let’s looks at different areas of language to compare how similar or different Ukrainian and Russian are.

Ukraine is a bilingual country with Ukrainian and Russian as the two widely used languages. The language situation in Ukraine is probably more complicated than Ukrainian grammar! To understand it better, read our article here.

Ukrainian And Russian Vocabulary

Let’s start with vocabulary – the actual words we use and pass through generations.

In terms of vocabulary, Ukrainian language is the closest to Belarusian (16% of differences), and Russian language to Bulgarian (27% of differences).

After Belarusian, Ukrainian is also closer to Slovak, Polish and Czech than to Russian – 38% of Ukrainian vocabulary is different from Russian.

If we compare it with other European languages, the difference is like between Spanish and Italian (33% of different vocabulary) or French and Portuguese (39%).

Ukrainian and Russian differences

Ukrainian and Russian share the oldest words that come from the Proto-Slavic language and were needed for life back then:

Ukrainian Russian English
мати
ніс
зерно
мать
нос
зерно
a mother
a nose
grain

Also, Ukrainian and Russian share words that come from other languages:

Ukrainian Russian English
чай
паспорт
комп’ютер
чай
паспорт
компьютер
tea (from Chinese 茶)
passport (from French passer port)
computer (from English)

However, there is a 38% difference in vocabulary, including foreign words.

During and after Peter the Great’s Europeanization campaign, Russian language incorporated many words from Latin, French, German, and Italian origin. Ukrainian language mostly developed based on the spoken language that the 19th century’s writers started to actively use in their literary and research works.

Here are some examples of differences between Ukrainian and Russian vocabulary:

Ukrainian Russian English
травень
звідки
ранок
червоний
другий
людина
Як справи?
май
откуда
утро
красный
второй
человек
Как дела?
May (month)
where from
morning
red
second
person
How are you?

Names of months in Ukrainian have their own unique origin. That is why they are so defferent from English, German or Russian. Learn Ukrainian (awesome) names of months and their origin with our article!

There are plenty of Ukrainian-Russian homonyms – words that sound the same, but mean completely different things:

  • час
    • time (in Ukrainian)
    • an hour (in Russian)
  • неділя (Ukr.) – неделя (Rus.)
    • Sunday (in Ukrainian)
    • a week (in Russian)
  • лук
    • a bow (in Ukrainian)
    • an onion (in Russian)

Ukrainian And Russian Alphabets

Both Russian and Ukrainian languages use the Cyrillic script. There are 7 differences though. Have a look at Russian (on top) and then Ukrainian alphabets to compare:
are ukrainian and russian alphabets the same difference between ukrainian and russian alphabet

Differences between Ukrainian and Russian alphabets are the following:

1. Ґ in Ukrainian 

Ukrainian alphabet has Ґ ґ, but Russian doesn’t (in Russian, г represents the sound /g/).

2. І in Ukrainian 

Ukrainian alphabet has І і, but in Russian, the letter и is used to represent the sound /i/.

3. Ы in Russian

Russian alphabet has ы, but in Ukrainian it is и.

4. Є in Ukrainian

The Ukrainian alphabet has Є є, but the Russian one doesn’t (in Russian, е represents /je/).

5. Ї in Ukrainian

Ukrainian alphabet has Ї ї, but in Russian, it’s a combination йи to represent /ji/.

6. Ё in Russian

Russian alphabet has Ё ё, but Ukrainian doesn’t (in Ukrainian, it’s a combination йо to represent /jo/)

7. ъ in Russian

Russian alphabet has the hard sign (ъ), but Ukrainian doesn’t (in Ukrainian, the apostrophe is used instead ().

Want to know more about the difference between letters and sounds х, г, ґ in Ukrainian? This article can help you!

Pronunciation

Most of the sounds themselves in Russian and Ukrainian are the same or very similar. However, there are some differences in pronunciation that depend on the combinations of sounds.

Here are the major differences between Ukrainian and Russian pronunciation.

1.  Sound [г] in Ukrainian language

Ukrainian language has a specific sound represented by the letter Г г. It sounds similar to [h] in Aha!

There is no such sound in Russian, so Ukrainians are easily spotted when they speak Russian as they sometimes forget to not use this sound instead of /g/ for Russian г.

2. In Russian, О is often pronounced as [a]

The Russian letter O о is pronounced as [a] or an unclear schwa [ə] when it is not stressed. In Ukrainian, О is always pronounced as [o]. For example:

Ukrainian Russian English
молоко – [molokó] молоко – [malakó]  milk

3. More soft consonants in Ukrainian

In Ukrainian language, the soft consonants are used more often than in Russian (and many other Slavic languages):

Ukrainian Russian English
цілуватися – [ts’iluvátys’a] (2 soft c.) целоваться – [tsylávats:a] (0 soft c.)  to kiss

4. Ukrainian “И”, “Е” are not completely the same as Russian “Ы”, “Э” 

These difference is subtle and depends on the person’s dialect too, but in short:

  • Russian [ы] is deeper than Ukrainian [и].
  • Russian [э] is more open than Ukrainian [е].

Ukrainian And Russian Grammar

In general, it is quite easy to learn the grammar of the second Slavic language, because they all have similar principles and categories: noun cases, verb tenses, genders, etc.

That is why we can say that Russian and Ukrainian grammar systems are very similar by concepts, but they differ by the representation (endings).

Compare two sentences below. They have the same grammar structure (Nominative case + Past tense + Accusative case + Instrumental case), but the endings are different:

Ukrainian Russian English
Він замовив вареники з капустою. Он заказал вареники с капустой.  He ordered varenyky with cabbage.

Some more important grammar differences include:

1. Vocative case in Ukrainian

In Russian, nouns can be used in 6 cases (forms), whereas in Ukrainian there are 7 cases. An extra one is called Кличний відмінок – Vocative case. It is used to directly address someone, like in the correspondence:

Ukrainian Russian English
Привіт, Максиме, привіт, Катю! (Vocative case) Привeт, Максим, привет, Катя! (Nominative case) Hi Maxim, hi Katya!

2. Different ways to say “I have”

In Russian, the most common way to say “I have” is: У меня есть.

In Ukrainian, we use two forms: У мене є (by Russian influence) and also Western Slavic Я маю.

3. 3 types of future tense in Ukrainian

In Ukrainian, there are 3 grammatical ways to talk about future. In Russian, there are two of them.

See below the future tense for робити – делать (to do):

Ukrainian Russian English
Я зроблю. (Perfective)

Я буду робити.
(Imperfective analytical form)

Я робитиму.
(Imperfective synthetic form)

Я сделаю.
(Perfective)Я буду делать.
(Imperfective)
I will do / I will be doing

Learn more about the future tense in Ukrainian with Episode 28 of Ukrainian Lessons Podcast.

Syntax

Sentence organization is probably the area where Ukrainian and Russian languages (as well as many other Slavic languages) are the most similar. 

Compare the structure of a folktale which is famous in both Ukrainian and Russian cultures – “Рукавичка” (The Mitten):

Ukrainian Russian English
Ішов дід лісом, а за ним бігла собачка, та й загубив дід рукавичку.

От біжить мишка, улізла в ту рукавичку та й каже:

— Тут я буду жити!
Шёл дед лесом, а за ним бежала собачка, и потерял дед рукавичку.

Вот бежит мышка, залезла в рукавичку и говорит:

— Тут я буду жить!

An Old Man was walking through the forest with his dog and he dropped his mitten.

Just then a mouse came running up, climbed right in and said:

“This is where I’m going to live.”

***

These were only some of the similarities and differences between Ukrainian and Russian languages. I hope that with the help of this list and examples you are able to compare these Slavic languages.

Нехай щастить! Желаю удачи! Good luck! 🙂

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Anna Ohoiko

Привіт! Мене звати Анна. I am a Ukrainian linguist, teacher, and the Ukrainian Lessons founder. My biggest hobby is to learn foreign languages and my passion to teach the most beautiful one. I also enjoy traveling, cooking and being with my friends and family.

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