What is the difference between Russian and Ukrainian?

Published on 15/08/2022

Russian and Ukrainian are part of the East Slavic language family, and although they have things in common there are many differences between the two languages. If we hear Ukrainian and Russian languages, they may sound similar, but they are not.

The different development of the Russian and Ukrainian cultures means that there are significant differences in their language systems. Russia, on the one hand, was constructed around Moscow, so its vocabulary was mixed with Turkish and Finno-Ugric words. Meanwhile, Ukraine was established by the union of ethnic groups from southern Russia, which is why Ukrainian preserved many Old Russian characteristics.

Índice de contenidos

Index of contents

Index du contenu


  1. Major differences
    1. The alphabet
    2. Grammar
    3. Vocabulary
    4. Pronunciation
    5. How to learn them

1. Major differences

The main difference between these two languages is that Ukrainian is the official language of only one country (Ukraine), while Russian is the official language of five countries (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan).

Ukrainians understand Russian easily while Russians find it difficult to understand Ukrainian. For this reason, Ukrainians speak both Russian and Ukrainian. Other differences can be found in aspects such as:

1.1 The alphabet

Although the alphabet of both languages is apparently the same, they are not. Both have 33 letters, but Russian has 21 consonants and Ukrainian has 22. In addition to this, there are letters in Russian that do not exist in Ukrainian and vice versa.

1.2. Grammar

The grammatical constructions in Ukrainian is similar to European languages, while the Russian grammar is totally different.

The verb conjugations of the two languages are also different. Russian has no past perfect tense and has only two future forms (one imperfective and one perfective) while Ukrainian has three future forms (one perfective and two imperfective).

Ukrainian has seven grammatical cases (nominative, prepositional, accusative, genitive, instrumental, dative and the vocative) while Russian has only six, all but the vocative.

1.3 Vocabulary

Most Russian words come from Old East Slavic while Ukrainian words are closer to Polish. There are other Russian words, which are closer to French because of Peter the Great's influence on the language. At that time, French the Russian aristocracy spoke mostly , especially in St. Petersburg, although it was an unofficial language.

1.4 Pronunciation

There are also differences in the way the two languages are pronounced: while Ukrainian is pronounced as written, Russian is not. In addition, Russian sounds harsher, while Ukrainian is soft. Linguists have defined Ukrainian as a musical language, similar to Italian.

The Ukrainian language has many consonants that are pronounced softly and Russian consonants have a hard pronunciation. In general, the number of consonants in Russian is lower than in Ukrainian.

Although Ukrainian and Russian share letters, they are not pronounced the same way. That’s why they do not have the same tone when pronounced. For example, the letter “E” in Russian sounds like (ye) and in Ukrainian it sounds like (e).

1.5 How to learn them

The Ukrainian language is easier to learn than Russian, as Russian has more complex grammar.

Learning Ukrainian also makes it easier to learn other Eastern European languages, as it is closer to Czech, Slovak, and Polish. Whereas, if you learn Russian, you can understand fewer languages naturally.

Therefore, there are many many differences between the two languages. When you only hear the two languages they may sound similar, but they are not. It would be like comparing Portuguese with Spanish or apples with pears.

Virginia Pacheco's picture
Virginia Pacheco

Blog writer and Community Manager interested in multiculturality and linguistic diversity. From her native Venuzuela, she has travelled and lived for many years in France, Germany, Cameroon and Spain, passing on her passion for writing and her intercultural experiences.

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