Amazing Francophonie in Ukraine | ONfr+

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Did you know that French is the third most spoken foreign language in Ukraine with almost 250,000 speakers? On this International Day of Francophonie, ONFR+ tells you the history and current events of the Ukrainian French fact. Epic of several centuries.

“There have always been Frenchmen in Ukraine! – says the former director of the French Center in Lviv Kirill Gorizhny.

In an interview with ONFR+this specialist in Franco-Ukrainian history traces the origin of this phenomenon to the 11th century with the figure of Anna of Kiev, who was queen of the Franks from 1051 to 1060 and, in particular, gave birth to King Philip I.

Relations between France and Ukraine continued over the following centuries as the French temporarily visited or settled in the region. “There has never been a movement of French going to Ukraine. Everyone went there for different reasons, these were isolated cases,” explains Mr. Khorishny.

In 1648, according to the project of the French engineer Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan, the first map of Ukraine was printed.

Statue of Anna of Kiev in Senlis (France). Image Credit: Patrick (Flickr)

It should be noted that the fact of the presence of the French in Ukraine is not limited to the presence of the French. In the 18th century, France enchanted far beyond its borders, and its language was popular in Eastern Europe.

Kirill Gorizhny recalls here that “many Poles living in Ukraine spoke French at that time.” An interesting trace of this Francophile heritage is the newspaper Leopold’s newspaper. This French-language newspaper, founded in 1776 in Lvov, is the oldest periodical in Ukraine.

Currently, one of the hot spots of the war, the port city of Odessa, was built up by the Duke of Richelieu. Governor of the region New Russia and mayor of Odessa from 1803 to 1814, Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis de Richelieu remains a culturally very popular figure in Ukraine for transforming the municipality from a small village into a provincial capital.

This heritage goes even further, while Odessa is still twinned with Marseille, facilitating mobility and exchange between the two cities.

“Odessa and Marseille are linked by culture, they are port cities, cosmopolitan cities with a very diverse population, open to the outside and to the south. The duke’s reign made it possible to structure these ties,” explains Fabrice Petot, attaché for French cooperation at the French Embassy in Ukraine from 2016 to 2020.

Through its theatre, literature and music, France has had an indelible impact on Ukrainian society. A bust of the famous writer Honore de Balzac, unveiled in 2019, has been erected in Kyiv. Indeed, the author Father Goriot traveled frequently to Ukraine between 1833 and 1850 to meet his wife, Evelina Hanska, at Wierzkhovnia Castle.

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Kirill Khorijny dedicates to French comics Goriot in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk. Courtesy

“There is an interest in the French language and culture in general,” says Fabrice Petot. “Ukrainians have a literary tradition, poetry, French literature. They will develop an interest in learning French for theater, literature and music, even if they are clearly facing soft power American music is more important. »

In the 20th century, the teaching of French continued in the Ukrainian SSR. “French was popular in Soviet times because the French Communist Party was big enough. There were many exchanges between communist cities. Children from France went to Soviet Ukraine, and children from Ukrainian schools could speak French with them,” says Kirill Gorizhny.

Ukraine and the International Organization of Francophonie

Ukrainian Francophilia continues at the beginning of the 21st century, when in 2006 the country received the status of an observer state in the International Organization of Francophone Countries (OIF).

“When Ukraine applied to join the OIF, it was due to the dual movement of scientists and diplomats who want to bring the country closer to the French-speaking world. The position of the observer remains soft regarding the position of full members who have important obligations regarding the French language,” says Fabrice Petot.

Ferry de Kerkhov, Canada’s former Sherpa at the OIF. Courtesy

“While I was working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and dealing with Francophonie issues, the Ambassador of Ukraine came to me to ask Ukraine to join the OIF, and he presented his request to me completely in English, which was a bit awkward. . He gave me as the reason for his entry into the Francophonie that the Ukrainians liked France. I told them that it was very nice, but this is not a criterion, ”recalls the former“ Sherpa ”of Canada at the OIF Ferry de Kerkhove in an interview with the publication ONFR+.

While the silence of the OPF general secretary, Louise Musikiwabo, was heavily criticized in Canada, on March 16, the organization finally passed a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

I’euromaidan promotes the French

Although the teaching of French at the primary level has experienced a regression since the collapse of the Soviet Union (11.5% of primary school students were educated in French in 1991, 4.5% in 2019), secondary school enrollment has increased, in particular , owned since 2013euromaidan.

“French teaching has skyrocketed as Ukraine hoped to join the European Union. The love of the French increased after the Maidan, because Ukraine did everything to get closer to Europe,” explains Ferry de Kerkhove.

“With the Ukrainian revolution, the eyes of the people were turned to the West, so the interest in foreign languages ​​became more important. Knowing French allows you to study abroad, for example, in France, Belgium, Switzerland or Canada,” adds Fabrice Petot.

Bright future of Francophonie in Ukraine

According to Kyrylo Gorichny, the spread of the French language on the territory of Ukraine is closely related to economic development. “French companies like Beauchamp have started coming to Ukraine, which also encourages Ukrainians to learn French to move up the corporate ladder,” he explains. “Learning French opens up job opportunities. »

This dynamic is giving rise to phenomena such as in Obertin, a region near Romania where entire villages speak French. “Everyone is learning French because there are seasonal jobs in France. People go there and then come back to Aubertin with a knowledge of French,” says Fabrice Petot.

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Fabrice Putot. Source: Facebook

Recently, a new factor has been added to the Ukrainian Francophonie – foreign students. “There are many African students from French-speaking Africa in Ukraine, because their studies are at a good level, better than in their country,” says Fabrice Petot. Moroccan students rank second among international students. »

This influx of francophone students even encouraged Ukrainian universities to develop courses wholly or partly in French. This is especially true of the Medical Academy. Dnepropetrovsk one of them has a francophone dental department.

Thus, the French language continues its centuries-old path in Ukraine. An adventure that is far from over and which is celebrated every year on the occasion of the International Day of Francophones.

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