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Ukrainian and Russian​ are both Slavic languages. Still, they are quite different. Both have a Cyrillic alphabet, although there are still unique symbols. Modern Ukrainian shares some commonalities with Russian and Belorusian and the languages of Ukraine’s other neighbours. Those similarities could be tricky as there are still different grammar rules, not speaking about quite different vocabulary.  

Ukrainians understand Russian much better than Russians can understand Ukrainian (actually, few of them can), which can explain a lot. This asymmetry is great evidence that similarity is insufficient to understand both languages equally. Moreover, it says a lot about the political influence of Russia in Ukraine. 

Due to the colonial past of the country and the imposed politics of “russification” and “assimilation” during the Russian Empire and USSR, the Russian language has been widespread in Ukraine. Moreover, it is tangible how Russian influenced the Ukrainian language, which has been reflected in surzhyk.    

It is believed that the modern literary Ukrainian language originated in 1798 thanks to the publication of Kotliarevsky’s Eneida, while Pushkin, born in 1799, is considered the founder of the Russian modern language.