Translation and Language Industry Observations

Ukraine is currently at the center of world focus. Tensions are mounting as the Russian army has positioned nearly 200,000 troops around its borders with the Ukraine. As a result, stock markets are diving, energy prices are increasing, and the citizens of Ukraine are living in fear of the impending invasion.

We are on the verge of war because of Russian aggression. 200,000 Russian troops are on the border, Russia has openly declared a war and millions of people are getting ready to fight for their right to live. Ukraine is in a very dangerous situation now and the whole world is speaking about that. I wish we had never experienced such a time. (Elena, a professional Ukrainian translator registered with GTS).

Translation Prices in the Ukraine are low

Ukraine is considered to be a poor country, and has the lowest GDP per capita in Europe. Unsurprisingly, translation resources in the Ukraine are inexpensive. Prices that freelance translators charge for Ukrainian and Russian translation start at 0.02 per word. Prices charged by Ukrainian translation companies start at US$0.03 per word. Ukrainian translation companies pay their translators even less than that, which is why Ukrainian translators prefer to work with foreign clients. Upwork is one of the platforms favored by Ukrainian translators.

An alternate way of calculating price is by character, where 1800 characters constitute a page. Some Ukrainian translation companies charge as little as $4 for translation per page from English to Russian.

Languages in the Ukraine

The official language is Ukrainian (also called Ruthenian). But Russian is a widely spoken language in Ukraine, especially in its eastern and southern parts (like Kharkiv and Donbas, which were just recognized by Russian President Vladimir Putin as independent republics). When Ukraine was a part of the USSR, Russian was a state language in the Ukraine. One couldn’t establish a career or get a good job unless they spoke Russian well. Therefore, many people abandoned the Ukrainian language in favor of Russian. After independence was declared, the Ukrainian language became more prominent than Russian. But many people in the Ukraine people speak both languages fluently.

Since most people are bilingual, many translators in the Ukraine work in both languages regardless of their mother tongue. Indeed, many translators in the Ukraine say that they are native speakers of both Ukrainian and Russian. But as one can only have one mother, one can only have one mother-tongue. Buying Russian translation services from Ukrainian translators is inexpensive, but can come at the cost of lower quality.

The language used in Western Ukrainian is a bit different from the rest of the country. In this part of Ukraine they use many Polish, Hungarian and Czech words.

There is no noticeable difference between the written Russian used in Russia and the Russian used in Ukraine. When spoken, the Ukrainian accent is somewhat different than the Russian accent. But people on both sides of the border can understand each other perfectly when conversing in Russian. That makes it possible for Russian interpreters to work in either country.

Some sizable minorities in the Ukraine are: Hungarians, Romanians and Crimean Tatars. They have electronic and printed media in their languages, so there is some demand for language services into/from these languages.

Historic perspective of bilingualism in Ukraine

Although the Ukrainian language started to develop in the 6th century, and by the 11th century it had already formed its specific linguistic features, the Russian imperialist policy has always been to limit the use of the Ukrainian language and even to deny its existence (because Russian state leaders have never wanted to see Ukraine as an independent nation, but wanted to make it a part of their empire). The Russian tsars banned Ukrainian books and the use of the Ukrainian language starting with the 17th century.

In the 20th century, the policy of Soviet Russia was not much different. Additionally, the communists deported large numbers of Ukrainians to Russia, and on the other hand, they forced many Russian people to migrate to Ukraine. That is why there are many people of Russian ancestry living in Ukraine nowadays. The policy of Soviet Russia was to establish and maintain the privileged status of the Russian language. That is why the majority of Russians who migrated to Ukraine were not assimilated and remained mostly Russian speaking. However, many Ukrainians continued to speak Ukrainian. Although this may sound strange, speaking Ukrainian in Ukraine sometimes required a lot of courage due to the these policies. As a result of marriages, friendships and exposure to both languages through mass media and education, most people in Ukraine are bilingual.

But the use of Russian in Ukraine is declining

There appears to be a backlash against the use of the Russian language in the Ukraine. People feel disgusted with Russia’s actions, especially now. Also, the Russian language is perceived by many Ukrainians as one of main tools that the Russians use to retain its influence in Ukraine. The process of preferring Ukrainian over Russian has already started. There have been some laws passed that strengthen the use of the Ukrainian language, especially on TV. This has created a demand for English to Ukrainian translation of subtitles for TV and films.

Translation Accreditation in the Ukraine

At this time, there does not appear to be an official translators organization like the ATA or the JAT. There is one non-official association, the Ukrainian Association of Translators and Interpreters (https://www.uati.org/). According to their site, there are about 60 members.

Here is some information about the state of translation profession in Ukraine (data from 2019 and not in English).

Обзор украинского рынка — 2018

Sworn Translation in Ukraine

There is no system of sworn translation in Ukraine. Formally, any person with a diploma from a linguistic institution can be appointed/approved as a translator for judicial purposes (court, notary)

The outlook for the translation business in Ukraine

Since the recent conflict with Russia began, there appears to be a decline in translation activity. Some digital payment systems like Wise and PayPal have imposed restrictions on payments between Ukraine and Russia. This is not good news for Ukrainian translators and translation companies.

A similar slowdown occurred at the beginning of 2020 when the COVID pandemic came to pass. The situation was reversed at the end of 2020, as pent up demand created a lot of work in the field.

With the tensions escalating, the market for Russian and Ukrainian translation may shrink as the two major Russian-speaking countries are busy fighting. On the other hand, the anticipated military conflict may create new opportunities in the translation business. For example, translating for the military, humanitarian work for refugees and immigration papers for displaced citizens.

Are Ukrainian Translators Better than Russian Translators?

Here is a story told by one of our Ukrainian translators that provides insight into the differences between Ukrainian and Russian translators.

I have been working for AliExpress, translating into Russian for over two years. There were over 300 people who took the test. Then about 30 people were selected. Now the size of the team for the Russian translation is only 8 people and all of them are from Ukraine! The way I see how we work… I would say we are really hard-working. Some of us, me included, wake up at 4 am to claim a project. We have a different culture of communication, more westernised, more client-oriented. Another important thing to mention is that we have a lot of educated people here for whom Russian is their mother tongue. However, the situation is going to change as Russian is not taught at schools anymore. Still, I can see a lot of customers posting the location of Russia as a prerequisite for a translator they want to hire. I guess they don’t know there’s no difference between Russian here and Russian there.

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