Ukrainian lawmakers have approved a language law that seeks to increase the use of Ukrainian in a country where Russian is also widely used.
The Supreme Rada on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to support the bill which will force increased use of Ukrainian in the media and in public administration.
The office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner as well as the Council of Europe has expressed its concern over the previous draft of the bill, saying that it could infringe the rights of language minorities.
Most Ukrainians switch between Ukrainian and Russian effortlessly but generations of Ukrainian politicians have exploited and encouraged the language divide in this country of 45 million.
The language issue became a major point of discontent in 2014 when separatists took control of parts of eastern Ukraine after Russian officials and media fanned fears that the new pro-Western government in Kiev would be forcing the Ukrainian language on the residents in that predominantly Russian-speaking region.
The language bill was passed a day after the Kremlin said that it would be offering fast-track Russian citizenship to Ukrainians living in the areas under separatist control. President Vladimir Putin on Thursday defended his decision, saying it will help people stranded in areas where Ukrainian government services are not available.
Ukraine's president-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Russian speaker, said he favors Ukrainian as the official language but has spoken in favor of encouraging the use of Ukrainian rather than forcing it on people. He won a whopping 73% of the vote, including in the Ukrainian-speaking west of the country.
Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko who stays in office until next month said he would sign it into law.
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