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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Ukraine drive to keep Russian off buses
By Helen Fawkes
BBC, Ukraine

Weaving his bus through the busy streets of Lviv in Western Ukraine, Andriy likes to listen to Russian pop music.

But his music choice could soon see him banned from the roads.

Inside a bus in Lviv
Bus passengers say they expect Russian music on the buses
Bus drivers like Andriy face having their licences taken away for playing music by Russian bands while they work.

Music is not allowed on public transport in Lviv, but the drivers of some buses and mini-buses, known as "marshrutki", are flouting the law by playing popular Russian pop songs.

Local politicians have now drafted a language law which would take away the licences of these drivers.

Vasyl Shelook, from Lviv City Council, says they want to "de-Russify" Ukrainian life.

"Lviv is the most Ukrainian city in the country and if we don't preserve our Ukrainian language we will lose our identity so we must force people somehow to speak our native language," he said.

Delicate issue

Not everyone is happy with the clampdown. Bus drivers are angry at the move.

"The plans are stupid. They can't tell us what we can listen to," said Andriy. "Everyone really likes music by Russian groups anyway."

Russian is everywhere in Ukraine, it's on TV, on the internet, we want to keep it out of public life
Vasyl Shelook,
Lviv City Council
When you catch a bus, it's something you expect to hear, says passenger Eugenia Mozhova, 23.

"I'm not bothered by it at all. I consider myself to be Ukrainian, I was born and brought up in Lviv but I'm not offended by Russian music," she said.

Following independence from the Soviet Union, the issue of language in Ukraine has become a sensitive subject.

It's been a struggle to re-establish Ukrainian.

While Ukrainian is the official language, Russian is widely used in the east of the country.

It's estimated that Russian is the first language of one in five people in Ukraine.

Bars ban

In April, an attempt to ban Russian language national television and radio programmes failed after pressure from broadcasters in Ukraine and politicians in Moscow.

In Lviv, it may not only be buses that are affected by the ban on Russian music.

The new language law, which if approved would come into force next year, could be extended to cover bars and restaurants in the city.

Politicians are considering whether places of entertainment should also be stopped from playing Russian pop songs outside their premises.

Lviv City Council says it determined to protect Ukraine's heritage.

"Our Ukrainian culture is under threat," said Mr Shelook. "Russian is everywhere in Ukraine, it's on TV, on the internet. We want to keep it out of public life."

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