The Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring the Use of Ukrainian as the State Language” No. 2704-VIII (the “Language Law”) entered into force on 16 July 2019. It was enacted despite all pressure, claims, objections and an attempt to declare it unconstitutional. The Language Law stood its ground and is gradually entering into force (in our previous overview we summarised various language law requirements and the relevant transitional periods).
The next important milestone is 16 July 2022. On that date, the three-year transition period for starting the use of Ukrainian for the user interface (the “UI”) of the pre-installed software and internet offices (official websites and webpages in social media) ends. The draft law previously stipulated a shorter (eighteen months) transitional period, but the Parliament decided to grant a longer period in order for businesses to smoothly adapt to the new requirements.
Additional language requirements
The following requirements will become effective on 16 July 2022:
If the above language requirement is not met, the relevant product will be classified as a low-quality product. Marketing of low-quality products constitutes a violation of the Ukrainian consumer protection laws, in particular, Art. 8 of the Law of Ukraine “On Protection of Consumers Rights” (Rights of consumers in case of purchasing products of low quality).
The foregoing requirements do not have a retroactive effect.
Finally, the foregoing requirements do not apply to the UI of software marketed in Ukraine separately from devices. UI of such software should be in Ukrainian and/or English or other official languages of the European Union. This language requirement is in effect as of 16 July 2019.
It is permitted to have Internet offices in other languages. In such case, (i) the Ukrainian version must become available by default for Ukraine-based users; and (ii) the volume and contents of the Ukrainian version of the Internet office should be equivalent to the versions in other languages (para. 6 of Art. 27 of the Language Law).
Those foreign businesses that market their goods and/or services in Ukraine and have subsidiaries, affiliated entities and/or representative offices in Ukraine must ensure that contents of the Ukrainian version of the website are sufficient for convenient user navigation and presenting business of the owner of such internet office. In addition, such foreign entities must ensure that the Ukrainian version is available by default for Ukraine-based users. These requirements are applicable to websites only.
The foregoing requirements do not apply to internet offices of (i) those printed mass media which are published only in Crimean Tatar, languages of other indigenous people of Ukraine, English, and other official languages of the European Union; and (ii) scientific editions.
In fact, the above regulations are not the only which stipulate the language law requirements for websites. Pursuant to para. 2 of Art. 30 of the Language Law, businesses that service consumers and provide information about goods and/or services, including through online stores and online catalogues, must be in Ukrainian. Such information can be dubbed into other languages. This language requirement is in effect as of 16 January 2021. Notably, this requirement also can potentially be applicable to online stores and online catalogues of those foreign businesses that do not have corporate presence in Ukraine, including subsidiaries, affiliated entities and/or representative offices.
Legal and other exposure for non-compliance
16 July 2022 will also mark the end for the three-year transitional period with regard to relief from fines for violation of the Language Law requirements. As a matter of fact, the State Language Protection Commissioner has already warned that the regulations on imposing fines will be entering into force very soon.
In less than a month, a violation of the Language Law requirements, including those described in this overview, will constitute an administrative offence. The State Language Protection Commissioner will be able to impose fines on, among others, those managers and employees of legal entities, who are in charge of compliance with the Language Law (a CEO is in charge by default unless delegated to another employee). All necessary bylaws, including master forms of administrative offences protocols, were already adopted by the State Language Protection Commissioner and would also enter into force on 16 July 2022.
For the first-time violation of the language requirements described in this overview, a warning or administrative fine amounting to UAH 3,400 – 5,100 (approx. EUR 110 – 165) can be applied. Repeated violation, committed within a year after the preceding violation, entails a fine of UAH 8,500 – 11,900 (approx. EUR 275 – 385).
Due to the russia-Ukraine war, it is also strongly advisable to carefully manage the company’s and brand’s reputation, especially in the digital space. Negative public feedback (especially when it comes to social media) may be damaging to the company’s or brand’s reputation even if any such dispute/claim would be (found) meritless. Damaging the reputation may be the only reason for any such dispute/claim/buzz in social media.
The risk for blocking internet offices, including official websites and webpages, is apparently low. The blocking is neither stipulated as a measure for the violation of the language requirements, nor the State Language Protection Commissioner is explicitly vested with such authority. Still, due to the lack of sufficient regulation on blocking online resources, the current practice of blocking access is mainly based on court practice. Both the court practice and statutory regulation are constantly evolving, so the risk of website/webpage blocking requires regular re-assessment.
For further information, please contact Oleg Klymchuk.
Information contained in this legal alert is for general information purposes only, does not constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice tailored to particular circumstances.
 The Constitutional Court of Ukraine eventually upheld the constitutionality of the Language Law (see Decision No. № 1-р/2021, dated 14 July 2021).