Ukrainian language on computers

Working with Ukrainian text on a computer with an English-language keyboard and user interface is much more straightforward nowadays than it used to be, as long as the software is not too old. The details depend on the version of your computer’s operating system (Windows, Mac or Linux) and the application programs you use (web browsers, email programs, word processing software etc). The notes below are intended to provide an overview of the issues involved. You should be able to find any further information you need in the Help facility available in most operating systems and programs, or you can search the web for assistance.

Reading Ukrainian text

Ukrainian text included in, for example, a web page, an email message or a word processor document, should be readable in most cases as soon as you access or open the document. Sometimes the Ukrainian text (which uses an alphabet based on the Cyrillic script) may not be displayed correctly on your screen and instead you may see what appear to be random characters or other symbols. This is likely to be because the program you are using is trying to display the text using a character “encoding” scheme different from the one used to produce it. In many cases this can be corrected by manually selecting the appropriate encoding. In many web browsers and other programs this is done through the ‘View’ menu.

The correct encoding in many cases will be Unicode (UTF-8), which is becoming ever more widely used as a standard encoding for handling text in most of the world’s writing systems. Otherwise, the appropriate encoding may be one of several Cyrillic schemes.

Writing in Ukrainian

Assuming your computer is set up so that the usual input language is, say, English, then to be able to write in Ukrainian you need to add Ukrainian as an input language. Then you can switch between input languages as required, either by clicking on a button or using a keyboard shortcut. The steps required for adding and switching between input languages depend on your computer’s operating system. You should be able to find the necessary instructions in the Help facility (search for “input language” or similar).

Naturally, when you switch to the Ukrainian language you need to determine the positioning of the Ukrainian characters on the keyboard. The simplest way is to activate the on-screen keyboard which is available on most computers, and then to switch to Ukrainian. Again, you should be able to find the relevant instructions in the Help facility. The BBC website also has a guide applicable to most computers.

Note that, because the Ukrainian alphabet has 33 letters compared with 26 in English, 7 of the Ukrainian letters have to be associated with keys which are normally used for punctuation marks or other non-alphabet symbols. This means that, when you switch to Ukrainian input, the positions of some non-alphabet symbols are also changed.

If you envisage making frequent use of the Ukrainian keyboard, you may find it more convenient to stick Ukrainian keytop labels to the keys on your physical keyboard. These are transparent self-adhesive labels with the Ukrainian letters typically in the bottom right-hand corner of each label. When a label is stuck to a key the English-language character inscribed in the top left-hand corner of the key remains visible. There are online suppliers of such labels (search for “Ukrainian keytop labels” or similar), or they can be bought in Ukraine. If the labels are part of a set containing a range of Cyrillic characters, make sure it contains all the characters of the Ukrainian alphabet.