The View From Here: Talk To Me Dmytro

Volodymyr Kish.

On a recent long-distance car trip, I was aided by a new app on my smart phone called Waze, similar to Google Maps, which provides you with a detailed map and directions on how to get you to your intended destination. What was novel about this app was the fact that you could select a customized voice in dozens of different languages. One of the options was a stentorian, authoritative Ukrainian voice named Dmytro.

So, as I drove along, I would hear Dmytro telling me such things as “Poperedu politsiya” (Police up ahead), or “Za 400 metriv, zyizd pravoruch” (In 400 metres, exit right), or “Za 200 metriv povernit livoruch” (In 200 metres turn left). It was novel, and it really brought home how language friendly computer technology and software has become. In particular, if you are Ukrainian, you need not revert to using English or worse, Russian, if you want to use a given piece of software.

The range of voices in Waze is impressive as well as somewhat whimsical. You can select a Polish voice named Jacek, a Lithuanian voice named Vytautas, a Serbian voice named Zoran, English voices named Simon, Thomas, Kate or Leona, a Dutch voice named Bram, a Spanish voice named Federico, an Italian voice named Donna, a Norwegian voice named Pernilla, a Portuguese voice named Mario, or a Russian voice named Valeriy, amongst others.

There was a time not that long ago, that most software was not Ukrainian friendly. When I lived and worked in Ukraine in recent decades, using a computer usually meant using either an English or Russian version of the required software. Not anymore. Windows 10 is now available in 40 different language versions including Ukrainian. The Apple OS system is similarly available in 38 different languages including Ukrainian.

Most of the most commonly used portals, web sites, social media sites and apps now have Ukrainian versions. You can for instance, go into Youtube settings and change it so that the display language is Ukrainian. You can do the same thing in Facebook. The growth of Facebook usage in particular in Ukraine in recent years has been phenomenal, especially since the Russian invasions of Crimea and the Donbas. Prior to the Russian aggression, many Ukrainians used a similar Russian social media app called VKontakte, but many have now switched to Facebook.

I would guess that many of you like myself, frequently use Wikipedia as an online reference source for almost any kind of information. It should come as no surprise that there is a Ukrainian version of Wikipedia (uk.wikipedia.org). As of last month, it had some 900,000 articles in the Ukrainian language on file on almost every subject imaginable. Appropriately, there are some 8,000 articles just on the subject of the Ukrainian language.

Ukrainians, like us here in Canada, are huge users of the Internet, and it seems that their preferences and tastes are not that different from ours. A recent survey of the most popular Internet sites accessed by users in Ukraine showed the top three to be Google, Youtube and Facebook. Also included in the top 20 are Instagram, Wikipedia, VKontakte (Russian social media site), UKR.NET (a news portal), sinoptik.ua (weather forecasts). Rozetka.com.ua (e-shopping site), Privatbank.ua, and yes, even Pornhub.

According to the latest statistics, there are some 26 million internet users in Ukraine representing about 60% of the total population. Although impressive, they are still lagging behind more developed countries such as the U.S. (78%) and Canada (83%).

It should also be noted that a significant proportion of Internet users (32%) connect using mobile devices only. This is because the cost of cell phone services in Ukraine is ridiculously cheap compared to what we pay here in Canada, with monthly plans that include unlimited data starting at under $5 per month. That is why 85% of Ukrainians have at least one cell phone, and a significant number have two or more. Although Ukraine’s population is only about 44 million, there are over 55 million mobile phones in active use.

There is little doubt that the virtual world of the Internet now includes Ukraine in a big way, and its population is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to technology and communications.

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