Is the Ukrainian language Understandable for average Russian?
Average Russian who hears Ukrainian language might be curious when he hear it and you will see the smile on his face. It is so because Ukrainian words sound similar to Russian person but he/she usually does not understand what is going on about. Most Russians ask to speak Ukrainian in Russian because they do not get what is all the speech about. Some Russians might ask to speak more slowly and then trying to understand what Ukrainian is talking about, but it is only because of curiosity.
The other question is “Do Ukrainians understand Russian”. Yes, they do. The fact is that for long time Ukraine was under Russian influence and it was compulsory to know Russian, because it was not only the language of official communication, but sort of “cool to know” language. During Tsarist Period if you spoke Russian it meant you were educated, some of “high sort people” than if you spoke Ukrainian it brought a kind of “the slave” attitude to you. The same was during soviet period. Russian was compulsory, Russian language was everywhere and every Ukrainian who wanted to have a job and wanted to study needed to learn Russian. Russian was taught in school even since Ukraine has got independence. It is interesting fact, and, of course, it is good to know many languages, but Ukrainian language is not taught in Russian schools, for example. Almost all Ukrainians including those who were born in independent Ukraine can speak Russian language fluently. Of course, they speak with Ukrainian accent what is a sort Russians make fun on, but only a few Russians speak Ukrainian.
After this the question “is Ukrainian understandable to Russian people” the answer could be “the same as Polish language to average Ukrainian person”. Why? Polish words sound to Ukrainian familiar, but it is hard to get the sense. Of course, it is much easier for Ukrainian to learn Polish or for Russian to learn Ukrainian than, lets say, English, because Ukrainian, Russian, Polish belong to the group of Slavic languages and have common roots, words and structure.
To sum up, Ukrainian language is not understandable to Russian people or might be understandable with distortion. It happened during to the flow of history and is the fact nowadays. On the one hand, why should Russian know Ukrainian language? There is no need for Russian in it. On the other hand, Ukrainians know Russian well and it is probably good for them, because the more languages you speak, the more you are prepared if once you appear somewhere abroad.