Why do a lot of Ukrainians speak Russian
Probably, kind of similar question we could ask Americans. For example, Americans speak English with American accent and it is also depend on the place where in the U.S. you are situated. The same in Ukraine, many people speak Russian, but it is not the same language as in Russia, it is Russian language with Ukrainian accent that can be precisely distinguished.
Why many people speak Russian in Ukraine? – Because Russian language is native to many Ukrainians. Ukraine was one of republics in former Soviet Union and as it was one big country, many different nationalities were spoken in Russian. This language was a source of international communicative language. Imagine Lithuanian, Azerbaijani, Ukrainian and Georgian who speak to each other in Ukrainian, Georgian, Lithuanian and Azerbaijani languages. Hard to understand each other, right? But here we come; Russian language helped those people to understand each other, and such situation lasted for years.
Except for that, there were working migrations and people from different parts of former Soviet Union were coming to Ukraine for permanent place of living. Of course, they spoke in Russian and their children were taught to speak Russian from the very small age. And this is natural to speak the language your parents do. But after Soviet Union collapsed, many of those people and their families remained to live in Ukraine. That is one of the reasons why so many Ukrainians do speak Russian.
Most of Russian-speaking people live on East and on South of the country and in big cities. But the language they speak doesn’t mean they are pro-Russian and do not like their country. Those people are patriots of Ukraine, they like their country, they like and are tolerant to those who speak Ukrainian, their children learn Ukrainian, speak Ukrainian and there is no actually a hint for misunderstandings. [What I highlighted in italics,was my opinion in 2012, but now, in 2015, according to the situation on the East of Ukraine I changed my opinion. There are many pro-Russian people and they hate all Ukrainian. Russian TV propaganda “helps” as well.]
Many Ukrainians love their motherland and there is no matter what language they speak, Ukrainian or Russian, they are Ukrainians. There is also one curious and even strange fact that many people who come to study or work in metropolis, begin to speak Russian instead of Ukrainian because it is considered to be sort of cool. [Used to be so until the Revolution of Dignity in 2014] If you speak Russian, you are from the big city and if you speak Ukrainian, you are peasant from the village. Something like that used to happen often and was quite common, but in that case under “Ukrainian” was meant “soorzhyk” or “surzhyk” – mixture of Ukrainian and Russian that sounds funny and is not literal form. Most of village people talk like that. If you speak “surzhyk” you may be the one who is going to suffer from jokes and tricks. If you speak pure literal Ukrainian, no one will make fun on you. Many would consider you as very intelligent person.