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Row over Ukraine region's ban on Russian-language culture

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Lviv (Ukraine) (AFP)

A Ukrainian region's decision to ban Russian-language arts, from songs to books and films, prompted growing controversy Thursday even as it remained unclear how it would be implemented.

In a move condemned by Western diplomats, lawmakers in Lviv's regional parliament on Tuesday voted for an open-ended moratorium on the public use in any form of Russian-language "cultural product".

The regional assembly agreed the moratorium would last until the end of Russia's "occupation" of Ukraine, referring to Moscow's annexation of Crimea and the Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine already has a nationwide ban on films judged to glorify Russia's military. It has imposed entry bans on Russian pop stars who have backed the annexation of Crimea and travelled there directly from Russia.

The regional body that voted for the ban is dominated by the party of President Petro Poroshenko and the pro-Western Samopomich party. But it also has members of Svoboda nationalist party.

Lviv and the surrounding region is a popular tourist destination for its pretty Central European-style architecture and cafe culture.

The Ukrainian language is already used much more than Russian in the western region, which borders Poland.

A copy of the bill published on the parliament's website says that it aims to "protect the Ukrainian information space from the hybrid influences of the aggressor state and overcome the consequences of prolonged linguistic Russification".

The decision will affect cafes, restaurants and any public transport playing Russian-language music, two deputies from Svoboda nationalist party told AFP on Thursday, on condition of anonymity.

It will also affect books, films and public readings, they said.

But the decision was "advisory in nature" and "does not specify any time limits or the mechanism of implementation and punishment," they added.

Canadian and British ambassadors to Ukraine strongly criticised the move late Wednesday.

The terms of the Lviv region's ban are "narrow-minded, discriminatory and #justplaindumb," Canadian Ambassador Roman Waschuk wrote on Twitter.

"C'mon Lviv (region), you?re better than this," British Ambassador Judith Gough responded on Twitter, adding the hashtags #tolerance and #diversity.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter feud since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Moscow has been accused of fuelling a rebel conflict in eastern Ukraine that has cost the lives of some 10,000 people.

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