The Ukrainian Parliament has passed a controversial bill that would make the Russian language more prominent, in the face of vehement opposition from opposition politicians and ordinary citizens who feel Ukraine's national identity is being threatened.

Last month, the parliament floor erupted into a brawl between legislators when the main opposition party tried to block the vote.

Ukraine's ruling Party of Regions pushed the bill this week through Parliament's 450-seat chamber with 234 votes. It still requires a second vote later this year in Parliament as well as President Viktor Yanukovych's approval to pass.

If passed, the bill would make Russian, the native tongue of many Ukrainians in the eastern and southern parts of the country, a regional language. It could then be used in courts, hospitals and other state institutions in Russian-speaking regions, though Ukrainian would remain the country's official language.

Yanukovych and his centrist Regions Party have advocated for the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, a base of their support, and he has also been viewed as cultivating closer ties with Moscow, while the opposition seeks closer ties with the West.

When Yanukovych came to office in 2010, he vowed to reverse the anti-Russian policies of his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, pulling away from Ukraine's bid to join NATO and indicating a willingness to renew Russia's lease on Ukrainian bases for its Black Sea fleet, due to expire in 2017.

With Vladimir Putin's return to the Russian presidency and his country in the midst of a resurgence of power on the global stage, Ukraine finds itself divided between its militarily superior neighbor and the dominant Western powers.