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Cyrillic alphabet

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The Cyrillic alphabet (or azbuka, from the old name of the first letters) is an alphabet used to write six natural Slavic languages (Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian) and many other languages of the former Soviet Union, Asia and Eastern Europe.



The plan of the alphabet is derived from the early Cyrillic alphabet, itself a derivative of the Glagolitic alphabet, a 9th century uncial cursive usually credited to two brothers, Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. The glyphs in the Cyrillic alphabet are, however, mainly Byzantine Greek letters. Some of them, especially those representing sounds that did not exist in medieval Greek, retain their Glagolitic forms.

Whereas it is widely accepted that the Glagolitic alphabet was invented by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the origins of the Early Cyrillic alphabet are still a source of much controversy. Though the alphabet is usually attributed to Saint Clement of Ohrid, a Bulgarian scholar and disciple of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the alphabet is more likely to have developed at the Preslav Literary School in northeastern Bulgaria, where the oldest Cyrillic inscriptions (dating back to the 940s) have been found. The strong Byzantine influence which Preslav experienced as Bulgaria's capital in the 9th and the 10th century is a plausible reason for the incorporation of Greek letters into the Glagolitic alphabet. The theory is further supported by the fact that the Cyrillic alphabet replaced almost completely the Glagolitic one in northeastern Bulgaria as early as the end of the 10th century, whereas the Ohrid Literary School—where Saint Clement worked—continued to use the Glagolitic alphabet until the 12th century.

There are also other theories regarding the origins of the Cyrillic alphabet, namely that the alphabet was created by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius themselves, or that it preceded the Glagolitic alphabet, representing a "transitional" stage between Greek and Glagolitic cursive, but these have been widely disproved. Although Cyril is almost certainly not the author of the Cyrillic alphabet, his contributions to Glagolitic alphabet and hence to the Cyrillic alphabet are still recognised, as the latter is named after him.

Letter forms and typography

The development of Cyrillic typography passed directly from the medieval stage to the late Baroque, without a Renaissance phase as in Western Europe. Late Medieval cyrillic letters (still found on many icon inscriptions even today) show a marked tendency to be very tall and narrow; strokes are often shared between adjacent letters.

Peter the Great, tsar of Russia, mandated the use of westernized letter forms in the early 18th century; over time, these were largely adopted in the other languages that use the alphabet. Thus, unlike modern Greek fonts which retained their own set of design principles, things like the placment of serifs, the shapes of stroke ends, or stroke-thickness rules in modern Cyrillic fonts are much the same as in modern Latin fonts of the font same family.

Cyrillic upper- and lowercase letter-forms are not as differentiated as in Latin typography. In the absence of Roman and Italic traditions, traditional Cyrillic type fonts are properly classified as upright and cursive. Upright cyrillic lowercase letters are essentially small capitals, with the exception of a few forms such as "a" and "e" which adopted western lowercase shapes (although a good cyrillic type face will still include a separate small-caps font). On the other hand, cursive or handwritten shapes of many letters, especially the lowercase letters, are entirely different from the upright shapes. In Macedonian and Serbian, some cursive letters are different from those used in other languages. In Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian, these "cursive" letter shapes are often used in upright fonts as well, especially for road signs, inscriptions, posters and the like, less so for newspapers or books.

Reference: Bringhurst, Robert (2002). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 2.5), pp. 262–264. Vancouver, Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-133-4.


There are various systems for romanization of Cyrillic text, including transliteration to convey Cyrillic spelling in Latin characters, and transcription to convey pronunciation.

Standard Cyrillic-to-Latin transliteration systems include:

  • The Working Group on Romanization Systems of the United Nations recommends different systems for specific languages. These are the most commonly used around the world.
  • ISO 9:1995, from the International Organization for Standardization.
  • America Library Association & Library of Congress (ALA-LC) Romanization tables for Slavic alphabets, used in North American libraries.
  • BGN/PCGN 1947 transliteration system (United States Board on Geographic Names & Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use).
  • GOST 16876-71 (1983), from the Main Administration of Geodesy and Cartography of the former Soviet Union. Russian abbreviation of GOsudarstvenny STandart, "the State Standard". GOST has limited support for non-Russian alphabets.

See also

External links

  • Transliteration of Non-Roman Scripts, a collection of writing systems and transliteration tables, by Thomas T. Pederson. Includes PDF reference charts for many languages’ transliteration systems.

As used in various languages

Sounds are indicated using IPA. These are only approximate indicators. While these languages by and large have a phonemic orthography, there are occasional exceptions—for example, Russian ЕГО (meaning him/his), which is pronounced instead of /jeɡɔ/.

Note that spellings of names may vary, especially Y/J/I, but also GH/G/H and ZH/J.

Slavic languages

Old Church Slavonic

Main article: early Cyrillic alphabet

Old Church Slavonic is the first literary and liturgical Slavic language developed from the native language of the 9th century missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius. It is not the same as the modern Church Slavonic language, which is still used in some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic church services.

As the Cyrillic alphabet spread throughout the Slavic world, it was adopted for writing local languages, such as Old Ruthenian. Its adaptation to the characteristics of local languages led to the development of its many modern variants, below.

The Early Cyrillic alphabet
А Б В Г Д Є Ж Ѕ З И І, Ї

Yeri (ЪІ) was originally a ligature of Yer and I. Ya (Я) was written in an archaic form called A iotified. Capital and lowercase letters were not distinguished in old manuscripts.

The early Cyrillic alphabet is difficult to represent on computers. Many of the letterforms differed from modern Cyrillic and varied a great deal in manuscripts, and changed over time. Few fonts include adequate glyphs to reproduce the alphabet. Some characters are missing from the current Unicode standard altogether, including Cyrillic dotless I, iotified Yat, abbreviated Yer ("Yerok"), and many ligatures.

See also: Glagolitic alphabet.


Main article: Russian alphabet

The Russian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з И и Й й
К к Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ф ф
Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
Capital  Small  Italic  Small italic  Name Sound
А а А а A /a/
Б б Б б Be /b/
В в В в Ve /v/
Г г Г г Ge /ɡ/
Д д Д д De /d/
Е е Е е Ye /je/
Ё ё Ё ё Yo /jo/
Ж ж Ж ж Zhe /ʒ/
З з З з Ze /z/
И и И и I /i/
Й й Й й Short I /ɪ/
К к К к Ka /k/
Л л Л л El /l/
М м М м Em /m/
Н н Н н En /n/
О о О о O /o/
П п П п Pe /p/
Р р Р р Er /r/
С с С с Es /s/
Т т Т т Te /t/
У у У у U /u/
Ф ф Ф ф Ef /f/
Х х Х х Kha /x/
Ц ц Ц ц Tse /ts/
Ч ч Ч ч Che /tʃ/
Ш ш Ш ш Sha /ʃ/
Щ щ Щ щ Shcha /ʃʲ/
Ъ ъ Ъ ъ Hard Sign╣   no palatalisation▓
Ы ы Ы ы Yery /ɨ/
Ь ь Ь ь Soft Sign /ʲ/ indicates palatalisation▓
Э э Э э E /ɛ/
Ю ю Ю ю Yu /ju/
Я я Я я Ya /ja/


  1. In the pre-reform Russian orthography, in Old Russian and in Old Church Slavonic the letter is called yer. Historically, the "hard sign" takes the place of a now-absent vowel, still preserved in Bulgarian. See the notes for Bulgarian.
  2. When an iotated vowel (vowel whose sound begins with /j/) follows a consonant, the consonant will become palatalised (the /j/ sound will mix with the consonant), and the vowel's /j/ sound will not be heard independently. The Hard Sign will indicate that this does not happen, and the /j/ sound will appear only in front of the vowel. The Soft Sign will indicate the consonant should be palatised, but the vowel's /j/ sound will not mix with the palatalization of the consonant. The Soft Sign will also indicate that a consonant before another consonant or at the end of a word is palatised. Examples: та (ta); тя (tʲa); тья (tʲja); тъя (tja); т (t); ть ().

Historical letters: before 1918, there were four extra letters in use: Іі (replaced by Ии), Ѳѳ (Фита "Fita", replaced by Фф), Ѣѣ (Ять "Yat", replaced by Ее), and Ѵѵ (ижица "Izhitsa", replaced by Ии); these were eliminated by reforms of Russian orthography.


Main article: Ukrainian alphabet.

Ukrainian differs from Russian in the following ways:

  • Г is a voiced fricative consonant and is called "Ge". Between Ge and De is the letter Ghe (Ґ, ґ), pronounced /g/, i.e., like a Russian Г. It looks like Ge but has an "upturn" pointing up from the right side of the top bar. (This letter was not officially used in the Soviet Union, so it doesn't appear in many Cyrillic fonts.)
  • Ye is pronounced /E/ and is called "E". Yo does not appear. Between E and Zhe is the letter Ye (Є, є), pronounced /jɛ/, which looks like the Russian letter E, only backwards. The Russian letter E does not appear.
  • I is pronounced /ɨ/ and is called "Y". Accordingly, Short I is called "Short Y". Between Y and Short Y appear the letter I (І, і), pronounced /i/, which looks like the Latin letter I, and the letter Yi (Ї, ї), pronounced /ji/, which looks like I with a diaeresis (the same two dots that appear in the Russian letter Yo) above it.
  • Yery does not appear.
  • The Hard Sign is not used; instead, its purpose is served by an apostrophe.


Belarusian is also written in a Belarusian Latin alphabet (Łacinka). Historically, Belarusian Tatars have written the language in the Arabic alphabet (Arabica), and Belarusian Jews in the Hebrew alphabet.

The Belarusian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з І і Й й
К к Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ў ў
Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я

NB: Before 1933, Ґ (/g/) was also present. Some linguists call for restoring the letter.

Belarusian differs from Russian in the following ways:

  • I looks like the Latin letter I (І, і). (But non-syllable short I looks the same as in Russian.)
  • Between U and Ef is the letter U short (Ў, ў), which looks like U (У) with a breve and pronounced /w/, or like the "u" part in diphthongs in "now", "low".
  • Shcha (Щщ) does not appear. A combination of sh and ch (ШЧ/шч) is typically used instead where "щ" would be expected in other Slavic languages.
  • The Hard Sign is not used. Its purpose (removing of palatalisation) is served by an apostrophe.
  • The letter combinations "ДЖ дж" and "ДЗ дз" appear after "Д д" in the Belarusian alphabet in some publications. Although they are two-letter combinations, they each represent one sound: "Дз" corresponds to Macedonian "S", and "Дж" corresponds to Serbian and Macedonian "Џ".
  • Г represents a voiced fricative consonant.
External Links


The Bulgarian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ж ж З з И и Й й К к
Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ф ф Х х
Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ь ь Ю ю Я я

Bulgarian differs from Russian in the following ways:

  • Ye is pronounced /ɛ/ and is called "E".
  • Yo does not appear.
  • The Russian letter E does not appear.
  • Shcha is pronounced /ʃt/ and is called "Shta".
  • The Hard Sign is used for a vowel, /ə/ (Schwa).
  • Yery does not appear.

Modern Serbian since the 19th century

Serbian can also be written with the Latin alphabet. See Serbo-Croatian language.

The Serbian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Ђ ђ Е е Ж ж З з И и Ј ј
К к Л л Љ љ М м Н н Њ њ О о П п Р р С с Т т
Ћ ћ У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Џ џ Ш ш

Serbian differs from Russian in the following ways:

  • Ye is pronounced /ɛ/. Yo does not appear. The Russian letter E does not appear.
  • Between D and E is the letter Djə (Ђ, ђ), which is pronounced /dʲ/, and looks like Tjerv, except that the loop of the H curls farther and dips downwards.
  • Short I does not appear. Between I and K is the letter Jə (Ј, ј), pronounced /j/, which looks like the Latin letter J.
  • Between L and M is the letter Ljə (Љ, љ), pronounced /lʲ/, which looks like L and the Soft Sign smashed together.
  • Between N and O is the letter Njə (Њ, њ), pronounced /nʲ/, which looks like N and the Soft Sign smashed together.
  • Between T and U is the letter Tjə (Ћ, ћ), which is pronounced /tʲ/ and looks like a lowercase Latin letter h with a bar. On the uppercase letter, the bar appears at the top; on the lowercase letter, the bar crosses the top half of the vertical line.
  • Between Ch and Sh is the letter Dzhə (Џ, џ), pronounced /dʒ/, which looks like Ts but with the downturn moved from the right side of the bottom bar to the middle of the bottom bar.
  • Sh is the last letter; the rest do not appear.


The Macedonian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Ѓ ѓ Е е Ж ж З з Ѕ ѕ И и
Ј ј К к Л л Љ љ М м Н н Њ њ О о П п Р р С с
Т т Ќ ќ У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Џ џ Ш ш

Macedonian differs from Serbian in the following ways:

  • Between Ze and I is the letter Dze (Ѕ, ѕ), pronounced /dz/, which looks like the Latin letter S.
  • Djerv is replaced by Gje (Ѓ, ѓ), pronounced /gʲ/, which looks like Ghe with an acute accent (´).
  • Tjerv is replaced by Kja (Ќ, ќ), pronounced /kʲ/, which looks like Ka with an acute accent (´).

Non-Slavic languages

These alphabets are generally modelled after Russian, but often bear striking differences, particularly when adapted for Caucasian languages. The first few of them were generated by Orthodox missionaries for the Finnic and Turkic peoples of Idel-Ural (Mari, Udmurt, Mordva, Chuvash, Kerashen Tatars) in 1870s. Later such alphabets were created for some of the Siberian and Caucasus peoples who had recently converted to Christianity. In the 1930s, some of those alphabets were switched to the Uniform Turkic Alphabet. All of the peoples who had been using an Arabic or other script (Mongolian script, etc.) also adopted this alphabet, but during the Great Purge, all of the Roman-based alphabets were switched over to Cyrillic, except for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian. The Abkhazian alphabet was switched to Georgian script, but after the death of Stalin Abkhaz also adopted Cyrillic. The last language to adopt Cyrillic was the Gagauz language, which used Greek script before.

In Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the use of Cyrillic to represent local languages has often been a politically controversial issue after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as it evokes the era of Soviet rule (see Russification). Some of Russia's languages have also tried to drop Cyrillic, but the move was halted under Russian law (see Tatar alphabet). A number of languages have switched from Cyrillic to other orthographies—either Roman-based or returning to a former script.

Unlike the Roman alphabet, which is usually adapted to different languages by using additions to existing letters such as accents, umlauts, tildes and cedillas, the Cyrillic alphabet is usually adapted by the creation of entirely new letter shapes. In some alphabets invented in the 19th century, such as Mari, Udmurt and Chuvash, umlauts and breves also were used.


Abkhaz is a Caucasian language, spoken in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, Georgia. See Abkhaz alphabet.

The Abkhaz alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Гь гь Ҕ ҕ Ҕь ҕь Д д Дә дә Џ џ Џь џь
Е е Ҽ ҽ Ҿ ҿ Ж ж Жь жь Жә жә З з Ӡ ӡ Ӡә ӡә И и Й й
К к Кь кь Қ қ Қь қь Ҟ ҟ Ҟь ҟь Л л М м Н н О о Ҩ ҩ
П п Ҧ ҧ Р р С с Т т Тә тә Ҭ ҭ Ҭә ҭә У у Ф ф Х х
Хь хь Ҳ ҳ Ҳә ҳә Ц ц Цә цә Ҵ ҵ Ҵә ҵә Ч ч Ҷ ҷ Ш ш Шь шь
Шә шә Щ щ Ы ы


The Cyrillic alphabet was used for the Chuvash language under the Soviet Union.

The Soviet-era Chuvash alphabet
А а Ӑ ӑ Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ӗ ӗ Ж ж З з
И и Й й К к Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с Ҫ ҫ
Т т У у Ӳ ӳ Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы
Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я


Kazakh is also written with the Latin alphabet (in Turkey), and modified Arabic alphabet (in China, Iran, and Afghanistan).

The Kazakh alphabet
А а Ә ә Б б В в Г г Ғ ғ Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з
И и Й й К к Қ қ Л л М м Н н Ң ң О о П п Ө ө
Р р С с Т т У у Ұ ұ Ү ү Ф ф Х х Һ һ Ц ц Ч ч
Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы İ і Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
  • Ә ә = /Š/
  • Ғ ғ = /ʁ/ (uvular fricative)
  • Қ қ = /q/ (uvular plosive)
  • Ң ң = /ŋ/
  • Ө ө = /œ/
  • У у = /uw/, /yw/,/w/
  • Ұ ұ = /u/
  • Ү ү = /y/
  • Һ һ = /h/
  • İ і = /i/

The Cyrillic letters Вв, Ёё, Цц, Чч, Щщ, Ъъ, Ьь and Ээ are not used in native Kazakh words, but only for Russian loans.


The Mongolic languages include Khalkha (in Mongolia), Buryat (around Lake Baikal) and Kalmyk (northwest of the Caspian Sea). Khalkha Mongolian is also written with the Mongol vertical alphabet, which is being slowly reintroduced in Mongolia.

The Khalkha Mongolian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з И и Й й
К к Л л М м Н н О о Ө ө П п Р р С с Т т У у
Ү ү Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э
Ю ю Я я
  • В в = /w/
  • Е е = /jɛ/, /jœ/
  • Ё ё = /jo/
  • Ж ж = /ʤ/
  • З з = /dz/
  • Н н = /n-/, /-ŋ/
  • Ө ө = /œ/
  • Ү ү = /y/
  • Ы ы = /ī/ (after a hard consonant)
  • Ь ь = /ĭ/ (extra short)
  • Ю ю = /ju/, /jy/

The Cyrillic letters Кк, Фф and Щщ are not used in native Mongolian words, but only for Russian loans.

The Buryat (буряад) Cyrillic alphabet is similar to the Khalkha above, but Ьь indicates palatalization as in Russian. Buryat does not use Вв, Кк, Фф, Цц, Чч, Щщ or Ъъ in its native words.

The Buryat Mongolian alphabet
А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з И и Й й
Л л М м Н н О о Ө ө П п Р р С с Т т У у Ү ү
Х х Һ һ Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
  • Е е = /jɛ/, /jœ/
  • Ё ё = /jo/
  • Ж ж = /ʤ/
  • Н н = /n-/, /-ŋ/
  • Ө ө = /œ/
  • Ү ү = /y/
  • Һ һ = /h/
  • Ы ы = /ei/, /ī/
  • Ю ю = /ju/, /jy/

The Kalmyk (хальмг) Cyrillic alphabet is similar to the Khalkha, but the letters Ээ, Юю and Яя appear only word-initially. In Kalmyk, long vowels are written double in the first syllable (нөөрин), but single in syllables after the first. Short vowels are omitted altogether in syllables after the first syllable (хальмг = xaʎmag).

The Kalmyk Mongolian alphabet
А а Ә ә Б б В в Г г Һ һ Д д Е е Ж ж Җ җ З з
И и Й й К к Л л М м Н н Ң ң О о Ө ө П п Р р
С с Т т У у Ү ү Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Ь ь Э э Ю ю
Я я
  • Ә ә = /Š/
  • В в = /w/
  • Һ һ = /γ/
  • Е е = /ɛ/, /jɛ-/
  • Җ җ = /ʤ/
  • Ң ң = /ŋ/
  • Ө ө = /œ/
  • Ү ү = /y/

Cyrillic in Unicode

In Unicode, the Cyrillic block extends from U+0400 to U+052F. The characters in the range U+0400–U+045F are basically the characters from ISO 8859-5 moved upward by 864 positions. The characters in the range U+0460–U+0489 are historic letters, not used now. The characters in the range U+048A–U+052F are additional letters for various languages that are written with Cyrillic script.

Unicode does not include accented Cyrillic letters, but they can be combined by adding U+0301 ("combining acute accent") after the accented vowel (e.g., ы́ э́ ю́ я́). Some languages (e.g., modern Church Slavonic) still are not fully supported.

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
400   Ѐ Ё Ђ Ѓ Є Ѕ І Ї Ј Љ Њ Ћ Ќ Ѝ Ў Џ
410   А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П
420   Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я
430   а б в г д е ж з и й к л м н о п
440   р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я
450   ѐ ё ђ ѓ є ѕ і ї ј љ њ ћ ќ ѝ ў џ
460   Ѡ ѡ Ѣ ѣ Ѥ ѥ Ѧ ѧ Ѩ ѩ Ѫ ѫ Ѭ ѭ Ѯ ѯ
470   Ѱ ѱ Ѳ ѳ Ѵ ѵ Ѷ ѷ Ѹ ѹ Ѻ ѻ Ѽ ѽ Ѿ ѿ
480   Ҁ ҁ ҂ ҃ ҄ ҅ ҆ ҇ ҈ ҉ Ҋ ҋ Ҍ ҍ Ҏ ҏ
490   Ґ ґ Ғ ғ Ҕ ҕ Җ җ Ҙ ҙ Қ қ Ҝ ҝ Ҟ ҟ
4A0   Ҡ ҡ Ң ң Ҥ ҥ Ҧ ҧ Ҩ ҩ Ҫ ҫ Ҭ ҭ Ү ү
4B0   Ұ ұ Ҳ ҳ Ҵ ҵ Ҷ ҷ Ҹ ҹ Һ һ Ҽ ҽ Ҿ ҿ
4C0   Ӏ Ӂ ӂ Ӄ ӄ Ӆ ӆ Ӈ ӈ Ӊ ӊ Ӌ ӌ Ӎ ӎ ӏ
4D0   Ӑ ӑ Ӓ ӓ Ӕ ӕ Ӗ ӗ Ә ә Ӛ ӛ Ӝ ӝ Ӟ ӟ
4E0   Ӡ ӡ Ӣ ӣ Ӥ ӥ Ӧ ӧ Ө ө Ӫ ӫ Ӭ ӭ Ӯ ӯ
4F0   Ӱ ӱ Ӳ ӳ Ӵ ӵ Ӷ ӷ Ӹ ӹ Ӻ ӻ Ӽ ӽ Ӿ ӿ
500   Ԁ ԁ Ԃ ԃ Ԅ ԅ Ԇ ԇ Ԉ ԉ Ԋ ԋ Ԍ ԍ Ԏ ԏ
510   Ԑ ԑ Ԓ ԓ Ԕ ԕ Ԗ ԗ Ԙ ԙ Ԛ ԛ Ԝ ԝ Ԟ ԟ
520   Ԡ ԡ Ԣ ԣ Ԥ ԥ Ԧ ԧ Ԩ ԩ Ԫ ԫ Ԭ ԭ Ԯ ԯ

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