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Ukraine: Why The Capital’s Name Is Kyiv, Not Kiev

Ukraine: Why The Capital’s Name Is Kyiv, Not Kiev

As conflict continues in Ukraine, it's important to ensure the capital is being referred to in the correct way.

As Vladimir Putin continues to try and seek control of Ukraine's capital, it is more important than ever to ensure the city is referred to in the right way.

Four years ago, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the 'KyivNotKiev' campaign to spread the message of how Ukraine wants its capital to be known.

The movement came after the Russian annexation of Crimea and aimed to distinguish Kyiv from its soviet past, but it has gained further attention in recent days after Putin sent troops across the border.

'Kyiv' was officially adopted by Ukraine in 1995, though many people across the globe still refer to the capital as 'Kiev'.

However, the reason the city should be referred to as Kyiv, especially amid the ongoing conflict, is because this is derived from the Ukrainian language name. Kiev, on the other hand, comes from the Russian language.

Speaking to Quartz, linguist and Columbia University professor John McWhorter explained that when it comes to pronouncing 'Kyiv' in English, "Keev’ is about as close as we can gracefully get in English to the actual pronunciation, which is roughly ‘KOUGH-ihv,’ where the OUGH rhymes with the OO in FOOT, or the U in PUT'.

'KEE-eff', on the other hand, 'is the Russian pronunciation, which, for obvious reasons, is now being reassessed as the Anglophone norm', according to McWhorter.

Russia and Ukraine historian Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon has described the discrepancy between the two terms as a 'touchy subject because Putin has used Russian speakers in Ukraine to deny Ukraine’s sovereignty.'

Kyiv (Alamy)
Kyiv (Alamy)

The historian explained that Ukraine passed a law in 2019 which made Ukrainian the official language of the Ukrainian state and public communications, though Russia was never outlawed in the country and many residents there actually speak both languages.

St. Julian-Varnon continued: 'Thus, pronunciation of the English transliteration is important because one is the Russian name for the city and the other is the Ukrainian name.'

In 2019, The United States Board on Geographic Names officially changed the spelling of Ukraine's capital in a decision which the Ukrainian embassy in the US described as 'extremely important', adding on Facebook that it gave impetus 'to correct the official name of the Ukraine's capital inside and outside the United States, in particular on international flights and in airports around the world.'

Kyiv is not the only city to be referred to in differing ways, and the Ukrainian government continues to encourage the use of Ukrainian spellings where relevant. The city of Kharkiv, for example, may be wrongly dubbed Kharkov; Odessa should be Odesa, and Lvov should be changed to Lviv.

If you would like to donate to the Red Cross Emergency Appeal, which will help provide food, medicines and basic medical supplies, shelter and water to those in Ukraine, click here for more information 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Ukraine, Russia, World News