Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.10.2017
The name of the capital of Ukraine is Київ. Transliterated from Cyrillic letters into Latin letters by standard orthography the name is written “Kyiv.” “Kyiv” is how you write Київ in English. This was settled long ago, in the 1990s, when Ukraine re-established its independence. The government of Ukraine, academia, the diplomatic community, and officialdom of English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, all respected the consensus that correct transliteration of the Ukrainian name Київ as “Kyiv” was obligatory.
Russia chooses not to respect the Ukrainian names of Ukrainian cities. The Russo-centric Western press – woefully ignorant about most things Ukrainian – went along with the Russian practice of transliterating a foreign name for Kyiv, the Russian one. Russian propaganda that is written in English and the go-along-to-get-along Moscow bureau press give the wrong name for Kyiv, and write it “Kiev.”
Russians mostly regard Ukrainians as colonial subjects. A hundred years ago, the Russian term for Ukrainians was “Malorossy” or “Little Russians” and some still use this derogatory term. Refusing to accept Ukraine as a sovereign equal to Russia, Russians do not respect the choice of Ukrainians that the name is “Kyiv” in English.
What explains the English-speaking press not using the proper English name? In the early years of Ukraine’s re-emergence as an independent nation in the heart of Europe, ignorance could be given as an excuse. But since Russia invaded Europe in Ukraine in February 2014, no journalist can claim ignorance. In a state of war, to write “Kiev” when you know that “Kyiv” is correct English name is to take the side of Russia. “Kiev” is the name the foreign invaders want you to use in English; “Kyiv” is the name Kyivans and Ukrainians ask you to use in English for their city.
Unlike Russian, written Ukrainian is strictly phonetic. It is easy to write in Cyrillic letters and easy to transliterate into Latin letters by following standard rules. Thus, the name of the city Одеса is “Odesa” – yet the Russo-centric Western press puts a double “s” in there for some strange reason. Similarly, Донбас is “Donbas” – never Donbass. Other biases of the Moscow-bureau English journalists are to transliterate the Russian name for a Ukrainian place and ignore the Ukrainian name. One sometimes reads “Lugansk” and “Chernigov” instead of ‘Luhansk” and “Chernihiv.”
The Western press is also slow to pick up on the changes of place names since the Revolution of Dignity, mostly resulting from the law called “About condemning Communist and National-Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and banning propaganda of their symbols.” Some three percent of all place names changed because the old ones glorified Russian occupation regime killers and their atrocities. The city that used to be called Dnipropetrovsk is now Dnipro. Kirovohrad has a new name, Kropyvnytskyi. Close to the battlefront where Russia is invading Europe in Donbas, the city of Artemivsk is now Bakhmut, Dzerzhynsk is now Toretsk, and Stakhanov is now Kadiivka.
It is not difficult to respect the people who live in a place by respecting the names they give to their home. That especially includes names in English, because English has become the de facto world language. The English language does not have an official form. There is no equivalent of the Académie française for English. Therefore, the official English for Київ is what official Ukraine says it is: Kyiv.
English writers – especially journalists – should follow standard transliterations of Ukrainian names for Ukrainian places, and write “Kyiv,” “Odesa,” and “Donbas.” They should write the official names for places and not the old names that are a legacy of violence and hatred. Given the Russian invasion of Crimea and Donbas, to use transliterations of foreign names for Ukrainian places – like “Kiev” – is to be deliberately offensive. It can no longer be excused as ignorance. It is agitation propaganda in favour of Muscovy and against the Ukrainian people. If you don’t write it “Kyiv” you’re letting aggressor Russia win.