Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 03.10.2018
Will the BBC, Reuters, the New York Times and other news outlets ever learn? Will English language media finally get around to using the correct names for Ukrainian places? Skeptics say that they are incorrigible. Pessimists say that they cannot be enlightened from their ignorance. But the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs ministry is going to try to teach the press to spell the name of Ukraine’s capital the right way, which is “Kyiv.”
Ukraine achieved independence for the second time in the 20th century in 1991. Freed of the perversion of Soviet ideology, a scientific system of transliterating the Ukrainian alphabet into the Latin alphabet was settled upon world-wide. The name of the capital city of Ukraine, in Ukrainian, is Київ. Transliterated to Latin letters, initial К is K, и is y, in a medial position ї is i, and в is v. Київ is Kyiv. That’s not just the Ukrainian Foreign Affairs ministry saying so. That’s the United Nations and other international organizations, it is the diplomatic community, it is the academic community, and it is the part of the English language press that recognizes that the Soviet Union is dead and so is its distorted way of representing Ukrainian place names.
An open letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine gives official guidance on the correct spelling and usage of Ukrainian place names. A campaign using the hashtags #CorrectUA and #KyivNotKiev will go after intransigent news outlets like the BBC, CNN, Reuters, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and others. “We politely request all countries and organizations to review and where necessary, amend their usage of outdated, Soviet-era place names when referring to Ukraine,” read the open letter.
News organizations that write “Kiev” are using the pre-1991, Soviet-era practice of transliterating a Russian name for a Ukrainian city. These media outlets have known they are wrong since the 1990s when correct and standardized orthography for the Ukrainian language using Latin letters was decided upon by experts from Ukraine and around the world. To call the spelling “Kiev” conventional in English is not persuasive and is not even accurate. Here’s a headline from the CBC news site from May 30 of this year: “‘I’m still alive’: Russian journalist shows up at Kyiv news conference after death faked.” Canada’s publicly-funded broadcaster is more in tune with proper English usage than Britain’s.
When the BBC and Reuters and the New York Times and others write “Kiev” and “Donbass” and “Odessa” they are going out of their way to choose spelling from the era of the colonial occupation of Ukraine by Muscovy. Out of malice or ignorance, these Western press outlets are insulting Ukrainians. The open letter from Ukrainian Foreign Affairs ministry sets out the grievance: “Under the Russian empire and later the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russification was actively used as a tool to extinguish each constituent country’s national identity, culture and language. In light of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, including its illegal occupation of Crimea, we are once again experiencing Russification as a tactic that attempts to destabilize and delegitimize our country. You will appreciate, we hope, how the use of Soviet-era place names – rooted in the Russian language – is especially painful and unacceptable to the people of Ukraine.”
The correct modern spelling of Ukrainian place names was firmly decided upon a quarter of a century ago. Ukraine is a sovereign and independent nation and the Soviet Union is long dead. Ignorance can be forgiven for a while, but the stubborn wrongheadedness of much of the English language press can no longer be excused. Especially apt after the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in 2014, the #KyivNotKiev campaign will now confront “Useful Idiots” for Muscovy imperialism. The English-language press that uses archaic Soviet-era spelling instead of the correct modern spelling of Ukrainian place names is being Russo-centric and is denigrating Ukraine. They are being weaponized for Putin’s hybrid war to destroy the Ukrainian nation.
That the Ukrainians have the forbearance to give a polite request is astonishing. While fighting a war of national salvation against an invading army from Muscovy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is asking: “Please, write #KyivNotKiev”.