Ukraine has suddenly found itself in the middle of an American presidential scandal — and is using the spotlight for a teaching moment. The country's embassy in Washington says it's Ukraine, not "the Ukraine."
"Let us kindly help you use words related to #Ukraine correctly," the Ukrainian embassy tweeted Saturday. It's "Ukraine, not 'the' Ukraine," the embassy wrote. And the capital city, it said, is spelled "Kyiv, not Kiev."
"These are the only politically correct terms that express respect to the country and its nation. Be smart and avoid Soviet style clichés," the tweet continued, before the embassy signed off with a curmudgeonly emoji, scowling and wearing a monocle.
Ukraine has found itself as a topic of conversation — and target of scrutiny — in the United States since last week, when it was revealed that President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into business dealings related to Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president and current presidential candidate Joe Biden.
As the president, his surrogates and some news anchors have discussed these revelations, they have at times called the country "the Ukraine."
But adding the definite article to Ukraine is offensive, recalling a time when it was a territorial part of Russia rather than an independent state.
"Without the article you refer to Ukraine as an independent country as opposed to a region or province," said Serhii Plokhii, a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard University.
In Russian, "Ukraina" means "borderlands," so to call the country the Ukraine would imply that the country, which has been independent since 1991, is part of the Russian borderlands, Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Wilson Center, told The Washington Post.
"This has taken on even more of a fervent pitch since the onset of Russian aggression in 2014," she said. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, sparking outrage and sanctions from the West. When then-President Barack Obama discussed the ongoing conflict, he, too, slipped on occasion and called it "the Ukraine."
"Ukraine has been in the news for the past five years, and they're tired of correcting people," Jankowicz said.
Ukraine's own declaration of independence refers to the country as Ukraine, not the Ukraine.
Other countries like Sudan and Congo have chafed at "the" preceding their name, as the tone is reminiscent of times when they were colonies and carries the connotation of the nations being regions rather than individual states.
"The definite article 'the' is used in reference to parts of the world that are regions of one country and not independent countries in their own right," Plokhii said.
For countries like the Netherlands, the Philippines and the United States, the "the" acts as a way to indicate a group of states or islands that are centrally governed.
Though, according to the CIA World Factbook, the Bahamas and the Gambia are the only nations to officially have "the" in their name, the latter routinely goes by Gambia.
The Ukrainian Embassy's gripe with the spelling of Kiev is similar to is problems with the definite article, in that it's not about actual letters as much as geopolitics. Kiev is the Russian transliteration of the name of Ukraine's capital, while Kyiv is the Ukrainian transliteration.
The call for Kyiv rather than Kiev has become more prominent in recent years after Ukraine's foreign minister launched a campaign called #KyivNotKiev to push foreign media outlets to change the way they spell Ukraine's capital.
In June, the United States Board on Geographic Names announced that it had changed the English spelling of Kiev to Kyiv.
On Aug. 14, The Associated Press announced it would change its style from Kiev to Kyiv.
"Although the AP prefers traditional English spellings for many cities, including Rome, Moscow and Warsaw (not Roma, Moskva and Warszawa), we regard the Ukrainian spelling of Kyiv as an important adaptation because it is linked to Ukraine's present status," the news outlet wrote in its announcement.
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