Ukrainians Want You to Use 'Kyiv,' Not 'Kiev'

The capital's name had previously been Russified, leading to spelling and pronunciation confusion
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2022 3:45 PM CST
Ukrainians Want You to Use 'Kyiv,' Not 'Kiev'
Stock photo of Kyiv, Ukraine.   (Getty Images/krblokhin)

As Ukrainians continue to resist the invasion of their country by Russian forces, the nation's capital keeps coming up in conversations in an entirely different way, involving language, pronunciation, and a long, "touchy" history between the two neighbors. Quartz notes the Kyiv conundrum—or is it the Kiev conundrum? And besides the discrepancy over the spelling, how exactly do you say it, anyway? First off, Ukrainians do prefer the former, Kyiv, and it's pronounced "KEEV," to most closely align with how locals say it. The alternate spelling and pronunciation—Kiev, or "Key-EV"—is the Russified version, and the one that was mainly used in the city in modern times before Ukraine's independence in 1991.

Wales Online notes that Kyiv's name is thought to have originated from Kyi, a legendary prince from the Polans tribe who's said to have helped found the city sometime around the sixth century. The Russians always called the city Kiev, and so when Ukraine ended up under Russia's thumb, that was the spelling and pronunciation that became the norm. As soon as Ukraine broke free from the Soviet Union three decades ago, however, the Ukrainian government began lobbying to shift to the transliteration from the Ukrainian Cyrillic version. "It is a touchy subject, because (Vladimir) Putin has used Russian speakers in Ukraine to deny Ukraine's sovereignty," a Russia and Ukraine historian tells Quartz.

USA Today lists some of the other place names in Ukraine that have suddenly started popping up on nightly news chyrons, and how to pronounce them. One generic word that you might hear quite a lot: "oblast," which means "region" (and which is pronounced "OH-blust). As for that chicken Kiev you're making for dinner this weekend? Even though the Associated Press has officially switched over to "Kyiv" in references to the city, the news group's style guide gives dispensation to keep using the old way to describe the meal. (More Kyiv stories.)

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