In my my five-part series "Ukraine, a country on the border", many readers (and editors!) have asked why I have chosen to spell the capital of Ukraine as Kyiv, and not Kiev, which is better known in the West. So I thought now might be a good time to explain my rationale.
One of the most frustrating things about Ukraine for Ukrainians does not take place within its borders, but outside them. For a country so large geographically, with a history so rich, deep and lengthy, and being a center of so many developments of the 20th Century, so little is known about Ukraine. This series of articles attempts to elucidate some of these facts about Ukraine and in some way, explain why many of the news stories out of this country are so confusing and negative.
Two of the biggest errors we continue to make are with the name of the country itself, and the translating of the 'old' language of this region, Russian, which has been the lingua franca of Ukraine for most of the last 400 years. But all of this changed with the fall of communism in the old Soviet Union. Ukrainian is being spoken more now than any other time period in the last 800 years. Another major problem is that many people simply group Russian and Ukrainian together as 'Slavic Languages' without really knowing how different the two are. It would be the same as comparing Spanish and Portuguese. Though they may be able to muddle through a conversation and there may be enough similarities to recognize the language group, two men from Porto are quite capable of having a conversation in Madrid without anyone there completely sure of what is being said. Ukraine has been known for years in the west as 'the Ukraine'. Again a mistake due to the fact that Ukraine means 'borderland or frontier'. But there should be no article in English for Ukraine, same as there is no 'the Russia' or 'the Japan'.
When translating the Ukrainian capital's name into English, see the top pic, it is Kyiv (and the Ukrainian pronunciation would sound more like the 'a' in cave rather than the Russian pronunciation which is like 'ie' in siev). Since I wanted to write about Ukraine, I chose this variant. The Russian variant would be Kiev. A few examples that show differences in the language is when there is the equivalent of the 'i' in Ukrainian, it is an 'o' in Russian. If there is an 'i' in Russian it is a 'y' in Ukrainian. An example of this is the sign for the airport in Kyiv, which is Boryspil in Ukrainian and Borispol in Russian (see second pic). The Ukrainian city of L'viv is L'vov in Russian and Kharkiv becomes Kharkov in Russian (the banners at the tournament read Lviv, Kyiv and Kharkiv). Vladimir Putin is Russian, so I used the Russian for transliteration. The Ukrainian variant would be Volodymyr. The largest English language newspaper and mobile phone carrier in Ukraine both have Kyiv in their names. The Ukrainian word for vodka in gorilka, but it is pronounced /ho-ril-lk/, since there is no 'g' sound in Ukrainian. And the list goes on, and you are probably more confused then when you started!
Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment directly, I will respond to any questions/comments that I can in due course. MO