Ukraine is changing the spelling of its capital | Eurasia Diary -

22 October, Tuesday

Ukraine is changing the spelling of its capital

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If you're an avid reader of The World and follow Ukraine news, you may have noticed a shift in the way we refer to Ukraine's capital. Early this year, The World newsroom adopted the Ukrainian transliteration of the city — Kyiv — replacing the Russian-derived Kiev, a longtime standard of international news media.

This week, the United States Board on Geographic Names followed suit, following a decade-long push by the Ukrainian government to popularize the Ukrainian spelling.

"We feel that our country and the name of our capital is visible in a right way to Americans and this is very important to us Ukrainians," says Oksana Horbach, director of StratComm Ukraine, an organization that reforms government communication.

Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs tasked StratComm with popularizing the correct Ukrainian spelling internationally. Their plan focused on a narrow approach — choose the 10 busiest airports in the world and the 10 most popular media outlets, and spark change through a social media campaign using #KyivNotKiev.

"We actually launched a separate post directed at each particular individual airport or media outlet asking them directly to use the correct way of pronunciation for our capital," Horbach says. "So we requested help from [the] Ukrainian population, from Ukrainian society and community around the world. And it became widely, widely popular."

More popular, even, than a decade of government initiatives.

"It turned out to be more effective than [a] press release, direct diplomatic letters, and meetings, and everything else. Social media made the trick," Horbach says.

And Kyiv is not the first problematic naming convention to have been changed in the West. Until Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it was broadly referred to as "the Ukraine" in English.

Some scholars have argued that the inclusion of the word "the" derives from contested entomology meaning "the borderlands." But its continued use detracted from Ukraine's sovereignty as an independent state, signaling that the country was rather a region of Russia and undermining Ukrainian independence.

Horbach says next steps for the campaign will be to popularize Ukrainian spellings of other cities too. Some cities, like Lviv (Lvov) and Kharkiv (Kharkov) have already preceded Kyiv in their Ukrainian transliteration in international media.

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