As I’ve travelled around Europe, I’ve met tonnes of people who have told me about how they enjoyed their time in ‘the Ukraine,’ or how excited they are to visit ‘the Ukraine.’
Politicians including Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Barack Obama have referred to Ukraine with the construction ‘the’ preceding it, which is enough to convince anyone listening that Ukraine is in fact, ‘the Ukraine.’
Well my friends, I’m here to tell you that it’s not, and that although it may seem harmless, it actually has a long and controversial history.
Why is it ‘Ukraine’ and not ‘the Ukraine?’
When talking about why it’s not correct to refer to Ukraine as ‘the Ukraine,’ it is important to remember that this is about far more than the millennial tendency to take offence at anything and everything. The word ‘the,’ when used in front of ‘Ukraine,’ has a long political history, and we need to delve into that history if we want to understand why it isn’t okay to say ‘the Ukraine.’
Pre-1991, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, Russia referred to it as ‘na Ukraine,’ which translates to ‘in the Ukraine.’ This was because it was a region in a larger country (just like ‘the North East of England,’ or ‘the Algarve in Portugal’ for example). However, when Ukraine gained independence from Russia in August 1991, it asked Russia to remove the construction.
The reasons for this are twofold:
First, it isn’t grammatically correct to refer to a country with the construction ‘the.’ Countries that do use the construction are countries whose names are plural, such as ‘The Philippines’ and ‘The United States.’
Secondly, it has taken many long and difficult battles for Ukraine to become an independent state. It is no longer part of another country or empire, and by referring to it as ‘the Ukraine,’ you are implying – however unintentionally – that you don’t think that Ukraine is an independent country.
Referring to Ukraine as ‘the Ukraine’ is an indirect denial of statehood.
According to William B. Taylor Jr., the U.S ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, referring to the country as ‘the Ukraine’ reinforces the Russian idea that there isn’t really an independent Ukraine, citing Putin’s sending of troops to Crimea as evidence of Russia’s refusal to recognise Ukraine as anything other than a province of Russia.
(Sidenote: there are some parts of Ukraine where Russian is spoken. Please read this guide about speaking Russian vs. Ukrainian in Ukraine!)
‘I don’t want to say it’s derogatory, but it’s putting it in a subordinate position [to refer to it as the Ukraine],’ he says.
Furthermore, the Kyiv Post says that referring to Ukraine as ‘the Ukraine’ is ‘more than a grammatical mistake – it is inappropriate and disrespectful for Ukraine and Ukrainians.’
When you talk about ‘the Ukraine,’ that suggests that you really don’t think that Ukraine is a sovereign independent country. (Click to Tweet!)William B. Taylor Jr., U.S Ambassador to Ukraine 2006-2009
Now look, if you didn’t know, you didn’t know, right? No biggie.
Well, that depends.
If you’re just an average person in the UK or USA who is just going about and living their lives, I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing whether or not it’s ‘Ukraine’ or ‘the Ukraine.’
I don’t expect everybody to have an in-depth knowledge of world politics or to know the names of countries that they can’t even pick out on a map. Hell, there are almost 200 countries in the world, and I definitely wouldn’t be able to name every single one of them!
That said, if you are somebody who is planning to travel to a particular country, you should probably make the effort to at least get its name right.
I firmly believe that even regular holiday-makers (as in, not bloggers or other travel professionals) should make the effort to know the name of the country that they’re visiting, as well as how to say a couple of words (hello, thank you) in that country’s language. It’s just a sign of basic respect to that country.
When you’re a travel blogger, that responsibility increases tenfold. I mean, it’s one thing if Bob the backpacker passes through Ukraine briefly and doesn’t call it by its proper name. He looks like a bit of a tool, but it’s forgivable. It’s another thing entirely, however, if Ben the blogger with 100,000 Instagram followers pays a visit to Ukraine and tells his adoring fans that ‘the Ukraine is the place to be!’
I have spoken to multiple bloggers and influencers (as in, people that genuinely do have influence on their followers), who have not only got Ukraine’s name wrong on their online platforms, but have made it apparent that they couldn’t care less about their mistake when I politely corrected them.
As travel bloggers and influencers, the least we can do is not spread misinformation.
As a travel blogger, it is my job to travel responsibly and educate my readers about the places I visit. Whether we like it or not, when we create websites and social media accounts dedicated to showing the world our travels, we have a duty to ensure that the information we put out there is factually accurate.
It may seem trivial that people get offended by a three letter word, and I’m sure more than a few of you have rolled your eyes at the fact that I got triggered (lol) enough to write an entire article about this, but I honestly think that it is important that people visiting and writing about Ukraine respect the country enough to honour its name.
Please, if you plan to visit Ukraine, refer to it as such.
(Slava Ukrayini – Glory to Ukraine!)