Why saying ‘the Ukraine’ is more than a mistake (Honest History. Episode 11)

If you’re wondering which is correct: “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine,” it’s time for a linguistics lesson. Saying “the Ukraine” is more than a grammatical mistake — it is inappropriate and disrespectful to Ukraine and Ukrainians. This linguistic bad habit has its roots in both politics and history. In English, countries, with a few exceptions, never take an article. Exceptions occur usually when a country is considered to be made up of distinct parts, such as the United States, the Netherlands, or the United Kingdom — they are plural in grammatical form or sense. Most countries, like Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Russia and China, don’t take an article, as they are grammatically singular. For the same reason, it is incorrect to say “the Ukraine.” Ukraine is no longer a part of another country or empire. After many hard battles, it has become an independent, unitary state. The Russian war against Ukraine, which started with the annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, made the issue of the “the Ukraine” grammatical error particularly sensitive. The English usage of the definite article in relation to Ukraine occurred mainly because of the country’s history as a part of the Russian Empire, and then as part of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union. Peter Dickinson, a nonresident fellow of the Atlantic Council, explains that the term “the Ukraine” first entered popular usage during the Soviet era, at a time when the Kremlin was particularly eager to counter perceptions of Ukraine as being a separate and distinct nation. Between 1922 and 1991, Ukraine was officially known in English as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Old bad habits might be tough to break, but since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union, usage of the article has declined steadily. The Ukrainian government has also expressed their preference for dropping it. And the Associated Press style guides (which the Kyiv Post follows) and the UK newspaper the Guardian clearly state that the definite article should not be included when referencing Ukraine.

Comments 1

  • Potato potato
    Tomato tomato

    If we have people from Kyiv calling it Kiev, then it is OK for foreigners to call it whichever is easier.

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