How to pronounce Kyiv – the right way to refer to Ukraine’s capital and why it matters

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Ukraine’s capital city has been at the heart of Russia’s invasion as one of Putin’s primary targets in his unwarranted attack. Since the conflict started just seven days ago, the correct spelling of the capital has been emphasised to reinforce Ukraine’s independence from Russia. While just one letter has changed, the new pronunciation marks a significant point in European history, but what’s the right way to say “Kyiv”? Here’s what you need to know about the new spelling.

How to pronounce Kyiv

Ukraine’s capital city is one of the most populated in the country and tops the ranks as one of the oldest cities in Europe.

While the city was previously known as Kiev by both western media and the wider world, Ukraine has long been trying to reinforce the national spelling of “Kyiv” to validate its independence from Russia.

As the world unites with Ukraine against Putin, the new spelling of “Kyiv” has been widely used in an act of solidarity with president Volodymyr Zelensky and his nation.

While both spellings look similar on paper, the correct way to say “Kyiv” is by emphasising the “i” towards the end of the word.

Ukrainians pronounce this as “kee-yiv” – a direct transliteration of the Ukrainian spelling “Київ”.

The Russian spelling of “Kiev” should be read with emphasis on the “e” towards the end of the word.

“Kiev” therefore reads as “kee-yev”, though this is not commonly used by Ukrainian nationals.

If the correct spelling is Kyiv, where did Kiev come from?

In Russian Cyrillic, the capital of Ukraine is written as “Киев”.

This version became internationally accepted through the Soviet period and into the first few years of the 21st century.

For many years, Ukraine has tried to stray away from the spelling since claiming its independence from Russia in 1991.

The Ukrainian government made Kyiv the official Latinized name for the country’s capital city in 1995, sparking the later “#KyivNotKiev” campaign in 2018 by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Why is the new spelling so important?

Prior to proclaiming independence, the capital city was not the only aspect of Ukraine which had a different name.

Up until 1992, the country was known as The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – a name used to assert the “Russification” of the nation.

The word Ukraine is believed to derive from an old Slavic term for borderland, which would mean “The Ukraine” loosely translates to “the borderland”.

While this may seem trivial, this is a direct nod to Russia’s dominance in eastern Europe, suggesting Ukraine is still just one part of a larger territory rather than a territory in its own right.

Russian culture dominated the country throughout the 20th century, but independent Ukraine has since embraced its own language.

This is essentially how Kiev became Kyiv and why Ukraine is no longer referred to as “The Ukraine”.

Which other spellings are influenced by Russia?

Ukraine’s capital city is just one of a long list of cities influenced by the Russian language.

In addition to the country’s campaigns to say Kyiv, not Kiev, Ukranian nationals are also battling a host of other incorrect spellings.

These include:

  • Odessa – Ukrainians call the city Odesa while Russia uses two S’s
  • Kharkov – the Ukrainian spelling is Kharkiv
  • Lvov – the national spelling is Lviv
  • Nikolaev – Ukraine calls this city Mykolaiv
  • Rovno – the national spelling is Rivne

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