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Friday, February 25, 2022

How to name it ? - Kyiv and not Kiev ?!?

What is in a name … a rose by any other name would smell as sweet -  the names of things do not matter, only what things are  !! ~ but perceptions do matter.

Today news is filled about war – invasion of Ukraine by Russia, whether NATO or USA would react and the stock market tumbling.  War with Russia has loomed over Ukraine for more than eight years – from crippling cyber attacks to the seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and the long-running conflict in the east that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognised breakaway rebel provinces in the east as independent and rolled in his own troops. The West warned this was the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and a rain of tougher sanctions on Russia has begun to fall. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) is also bolstering its troops in neighbouring allied countries.

According to Vladimir Putin -  the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 “a major geopolitical disaster”, saw Russia lose “40 per cent of our territory”. He questions why NATO, formed after World War II to contain the Soviet Union, has continued to expand since the USSR broke apart. Putin wants NATO to disavow talk of Ukraine ever joining the alliance, and pull back military forces in Eastern Europe, effectively rewriting boundaries agreed between NATO and Russia in 1997. Since then, more than a dozen countries in the region have joined NATO, including the former Soviet Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  In 2008, when NATO declared its intent to bring Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova into the fold, Moscow said a red line had been crossed and Russia had “nowhere further to retreat to”. In 2008, the US lobbied to let Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance but was blocked by Germany. In the years after, both Georgia and Ukraine were invaded by Russian forces.

While Ukraine is unlikely to join NATO soon, experts say Putin is determined to bring it back into Russia as he looks to reclaim some former Soviet glory and expand his “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe. He’s even set up a loose military alliance of his own with Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, and has positioned troops in Belarus, a three-hour drive from Kyiv.

Both Crimea and Donbas are home to a large number of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers. Public sentiment about the Kremlin there is mixed, even as people in the country’s west and Kyiv denounce the territory grab. Putin claims he is defending Russian-speakers, many of whom have been issued with Russian passports in recent months, but the West warns Russian reports of Ukrainian attacks in the east are part of “false flag” sabotage plots by the Kremlin designed to sow violence and offer a manufactured pretext for war. 

Going by this interesting article in -  sonorous tones of Nick Robinson, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme sounded-  “Good morning from Kyiv, capital of Ukraine – a city under fire.”  The news of the Russian invasion was startling. Also notable was the pronunciation of the city as “Kyeev”, with a short ‘i’, which has imperceptibly been replacing the more familiar “Key-ev” in recent dispatches. When, and why, did this start to happen?

Andrew Wilson is a British historian, political scientist and professor of Ukrainian studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL, as well as the author of the 2014 book, Ukraine Crisis: What It Means for the West. “Kyiv is a transliteration from the letters of the Ukrainian alphabet, whereas Kiev is a transliteration from the Russian,” he explains. “It’s normal practice – as well as correct – to follow the transliteration of the language of the local state.”

Even before the current crisis, there has been a move to correct the pronunciation of the nation’s capital. Ukraine became independent in 1991 and the spelling “Kyiv” was legally approved in 1995. The change, however, didn’t become a cause célèbre until the Maidan uprising of 2014, when protests led to the ousting of the pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych, and the rise of a more Western-facing democracy. This led to the 2018 “KyivNotKiev” online campaign, started by the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, seen as a wider move to help shed perceptions of Soviet and Imperial Russia. As a result, Reuters, CNN – and also the BBC – started using the new spelling and pronunciation.

“Other Russian names have been changing to reflect Ukrainian spelling” says Wilson. “Odessa has become Odesa, and Lvov has become Lviv. Ukrainian is a far more beautiful language.” Similarly, there has been a move to drop “the” Ukraine, when talking about the nation. “The definite article is rarely used before the names of independent states,” notes Wilson. “This also harks back to Russian Imperialism.” Other recalibrations of place names took place in the 20th century: with Peking becoming Beijing, Calcutta becoming Kolkata, and Burma becoming Myanmar, for example. St Petersburg in Russia wears changing politics in its very identity. Known as Petrograd between 1914 and 1924, it later became Leningrad, before returning to its original name in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But as an expert in the region and a passionate admirer of the independent state, he is entirely behind the continued use of the Ukrainian “Kyiv”. This is no “woke” fashion, but the redressing of a historical injustice. “The correct pronunciation supports the principle of sovereign statehood,” he says. “‘Kiev’ legitimises Putin’s expansionism. Besides, we need to do everything we can to annoy the Russians.”

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

25th Feb 2022.


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