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Kyiv or Kiev? Correct pronunciation, spelling of Ukrainian names you'll hear during impeachment

You hear members of Congress saying these names, but are they pronounced correctly? Not according to a Slavic languages lecturer.

"Kyiv," "the Ukraine" and "Volodymyr Zelenskyy" are just some of the names you've heard during the impeachment inquiry hearings, but are members of Congress and news outlets spelling and pronouncing these names correctly? 

Zoya Polack is a senior lecturer in the Slavic Languages and Literatures department at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Russian native focuses on issues of her birthplace as well as Ukrainian ones. She was able to correct the spelling and pronunciation of several key Ukrainian names you've come across and are likely to hear again during the proceedings. 


According to Polack, the correct way to pronounce the capital city of Ukraine is KEE-yiv This is compared to the Russian pronunciation of KEE-yev.

As Americans, Polack says we should be using the Ukrainian pronunciation.

For Ukrainians, the distinction between the two is important. 

"They fight about the language right now, Russia wants them to be one language and actually it is two completely different languages," Polack said. 

There is also a question of how to spell the city. 

Back in June, the United States Board on Geographic Names decided to recognize "Kyiv" as the correct spelling for the capital of Ukraine. The previous recognized spelling "Kiev" was a transliteration from the Russian name, whereas "Kyiv" is the direct transliteration from its Ukrainian name. 

"This decision is extremely important and gives impetus to correct the official name of the Ukraine's capital inside and outside the United States, in particular on international flights and in airports around the world," the Ukrainian embassy in the United States said in a statement in June.

The "Kyiv" spelling is a victory for Ukrainians because they feel it rids them of Russian domination.

According to The Calvert Journal, the Ukrainian government adopted Kyiv as the standard "Latinisation" in 1995, making it the official spelling for legislation and other similar acts. 

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While there isn't a big issue with the way Ukraine should be pronounced, there is a question of if the word "the" should precede the country's name. According to Polak the answer is no. In fact, saying "the" in front of Ukraine can remind Ukrainians of something else. 

"Ukraine in Russian means on the border, outside of the country" Polak said. "Russia wants to say on Ukraine because [it is] on the border. Ukrainians are fighting this because they want to use Ukraine as a country. So you don't need anything else, instead, just Ukraine." 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's name has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry after President Donald Trump asked him for "a favor" during a July 25 phone call.

Polack said the Ukrainian president's last name should be pronounced ZIA-len-ski.

The spelling of the president's last name is also unique. 

While The Associated Press has chosen to spell it as "Zelenskiy," the president prefers "Zelenskyy" as the English spelling of his last name. So far, transcripts of Trump's calls with him have also shown the "Zelenskyy" spelling. 

Credit: AP
Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is sworn in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, during the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

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