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'Ukraine' vs. 'The Ukraine'

As every good Slavic studies student knows, it's "Ukraine," without the definite article. But Dick Cheney and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko are reportedly at odds. Slate has more:

"Until approximately 50 years ago, Ukraine, whose name is derived from the Proto-Slavic term for a borderland, was almost always referred to as 'The Ukraine.' Now, according to the Ukrainian government -- and a federal judge who presided over a case in which the U.S. government and a Ukrainian deportee couldn't even agree on how to refer to the country -- the proper name is simply Ukraine. (Dick Cheney, however, begs to differ.)"

The case? Gutnik vs. Gonzales. From the brief:

"There continues to be confusion over whether to use the article 'the' in connection with 'Ukraine.' In the briefs, Gutnik's counsel uses 'the Ukraine,' while the government uses 'Ukraine.' Likewise, at joint remarks in January 2005, Vice President Cheney used 'the Ukraine,' while President Yushchenko, the elected leader of the country, used 'Ukraine.'"

You might be tempted to think that "the Ukraine," like "the Hague," is a hangover from bygone days.

Not so. The Ukrainian language contains no articles. As Andrew Gregorovich explains in the "FORUM Ukrainian Review," some of the confusion can be attributed to Ukrainian immigrant scholars struggling with English:

"The name Ukraine, which first appeared in the historical chronicles in 1187, has been common in the English language for almost 350 years. In the earliest years it appeared without the definite article 'the' but in this century the definite article increasingly preceded the name Ukraine. ... many Ukrainian immigrant scholars, due to their imperfect knowledge of English, used the form 'the Ukraine' in their books thus helping to perpetuate this usage."

Writing in "The Guardian," columnist Ian Mayes takes a page from "Utopia in Power, A History of the USSR from 1917 to the Present" to argue that "the Ukraine" was deliberately translated by the Soviets for political purposes. He quotes:

"Moscow's goal was to eliminate Ukraine and Ukrainians as political and cultural entities. Soviet translators, who knew the patterns for country names in English, deliberately translated the name of this area with the article 'the' because it then sounds to English-speakers like a part of a country rather than the name of an individual, independent country.

"Ukrainians who understood why Soviets were using the article 'the' complained. In Russian, obviously, the word 'Ukraina' has no article. Since the Soviet Union broke apart, Ukrainians have been pushing very hard to have the article 'the' removed from the English translation, so as to be linguistically correct, ie to show that Ukraine is a separate, independent country, not part of another country."

It's a touchy subject. A "Guardian" reader condemns "the offense expression 'the Ukraine,'" calling it "patronising and colonial."

To follow in Cheney's grammatical footsteps and use "the Ukraine" is, according to Gregorovich, "awkward, incorrect and superfluous."

Well, there you go.

-- Kristin Deasy

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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