Ukraine or the Ukraine? Leaders, media put it both ways

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Ukraine or the Ukraine?

Since the crisis in the Crimean Peninsula began, world leaders, pundits and the media at-large have been flip-flopping on how to refer to the country that's currently at the center of a global tug-of-war and focus of Russia's military intervention.

At a fundraiser for Senate Democrats in Washington Tuesday night, President Barack Obama told guests, "I’ll be happy to give you more details of what’s happening in Ukraine," according to a transcript provided by the White House.

Earlier in the day during a visit to a local elementary school, Obama said, “It is important that Congress stand with us. I don’t doubt the bipartisan concern that’s been expressed about the situation in the Ukraine.”

"It’s likely that any Ukrainian Americans tuned to C-SPAN at that particular moment cringed," Time magazine's Katy Steinmetz wrote, "not at the prospect of the country’s salvation coming from Congress’s bipartisan expressions — unsettling though that thought may be — but from three little letters: the."

“Ukraine is a country,” William Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told Time. “'The Ukraine' is the way the Russians referred to that part of the country during Soviet times. ... Now that it is a country, a nation, and a recognized state, it is just Ukraine. And it is incorrect to refer to the Ukraine, even though a lot of people do it.”

That includes, on occasion, Secretary of State John Kerry.

During his appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows, Kerry referred to Ukraine without the "the."

"Let me make it clear," Kerry said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "The people of Ukraine are fighting for democracy, they're fighting for freedom, they're fighting to have their voices heard and not be governed by a kleptocracy, by a tyrant, by someone who puts their political opposition in jail, somebody who robs the country of its livelihood and future."

But speaking with reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev Tuesday, Kerry put it both ways.

"I’m very proud to be here in Ukraine," he said.

Later, though, Kerry said this:


I would hope that President Putin, who is insisting against all evidence everywhere in the world about troops being in Crimea that they’re not there, that he will step back and listen carefully that we could like to see this de-escalated. We are not looking for some major confrontation. But – and I do not believe that his interests, which we understand – a base, strong ties, everybody knows that Khrushchev gave the Crimea to the Ukraine back in 1954 or '6, I think it was. We all know these things. There’s a long history of connection. We get it.


To be fair to Kerry, Obama and others, Ukraine's name before its independence (the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic) had a "the."

Not surprisingly, Russian President Vladamir Putin is in the "the" camp, referring to "the Ukraine" while condemning "neo-Nazis and Nazis and anti-Semites in some part of the Ukraine including Kiev" during his speech Tuesday.

On CNN, Anderson Cooper, who has been reporting from Kiev, has been alternating between "Ukraine" and "the Ukraine."

"Good evening, everyone. I'm reporting tonight live from Kiev in Ukraine," Cooper said at the top of his show Tuesday night.

Later in the same show, Cooper said, "You know, we're focusing because we're here in Kiev, on the people here in Kiev, but the perspective is very different in other parts of the Ukraine, in the east in Crimea."

And before tossing to Piers Morgan, Cooper told viewers he was "live here in Kiev in the Ukraine."

The New York Times has been largely consistent in dropping the "the," though an article in the paper's technology section about cyberattacks in Ukraine let one slip:


Security experts said they had also not seen any indication that there had been a drop in traffic coming out of the Ukraine.


The Associated Press stylebook, a guide for many media organization (including Yahoo News), lists the country sans "the": "Ukraine: Commonwealth of Independent States."

It may seem like something only linguists care about. But to Ukrainians, it's a big deal, Taylor says.

“Whenever they hear the Ukraine, they fume," he told Time. "It kind of denies their independence, denies their sovereignty.”

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