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How to Spell Certain Ukrainian Words and Names in English

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We’ll explain why certain variances exist —such as “Kyiv” and“Kiev” or “Zelenskyy” and “Zelensky”—and which ones are correct.

Is it Kyiv or Kiev? Zelenksy or Zelenskyy?
The spelling of certain places and names is of much significance to Ukrainians. 
Correct Spelling and Use

  • In English, Ukraine should be referred to without “the” preceding it.
  • The correct English spelling of the country’s official name is with a “k,” not a “c.”
    • ○ ✅ Ukraine
      ○ ❌ Ucraine
  • When referring to Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv is the internationally preferred spelling.
  • In 2019, the President of Ukraine stated that the correct English language spelling of his name is Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The tragic war in Ukraine has triggered continuous coverage by major news sources from all over the world. This has led to numerous variations of many Ukrainian words—including its capital city, the president’s name, and even the country’s name. We’ll explain why these variances exist and which of them are correct.

Innocent people are falling victim to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine is the second-largest country by area in Europe after Russia.

How to Spell Ukraine in English

Some languages use “c” when spelling Ukraine—I’Ucraina (Italian), Ucrania (Spanish), and Ucrânia (Portuguese). However, there’s only one correct way to spell the country’s name in English:

✔️ Ukraine

Similarly, some languages include an article before the name Ukraine. Along with the Italian variation mentioned above, two other countries that use an article are France (l'Ukraine) and Germany (die Ukraine).

There was a point when using the before Ukraine was common in English. But why? The most accepted hypothesis on the origin of Ukraine’s name is that it came from the Slavic “ukraina,” which means “borderlands.” Therefore, calling it the Ukraine—or the borderlands—made sense to English speakers.

However, since gaining its independence in 1991, Ukraine’s government has explicitly stated that calling it the Ukraine is both grammatically and politically incorrect. The country’s name is simply Ukraine.

Spelling problems like Ukraine (without determiner) are regular topics on social media. 

Kyiv or Kiev?

The name of Ukraine’s capital city is also spelled differently, depending on the source. Although Kiev and Kyiv are both technically correct, Kyiv is the preferred international spelling.

✔️ Kyiv

Because Ukraine was once part of the former Soviet Union, many places and even people have two versions of their name: the Russian version and the Ukrainian version. Kiev is the Russian spelling of Ukraine’s capital city, and the transliteration of “Киев”. Kyiv, on the other hand, is the Ukrainian spelling and transliteration of “Київ”. These disparities are due to both languages having different letters of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Although many people speak Russian in Ukraine, the country’s official language is Ukrainian. Since Ukraine is its own sovereign country, Kyiv has overtaken Kiev as the preferred spelling.

Other examples of Ukrainian/Russian discrepancies are:

  • Luhansk/Lugansk
  • Kharkiv/Kharkov
  • Lviv/Lvov.

Zelensky, Zelenskiy, Zelenskij, or Zelenskyy?

The President of Ukraine has also been covered by multiple global news outlets. The spelling of his name is different depending on which language the source of information is using. But you’ve probably seen his name spelled differently, even if the news sources are reporting in English. So, what is it? Zelensky, Zelenskiy, Zelenskij, or Zelenskyy?

According to the president himself, the only correct way of spelling his name in English is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. However, some English-language news sources omit the second “y” because it doesn’t follow usual English patterns and doesn’t change the pronunciation. Zelenskiy is also another popular English spelling alternative.

✔️ Zelenskyy

In 2019, Zelenskyy confirmed the correct spelling of his name not only to add consistency to Ukrainian spelling of names, but to help remove obscurity on the existence of the independent country.


Summary

Since Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, Kyiv is the internationally preferred spelling of its capital city. Ukrainians also prefer the Ukrainian transliteration of its other cities too, like Kharkiv and Lviv.

However, spelling still varies depending on who is doing the writing. Constant coverage of this devastating war means several forms of spelling of the same word or name.

(Tip: You can also type in English words if you like.)


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