Staunton, April 25 – The US State Department office responsible for nomenclature has directed that from now on, US government agencies will refer to the capital of Ukraine as Kyiv, as it is transliterated from the Ukrainian, rather than Kiev, as transliterated from the Russian, a small change with potentially far reaching consequences.
Kyiv’s Delovaya stolitsa newspaper reports this change today (dsnews.ua/society/bolshe-ne-kiev-amerikanskie-gosuchrezhdeniya-budut-pisat-stolitsu-25042018095300) citing a report by the Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service (ukrainian.voanews.com/a/a-49-2006-10-21-voa2-86831492/219982.html).
State Department representative Tom Casey said the change was being made so that the name used by the US government would correspond to the one “Ukrainians and other international organizations employ” and that the shift “is not political.” But, of course, it is, and in a double sense.
On the one hand, it is a mark of respect for Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language. And on the other, it is one more indication that Washington and the West more generally will approach Ukraine not through Moscow and its putative “Russian world” but directly and in Ukrainian.
In the 26 years since the demise of the USSR, the United States and some other Western countries have all too often continued to view Ukraine and other countries in the region through a Russian lens, often sending more diplomats who speak Russian than speak the national languages because there are more of the former than the latter and because officials say the elites in these countries still speak Russian.
That has always been insulting; and it has sometimes led to horrors as when Western embassies have had to rely on “foreign service nationals” who do speak the national languages but who sometimes are under pressure from the governments of their countries for reporting on developments not reported as well or even at all in the Russian-language media.
The change for Ukraine’s capital is a welcome sign that this is changing. One can only hope it will quickly be extended to other toponyms not only in that country but elsewhere as well.