Despite common use of the articled version, there is no longer any “the” in front of Ukraine’s official name. “The Ukraine” was previously used as a shortened version of “the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic,” and therefore saying “the Ukraine” refers to a time that many Ukrainians would rather not reference.
Ukraine, not ‘The Ukraine’
In 2015, following President Obama’s use of “the Ukraine” at a press conference, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine explained that “the Ukraine” was what the Soviet Union called the region during Soviet rule. As an independent country, it is simply called “Ukraine.”
“It is incorrect to refer to the Ukraine, even though a lot of people do it,” explained former ambassador William Taylor in a Time article published in March 2015. Using the article alongside the name of the country, he said, can be seen as denying Ukraine’s independence.
Ukraine declared itself independent from the Soviet Union in August of 1991, and the population of Ukraine voted for independence officially on Dec. 1 of that same year.
Shortly afterward, an article that appeared in The Ukrainian Weekly from Dec. 8, 1991, featured a headline reading, “The ‘the’ is gone,” and reported on an official change in how the Associated Press referred to Ukraine.
“The AP wrote: ‘As a result of the passage of the independence referendum in Ukraine and moves toward international recognition of Ukraine as an independent county, The Associated Press will henceforth use ‘Ukraine’ instead of ‘USSR’ in datelines from Ukraine,'” the newspaper quoted.
To align with the preferred name of the Ukrainian government, the newspaper also reported that AP would drop the “the” commonly used before Ukraine. Other news outlets followed suit.
Since then, some English media outlets have been criticized for using the incorrect article. In 2012, when Ukraine was preparing to host an international football festival, a number of news outlets incorrectly referred to the country as “the Ukraine,” sparking outrage from some Ukrainian people.
In a 2012 story from BBC, a representative of the Embassy of Ukraine in London explained the difference. “‘The Ukraine’ is incorrect both grammatically and politically,” she said. “Ukraine is both the conventional short and long name of the country. This name is stated in the Ukrainian Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”
Some stipulate that “the Ukraine” became common speech because of its word origin. Other countries such as the Philippines and the Netherlands, which also use an article, have names derived from geological features. For example, the Philippines refers to the Philippine Islands, and the Netherlands means the “lowlands.” Similarly, Ukraine means “borderlands,” making it reasonable that a proceeding “the” would be acceptable, from an origin standpoint. But as Ukrainian representatives have pointed out repeatedly, the “the” is no longer necessary nor appropriate.
So as Ukraine once again becomes a topic of global interest, and more and more news outlets include “Ukraine” in their headlines (without the “the”), just remember that it isn’t the Mandela effect, but rather history that has changed.