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Arts & Culture

How Do You Pronounce The Capital Of Ukraine?

Vladimir Yaitskiy
Creative Commons

With the situation in Ukraine as bad as it is, semantics are not high on the list of priorities. But it's something that inevitably comes up for journalists when we discuss names and locations in other parts of the world. We’re talking about how do you pronounce Kiev?

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy was on WNPR's Where We Live to talk about his recent trip to Ukraine's capital of Kiev, or Kyiv (more on that later).

Murphy pronounces the name of this city as "Keev."

This prompted the following comment from a listener.

Would somebody please tell Mr. Murphy that it's "key-ev," not "keeve"?

Who's right? On one hand, the most common pronunciation in the U.S. seems to be "Key-ev." But since he's spent some time in Ukraine and has talked with many Ukrainian leaders, I'm tempted to believe Murphy.

NPR tends to pronounce it using two syllables, "Key-ev." Here's a sampling of reporters and hosts using the word in a sentence.

To answer this question, I asked my friend Joe Bagliere who recently returned from Ukraine where he was serving in the Peace Corps. Even after two years in the country, he still stumbles over it. Bagliere explains that in Ukrainian, it is pronounced more like "Keev." The Russian version is "Key-ev." But quite frankly, our western ears can't quite pick up on the differences.

Photo of Joe Bagliere enjoying a bagel in Kiev/Kyiv.

Part of the problem may be the way it is spelled. The local English newspaper in Ukraine's capital is Kyiv Post.

However, the Associated Press Stylebook spells it "Kiev."


But the Associated Press style for Kiev is not set in stone. Recently, Poynter's Kristen Hare wrote about this. Here's how John Daniszewski, senior managing editor for international news with the Associate Press explained their reasoning.

We have looked at it in the past and opted on the side of “Kiev” because we believed, at that time, that the preponderance of usage and the way most Americans and English speakers understood the name was “Kiev” and the alternative spelling might cause confusion. We do not always go with local spellings of course. We do not spell Warsaw as Warszawa or Moscow as Moskva, for instance. However, given the dynamic of the last few weeks and Ukraine’s strong assertion of Kyiv as the preferred spelling of its capital and the popularization of that spelling, Stylebook editors are likely to look at the question again in the near future.
Credit LukeBlacks / Creative Commons
Is it spelled Kiev or Kyiv? Neither! It's ????!

If you want to be totally accurate when writing about Ukraine, the Ukrainian spelling is ???? and Russians spell it ????. Good luck finding those keys on your standard U.S. keyboard.

We'll be back with more linguistic debates when Qatar hosts the World Cup in 2022.

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