Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine often referred to as the City of Domes in reference to its numerous golden-domed churches, has been the site of controversy since the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014. The city is currently battling to drop the long-established spelling of Kiev in exchange for the spelling of Kyiv. So, which one is it: Kyiv or Kiev and why does it matter so much? Let’s find out!

Kiev or Kyiv – What’s in a Name?

Despite the similar spellings of the two most common ways to spell the capital of Ukraine, the difference goes a lot deeper than what it appears on the surface. Kiev, the most well known and established spelling, is also the most frowned upon in modern Ukraine. The reason for this is that Kiev is the Russian spelling of the City of Domes. The reason for its firm status is due to this variant of Kyiv being the official spelling method and transcription during the Soviet Union when the city of Kiev was at its most recently well known international status.

The City of Domes - Is it Kyiv or Kiev?

Kyiv, on the other hand, is the Latin translation of the Ukrainian capital’s name in the Ukrainian language. Despite multiple languages being spoken in Ukraine with Russian being the most widely spoken, Ukrainian is the only official language in the country. Today, this variant is preferred by most Ukrainians as the latter is associated with the russification of the country that took place during both the Russian Empire and the USSR in order to bolster the political and linguistic positions of Russia in the country.

“Both the strongest and the most problematic argument for change lies in the claim that Ukraine itself has asserted that Kyiv is its preferred spelling and has urged the popularisation of that spelling.”

The Calvert Journal

However, during the Soviet Union, the authorities used to place Russian and Ukrainian spellings next to each other when referring to geographical locations on road signs and the like. So these days, almost everywhere in Ukraine is named in both Russian and Ukrainian versions. The Russian versions are almost always the most well known and commonly used in the Western media. For example, Chernobyl rather than Chornobyl, Odessa rather than Odesa.

The Kyiv Not Kiev Campaign

Whilst the campaign to switch the internationally accepted name of the City of Domes has reappeared in the news headlines in recent years, it is not a new phenomenon. In fact, since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there have been various campaigns for the Ukrainian language to be used as the official transcription to be used in English and other languages.

The City of Domes - Is it Kyiv or Kiev?
A Soviet monument to the twinning of Bratislava with Kiev. Photo Credit – The Lady Travels

In 2014, however, this campaign took on a new lease of life and became a more prominent issue amongst many Ukrainians who were previously non-political. 2014 was the year that the country erupted into the Euromaidan revolution. In the months following, the Crimean Peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation and the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine imploded into a horrendous armed conflict that is still raging.

The City of Domes - Is it Kyiv or Kiev? DONETSK WAR IN UKRAINE
The War in Eastern Ukraine.

In 2018, the Ukrainian government utilized the power of social media to revive the campaign that had been going since the early 1990s. A social media campaign was launched by the foreign ministry of Ukraine that was aimed at encouraging social media users to utilize hashtags such as #CorrectUA and #KyivNotKiev. The aim of this was to bring international attention to the cause and to persuade various media organizations around the world to use the term Kyiv instead of Kiev.

What Are We Calling The City of Domes?

Despite the ongoing campaign, the Kiev variant of the Ukrainian capital is still used by many international media outlets. The reason for this is something called exonyms which is the practice of using n external names for a geographical location. Many of these international media outlets believe that the country covering news in Kiev has the right to call the city in the name that fits the local language of the people watching the report. Other examples of this are English language media outlets using Germany instead of Deutschland, French instead of Allemagne, or Poland instead of Polska.

Despite the high profile and prominence of the KyivnotKiev campaign, the reality is that many Ukrainians don’t actually care that much about the linguistic difference. The reasons being is that they are Russian speakers or more occupied with the many other more significant problems plaguing modern Ukraine ranging from extreme poverty to extensive corruption. Thus, the Ukraine capital known as the city of domes can be spelled whichever way you like, whether it’s Kyiv or Kiev.


For more groundbreaking articles on the City of Domes and wider Ukraine, one of the largest countries in Europe, then look no further than Eastern Europe Insight! Check out our articles covering the (almost) tropical islands off the coast of Ukraine in the Black Sea.