WASHINGTON The State Department said on Thursday a government decision to change the spelling of Ukraine’s capital to Kyiv from Kiev had nothing to do with politics.
“I don’t think this decision has anything reflective in it”, said Tom Casey, a department spokesman.
About half of Ukraine’s population of 47-million are Russian speakers, and Kiev is the Russian spelling.
Ukraine’s Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko, elected on the wave of the 2004 Orange Revolution mass protests against election fraud, has sought to take his nation out of Russia’s orbit and join NATO and the European Union.
Casey said the decision to change was more in keeping with how Ukrainians themselves pronounce the name of their capital. He said international organizations such as NATO and United Nations already are using the spelling the department has adopted.
The Associated Press continues to spell the name of the capital Kiev.
In the 900s, Kiev, one of the oldest cities in Europe, became the capital of Kievan Rus, the first Russian state.
The department announced the change in a memorandum Oct. 3, instructing officials to use the Kyiv spelling in all communications regarding Ukraine.
When a reporter asked about the change Thursday, Casey said to laughter he welcomed the question because “I have been waiting for this for several days.”
He explained there is a U.S. Board of Geographic Names that includes representatives from several government departments, including the State Department, to establish and maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government.
Asked why the spelling of Burma had not been changed to Myanmar as the country’s military leaders call it, Casey replied, “I’ll have to get back to you on that…But for now Burma is known as Burma.”