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Letter to The Economist

To: Editor of The Economist
25 St James’s Street
London SW1A 1HG
Fax: +44 20 7839 4092


I would like to bring your attention to the fact that your paper constantly refers to the capital of Ukraine as Kiev. For several reasons provided below, name Kyiv should be used instead.

Whenever you arrive to Kyiv Boryspil International, you will never miss four big shining letters KYIV on the top of the airport building. When you drive further towards the city, you will be greeted by the board “Kyiv welcomes you” on the side of the speedway. You may think these changes occurred after the Orange Revolution. Let me reassure you that this was already the case in earlier nineties and long time before it.

Ukrainian Parliament, Verkhovna Rada, through many of its Commissions allows only one spelling, Kyiv [ ]. Probably, the most important argument is the Constitution of Ukraine, which clearly states that “The capital of Ukraine is the City of Kyiv” [Article 20, ].

Even your style guide insists on the modern spelling “… But follow local practice when a country expressly changes its name, or the names of rivers, towns, etc, within it. Thus Almaty not Alma Ata; …”. You prefer to write Moldova, Belarus, Chisinau instead of Soviet era names Moldavia, Byelorussia, Kishenev, saying nothing about Myanmar versus Burma and Beijing versus Peking.

I wonder why you drop Kyiv out of this list? You wrongly make an impression on many of your readers who actually have visited Ukraine that your journalists are not particularly aware of what is going on in the country.

I would like to use this opportunity and welcome you to visit our capital and see it for yourself. The face of Kyiv changes every day, except for its name.

Yours faithfully

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Posted in Letters, Press. Tagged with , .

4 Responses

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  1. In the middle of December a letter with some 900+ signatures accompanied with all the supporting documents was sent to the editor of The Economist.

    Andrew Rashbass, the CEO of The Economist Group, has replied on Facebook, quoting John Micklethwait, the Editor of The Economist.

    Their comments in favour of Kiev were rather weak and contradictory.

    Please feel free to have your say on

    Dear Mr Rashbass,

    Such a respectful paper as The Economist never applied double standards. Why risk the reputation and do it in the case of Kyiv? Your paper contradicts itself. You write Almaty, Belarus, Chisinau, Moldova instead of Soviet era names Alma Ata, Byelorussia, Kishenev, Moldavia. Name “Kyiv”, in its proper spelling, was already mentioned several times by your paper. Now you are talking about confusing the readers. On the personal level, I find it quite discriminating and do not accept your explanation as a valid excuse.

    As recorded in United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database, the Ukrainian government has asked for the change already in 2002 [ ].

    This is a global initiative of the Ukrainian government and those who do care about the image of the city. More than 1000 people beyond Facebook have signed the letter to you paper, I only volunteered to mediate the project with the team of the Economist so we have a structured discussion. My other colleagues are talking to other companies that still use the old name.

    You may wish to read all 1000+ comments on the petition site [ ]. People from various countries and backgrounds have confirmed it is Kyiv in English, from the very Boryspil airport to the heart of every man who visited the city, from poets to the highly ranked politicians, in Ukraine, America, Britain, in fact, the whole world, maybe not Russia, but as you properly mentioned, we cannot please everyone.

    Many companies have already adopted the name. The recent being WizzAir: they entered the market just few months ago, but this necessary change became obvious to them after our explanation and arguments.

    You will also find an extended list of evidences from various governmental and public sources on

    I hope you received a missing piece of this jigsaw puzzle and that this will improve the image and the quality of your paper too.

    With best regards,

    Original message on

    Andrew Rashbass (The Economist) replied to your post on 08 January 2009 at 04:23

    Dear Mark

    I am the CEO of The Economist Group. I saw your various posts and the discussion around them as well as the petition you organised. I asked the Editor of The Economist, John Micklethwait, about Kiev vs Kyiv and this is what he said:

    “Our general practice with most places is to use the common English name if one exists, or to follow local practice when a country expressly changes its name (as Burma did to Myanmar). Using the common English name occasionally involves annoying some people. We use Macedonia and America, despite the fact that many people insist that their proper names are the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the United States of America. Names that are written in a non-Roman script obviously have to be translated into English – and Kiev/Kyiv is one of many examples where honest people can disagree about exactly how to do it. Local practice might say it should be Kyiv; but most of the English-speaking world knows it as Kiev – and some people would say that there is not that much difference between them. We are aware that this is a sensitive subject to Ukrainians, but we also do not want to confuse our readers. Looking round the web, virtually every other big English-speaking news organisation seems to use Kiev. So it will remain Kiev for the moment.

    I don’t regard this as an eternal verity because it is plainly a disputed case. Indeed, there is a noisy minority of journalists at The Economist who think we should use Kyiv. We review our policy on place names each time we update our style book – and we will bear Kiev/Kyiv (and what people say on Facebook) in mind next time we do so.

    John Micklethwait”

    Thanks for your loyalty to The Economist and for wanting to help us to make it better!

    Best wishes

    Andrew Rashbass

  2. Marko said

    Follow up with Mr Rashbass:

    Dear Mr Rashbass,

    Once again, after four month of break (your paper was supposed to investigate the case, but it failed), you have misspelled the name of the capital of Ukraine:

    Even your Prime Minister writes it correctly – Kyiv:

    I suggest your journalists take a walk through freshly refurbished St James’s Park down to 10 Downing Street and learn proper spelling of modern English geographical names.

    It will all do your paper only good, at least you will look like you are in touch with reality in the markets.

    Thank you very much indeed for considering this tip.

    Sincerely yours,
    All those who have signed the petition:

  3. Collector said

    The Brits are notorious about adopting any changes in English spelling….. other than their former colonies, where they seem to adopt new spellings, however trivial, almost overnight. This is what needs to be pointed out to them…. their disrespect for other countries and their feelings of guilt towards their former colonies. Look at Bombay, Calcutta, Rangoon, Burma, Ceylon and any number of other names that they changed immediately, although these names were far more well-known and widely used in different phrases and names than “Kiev” ever was. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but it took the English more than a decade to stop saying “Peking.” Ukrainians and Russians still do. We need to be equally respectful of others in this matter.

  4. Marko said

    Four years didn’t go for nothing. Finally we see the names of Ukrainian cities spelled correctly on The Economist too:

    Ukraine’s faded gem
    Summer in Lviv

    Jul 30th 2012, 15:21 by A.C. | Lviv

    SUMMER is in full swing in Lviv, a city that is a faded gem in western Ukraine. Some locals have retreated from the city to their dachas. Old men play chess on the shaded promenade while couples stroll along. The Mitteleuropa coffeehouses overflow with tourists. (One café is inspired by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who hails from Habsburg Lviv.) Just two hours’ drive from the Polish border, the city is far from the politics of Kyiv. It is the self-proclaimed cultural capital of Ukraine.

    Lviv is still coming to terms with life after Euro 2012, the football championship co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland in June. The new airport terminal is spookily empty. Polish tourists have long come to Lviv in search of prewar Lwów (on Polish territory) and a night at the magnificent opera house. Now new budget flights might make Lviv another Kraków or Riga, beloved by Brits on stag nights.

    For Lviv’s citizens, a cost-benefit analysis of the championship their country hosted is not enough. For some it was a colossal expense, for others a wasted opportunity. Yet in spite of all the practical setbacks and negative publicity its smooth running has boosted Ukraine’s confidence, most visibly in Lviv. The ruling Party of Regions hopes to use it to score goals in the October parliamentary elections.

    Ukraine’s language law, which was rushed through parliament earlier this month was not popular in this “most Ukrainian city”. The bill would make Russian an official regional language in predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the industrialised east and southern regions such as Crimea where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. In Lviv Russian would not qualify for the status of official regional language (it needs to be spoken by 10% of the local population) but Lviv’s citizens opposed it anyway. In the city centre, the mouths of six statues of famous Ukrainians were taped over in symbolic protest. Yaroslav Hrytsak, a well-known historian from Lviv, says the law encourages Yugoslavia-style confrontation. Politicians’ manipulation of regional differences has brought Ukraine to the “brink of civil war”.

    Under the statue of Taras Shevchenko, a national poet, a “Fanzone of the Ukrainian Language” straggles on, serving as a base for the united opposition. A young activist urges our correspondent to sign a “Ukraine against Yanukovych” petition, which has collected over 80,000 signatures.

    On July 30th, the election campaign kicks off. In recent years, Western commentators have raised their eyebrows at the emergence of an extreme-right, nationalist party called Svoboda (Freedom), which has its stronghold in western Ukraine. It has held a majority in Lviv city council since 2010. Yet it is unlikely to cross the 5% parliamentary threshold, and may indeed be part of the ruling party’s “divide and rule” tactics. The big question is whether the October elections will be democratic. But whatever the outcome, Lvivians will continue to play chess outside, serve black coffee, and speak Ukrainian anyway.