Ukraine versus THE Ukraine

A field of wheat with a blue sky that looks like the flag of Ukraine.

Why do we English speaking folk insist on calling it THE Ukraine instead of just saying Ukraine. We don’t call it the France, so why does this happen?

What You Want: Ukraine

Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is the largest country contained entirely within Europe. It borders Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania.

Ukraine is where the Chernobyl incident occurred, and you can find the abandoned city of Pripyat nearby. It is also has the missile base that launched the missiles that caused the Cuban Missile Crisis. These are both places that are worth checking out if you are into European history.

The important thing for this article is that Ukraine is a country’s name, a proper noun. It is not just a plain old noun.

What You Said: The Ukraine

Being a proper noun, saying ‘the’ Ukraine is incorrect. You don’t say ‘the’ France, or ‘the’ Germany, so you shouldn’t say ‘the’ Ukraine either.

Why It Happens

So why do we do this? Even I found writing that first section a bit weird. Simply saying ‘Ukraine’ instead of ‘the Ukraine’ just doesn’t feel right.

The answer to me seems pretty obvious. There are country names that begin with ‘U’ that contain nouns. The USA is the United States of America. The UAB is the United Arab Emirates. Back in the old days the USSR was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And the most important one: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That last one is often shorted to ‘the UK’. We say ‘the UK’ so often that when we refer to Ukraine it just feels so natural to say ‘the Ukraine’ instead.

I also think it just sounds odd not to put ‘the’ in front of it. ‘I’m going to France’ sounds fine, but ‘I’m going to Ukraine’ sounds a little weird in English. That -oo -yoo sound in ‘to U-kraine’ feels a little like saying ‘a apple’ instead of ‘an apple’. So although grammatically it’s more correct to say Ukraine, it feels more natural to say ‘the Ukraine’.

A Solution…?

Unfortunately this can be a touchy subject to some people. People from Ukraine can get offended when we say ‘the Ukraine’ because it’s not technically correct. But to English speakers it’s just a more natural way of saying the word.

A little more understanding from both sides may help. English speakers can just be more aware that Ukrainians may not like the way we say it. Ukrainians can be more aware that it’s not meant in an offensive way. It’s just one of those many peculiarities of language that leads us to say things in an odd way.

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