‘Ukraine’ or ‘The Ukraine’? It’s more controversial than you think.

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tags: Ukraine, etymology, syntax

When speaking about Ukraine, three seemingly innocuous letters can make a huge impact: the.

In recent weeks, politicians including President Obama and Mitt Romney have used the construction "the Ukraine" while speaking about that country and Russia's recent annexation of Crimea....

Placing "the" in front of Ukraine may appear to be harmless syntax, but the word has a long, controversial political and social history.

"I don’t want to say it's derogatory, but it’s putting it in a subordinate position," said William B. Taylor Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. "When you talk about 'the Ukraine' that suggests that you really don’t think that Ukraine is a sovereign independent country."

Historically, the name Ukraine is thought to have derived from a Russian word that roughly means "borderlands" or "on the border," said Donna Farina, a professor of multicultural education at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, N.J.

When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, it was referred to as "the Ukraine" because it was a region in a larger country, according to linguists and historians. It would be the equivalent of saying "the Northeast" or "the Rockies" in the United States, said Michael Flier, a professor of Ukranian philology at Harvard University....

Read entire article at Washington Post