Sunday, December 19, 2004

This piece in the Christian Science Monitor is making me feel almost guilty. It's about the Kiev-vs-Kyiv debate, and Ruth Walker, "one well-meaning editor," ends it with a plea:

Dear Ukrainians, please don't make it hard for us to tell your story.

I spell Kyiv as 'Kyiv' primarily because I'm used to it, after two years of working for a U.S. State Department-funded program here in Ukraine. My hand is used to typing it this way. In real, non-English and non-writing, life, the way in which I pronounce my native city's name depends on whether I'm speaking Russian or Ukrainian at the moment.

I do not care which language the Christian Science Monitor folks are transliterating from, Russian or Ukrainian. The latter, of course, feels like a more natural choice - but I understand that for many English-speaking people it's impossible to imagine what 'Kyiv' actually sounds like, because of this "so-called 'middle vowel' that simply doesn't exist in English." I myself have no idea how to pronounce most French words and names and wish they were all spelled in a more Anglicized way - so I can't really blame anyone who finds it easier to transliterate from Russian, not Ukrainian: it's not like they are trying to erase Ukraine from the map, after all.

And if I were a Diaspora Ukrainian, I wouldn't be wasting my time writing letters to the editor, complaining about something as minor as the spelling of the name of their old country's capital. There're bigger issues, and one of them is that Ukraine was more or less missing from the news until about a month ago: Kyiv or Kiev, we were an obscure little place no one gave a shit about, until all those orange crowds decided to rally peacefully in the freezing cold. And the fact that we were not considered newsworthy enough cannot be explained away by our unwillingness to make it easier for American editors to tell our story.

I wouldn't blame those editors too much, though, because, if you ask me, Pakistan isn't covered enough in Ukrainian or Russian media, either - not as much as I would have wanted it to and not as much as it deserves - and in general, Israel and Palestine get incomparably more attention in the world media than Pakistan, Kashmir and India, which is totally inexplicable and unjustifiable.

So Ukraine isn't the only country whose story is being ignored much of the time - but what's cool is that we don't cease to exist when we disappear from the news, and we're still there even when no one knows anything about us.

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