My heart sank as I was reading the article on the Scholastic Art and Writing Award winners (see, “US students’ art and writing wins regional recognition,” Vol. 47, No. 7) in the last issue of The Vanguard. As it described my background, I spotted that one little word dreaded by all Ukrainians: “the.” The Ukraine. I have heard my country referred to as the Ukraine around school, by classmates and teachers, and each time I flinch. Those three little letters bring to memory years of oppression and disrespect and paint a picture of a completely different place.
Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation.
The Ukraine is a territory of the Soviet Union. The Ukraine is just Russia’s annexed little brother, a region of Russia rather than its own state.
We use “the” when referring to geographical subregions, such as the Northeast or the Rockies, but never when talking about a singular independent nation. The Spain? The China? Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Not only is it grammatically incorrect, but politically incorrect as well.
Ukraine is no longer a “region” of the Soviet Union and has fought hard to gain its independence. Through its revolution in 1991, then 2004, and most recently 2014, it has been struggling to stabilize and win back its autonomy domestically and on the global stage and break free from Moscow’s tentacles. In 2014, about 100 Ukrainians died for their freedom. Ukrainians died in order to maintain its independence and Ukraine’s national borders, and unfortunately, the battle has not been won yet.
Crimea is still annexed by the Russians. We are still fighting. And that is why those three little letters are all the more important. Ukrainians are fighting hard to step out of the Russian shadow and emerge as a respected sovereign nation, and shedding those three little letters is just one battle in a much larger war.