Why Did Ukraine Used To Be Called The Ukraine?

Located in Eastern Europe, Ukraine has been ruled by Poland-Lithuania and most recently, the Soviet Union (per Britannica). Foreign Policy writes that in 1991, Ukraine became an independent country shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the nation's name has been a source of contention. In 2014, then-President Barack Obama referred to it as "the Ukraine." Time pointed out that this was incorrect of him to do so. The same was said of then-President Donald Trump in 2019 when he used "the Ukraine" during a White House press conference.

The Washington Post reported that the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington D.C. subsequently tweeted about the faux pas, calling Trump out on the mistake. Although Americans have been conditioned to use "the" in front of "Ukraine," the article "the" does not actually exist in either the Ukrainian or Russian language. Per the BBC, Ukraine dropped "the" from their name after they declared their independence. The change occurred as the country wanted to distinguish themselves from their past as a territory. 

'The Ukraine' is not correct, politically or otherwise

According to a 2016 article posted at Forbes, "the Ukraine" stems from the Polish "Ukrajina." This 16th century term directly translates into "the borderlands" and first appeared when Ukraine was a part of Poland-Lithuania. It's safe to say that the title stuck throughout the centuries, as The Washington Post explains that in Russian, "Ukraina" also means "borderlands." Simply put, calling it "the Ukraine" has a negative connotation that has been upheld by years of colonialism. Although they have been a separate entity for decades, putting "the” in front of the country's name makes it appear that it is not (via Foreign Policy).

The country deliberately eliminated "the" to avoid this confusion in their declaration of independence when they left the Soviet Union. Time reports that Ukrainians despise that their country is constantly being mislabeled, especially in English-language media and by American politicians. Foreign Policy points out that most Americans are perhaps unaware of why "the" is formally excluded. The BBC, however, explains that getting rid of the article truly demonstrated that Ukraine was independent, once and for all.

As Ukrainian-American geographer Roman Adrian Cybriwsky put it, "The idea is that Ukrainians get to call the shots about what to name Ukrainians and what to call the country." In other words, calling Ukraine anything else besides the name they chose would be demeaning, as well as completely inaccurate (via Mental Floss).