Someone edited my question, which originally used "Kiev" to mean the capital of Ukraine, but edited into "Kyiv". I just briefly googled it and found that "Kiev" is a Russian word while "Kyiv" is a Ukrainian one.

I wonder if it is considered offensive, or otherwise not welcomed among Ukrainians.

I feel that people don't care about my pronunciation, so the issue would be only in the written context (e.g. chat with AirBnB hosts, ask help for a stranger on a smartphone, etc...).

So, is it offensive for locals? Or approximately how many people (in percentage) care about it?

  • 4
    Keep in mind that a lot of Kyivers are still native Russian speakers
    – Crazydre
    Oct 9, 2017 at 22:09
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    @Crazydre I know (and I read your question here) but the accepted answer said the use of Russian is decreasing, and even the older generation who speak Russian as the native language now attempt to speak Ukrainian.
    – Blaszard
    Oct 9, 2017 at 22:14
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    Will people prefer if you make an effort to speak Ukrainian in Ukraine? Probably. Will they get offended if you, as a foreigner, use Russian words unknowingly? Almost certainly not. I think editing your question went a little far, but do note that official English-language users (eg US government) primarily use Ukrainian placenames for places in Ukraine now, incl "Kyiv"
    – Urbana
    Oct 9, 2017 at 22:30
  • It very much depends on whether the person using that spelling is Ukrainian, Russian, or from anywhere else.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 28, 2018 at 23:25

5 Answers 5


You seem to be one of those who have approved the edit (unfortunately, the post has been vandalized by another user since then), so I guess (correct me if I'm wrong) this question's goal is primarily to confirm your original thought.

"Is it offensive?" question seems to be subjective because it can't be measured. I would say yes, someone else would say no, and we end up in a "word against word" battle. So let me focus of facts only.

Official name of Kyiv. According to UNGEGN (United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names), the only possible English-language transliteration is "Kyiv". The same source confirms the proper spelling for Donets'k, Luhans'k, Kharkiv, and several others.

Kyiv in other languages. Besides "Kiev", there are other spellings, including "Kiew", "Kijów", "Kænugarður" and even 《基辅》, pronounced — believe it or not — [ji-fu]. When visiting countries where this name is accepted, everyone would understand you, despite the fact these names are not internationally-accepted.

People's perception. Indeed, spelling "Kiev" is a direct transliteration of "Киев", the Russian word for Kyiv, and many Ukrainians (not all, however) associate this with the Russian occupation that happened in the past and the armed invasion and partial occupation that occurs at the moment.

The following photo shows the very process of russification. "Little green men" in unmarked uniforms on a military truck "enforce" the Russian spelling of a road sign at the entry to the occupied Donets'k city by removing the "soft sign" so that «ДОНЕЦЬК» became «ДОНЕЦК».

Donets'k after the forced russification

Most obviously, this produces resistance against the "Russian-based" spelling of toponyms among the Ukrainians. Like myself.

Many Russian officials also insist on using an incorrect spelling "the Ukraine", too.
This, multiplied to the fact that many Ukrainians speak bad English, don't simply care, or actively refuse to recognize Ukraine as a country, has a certain effect, as shown in JonathanReez♦'s answer.

More to go. Having several names for toponyms (for various historic reasons) happens in other countries, too: Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia/Kampuchea, Mumbai/Bombay, Munich/München/Monaco, Beijing/Peking, Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok/Krungthep Mahanakhon, Falkland/Malvin Islands, to name a few.

A Traveler's Rule of Thumb (mind you, we are at Travel.SE). A traveler should always consider the historical and cultural aspects in order to avoid being perceived as an ignorant person (or, in boundary cases, as an enemy's agent).
However, there is no problem if a foreigner uses Russian as their way of communication. Check this question for further details: What is the main spoken language in Kiev: Ukrainian or Russian?

Also, related: Does anyone want Ukraine to be called “the Ukraine”?

  • Why is it no problem for Russians to say Kiev but a problem for English speakers to say it?
    – fabspro
    Jun 5, 2018 at 23:23
  • @fabspro, russians in their language can call anything however they want. They already have lots of weird exonyms, like [vjengrija] for Hungary, [kaliningrad] for Königsberg, [kitaj] for China, [amur] for 黑龙江, and [gruzija] for Georgia. Nothing we can do. But this site is for travelers, the vast majority of whom are from the civilized world and use English when abroad. The English language only has a single UN-accepted name for the capital of Ukraine, and this name is Kyiv. Jun 6, 2018 at 1:08
  • Last time I checked, the UN does not define any language. As you might be aware, lots of places have multiple names in common use. For example, Munich, Gothenburg, Burma. Why is the UN a better source for language than say, the people who actually speak and define the language by using it?
    – fabspro
    Jun 6, 2018 at 9:29
  • For example, on the UN's Ukrainian website, Kiev is also used extensively. un.org.ua/en/component/search/…
    – fabspro
    Jun 6, 2018 at 9:31

Googling for "kiev" site:.ua vs. "kyiv" site:.ua shows that both options coexist peacefully. Most Ukrainians are not proficient English speakers and don't really care about minor intricacies of foreign spelling. .

So no, nobody cares which way you spell it. Source: traveling to Ukraine several times as a Russian speaker.

  • 1
    I don't know a culture that will get offended if you mispel or mispronounce their words. Except maybe the French, and that's only because you aren't mispronouncing it in French. :D
    – insidesin
    Oct 10, 2017 at 0:42
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    @saneity It is not simply about the misspell or mispronounciation but the relationship with Russia. That is the whole point of my concern.
    – Blaszard
    Oct 10, 2017 at 12:20

Living since several years in Kyiv and hadnt any problem/issue with speaking russian.By the way - also not in Lviv or western ukraine...there will be more such a problem that people understand russian, but may not answer in russian and explain after more;)! But - Kyiv is the official ukrainian writing in the latinic ABC.By myself f.e.,I use in my official letterhead the wording "Kyiv" for the english part. If you search f.e.at railway-page uz.gov.ua/english version "Kiev", you will even not find the railway station;-)! So you see - its mixed here - officially ukrainian is the state language and russian is the economical leading language...but even at home the most people are speaking a mixture of both,depending on their local origin.


"Kiev" is the only one I use living in Ukraine because the life around takes place in Russian except rare cases where the government roughly forces us to use Ukrainian. It is just my example though, other people are used to and prefer Ukrainian.

The same person who edited your question used to edit my earlier Ukraine answer, with a similar edit of city name: Kharkov vs. Kharkiv (I edited my answer back, but I retained his edit of the question itself). The fun fact is that I live in Ukraine, and the one who edits and enforces Ukrainian spelling moved to work abroad.

Another ex-Ukrainian downvoted this answer of Ukrainian local. Such excessive over-Ukrainianity is a result of 2014 events. So in general "Kiev" and other cases of Russian spelling are not offensive. Neither they are considered rude, or even incorrect. Be sure that even editor of your questions was perfectly aware of your spelling being proper, he just used his chance to do the modification at his own liking. However once in a while you can meet people who is aggressively an indecently insisting on Ukrainian spelling. Among real life people its well under 1%, as long as you asked for percentage estimate.

  • 3
    Two of three paragraphs of this post are actually nothing but complaining about voting/editing habits of Stack Exchange users, discussing who these users are and where they live and hinting that these users' posts are wrong because of that. And the remaining paragraph contains an anecdotal evidence that cannot be factually confirmed or disproved. It can be hard to resist temptation to downvote such an answer. :-) Oct 10, 2017 at 6:49
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    Well, the fact is my answer is the only answer of Ukraine local of currently existing three answers. The OP is apparently interested in perception among locals. The short version of the answer is in bold, the rest explains why other people jump in to answer, including misrepresenting themselves as locals and editing posts of other.
    – Roman R.
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:38
  • …and instead of improving this post, downvoting mine? Okay then :-) Oct 10, 2017 at 9:52
  • @bytebuster: your post is specifically misleading in part of "people perception". There is no such perception among real people, just Internet trolls keep the flame.
    – Roman R.
    Oct 10, 2017 at 9:56
  • My question also got 2 downvotes!
    – Blaszard
    Oct 10, 2017 at 12:22

Kiev predominantly speaks Russian and maintains Russian culture. Ukrainian language (or Surzhyk) is mostly spoken in western and partially central Ukraine. Thus, it might cause some minor dissatisfaction in the respective regions (or among those who moved to Kiev from them), although in Kiev and the rest of Ukraine there is no evident reason for it to be offensive. At some point, it's even vice versa: Kievans find the imposement of Ukrainian language offensive.

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