In case you haven’t noticed, I habitually refer to the capital of Ukraine as “Kiev,” despite the general turn towards “Kyiv” over the past four years in the Anglophone media. Why do I refuse to use “Kyiv”? Because the entire thing was a dumb campaign run by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the ultranationalist president Petro Poroshenko back in 2018 or so, targeted at airports and English-speaking news sites (apparently nobody cared much about Spanish, French or German media, which mostly use Kiev or Kiew). I suspect the reason why “Kyiv” caught on was that (a) the media were discussing it more because of Ukraine’s involvement in Trump’s impeachment, (b) everyone was salty at Russia for the electoral interference back in 2016, and (c) Trump was being investigated for Russian ties in 2018. And since there was so much pre-existing anti-Russian sentiment, it was easy for Ukrainian nationalists and the compliant media to double down in early 2022. And in doing so, they turned “Kiev” into a shibboleth: anyone, especially news sites, who uses the traditional name is open to criticism for “opposing Ukraine’s sovereignty” or “supporting Russian imperialism.” (No, I oppose Ukrainian nationalism. There’s a difference.)

I’ve noticed that some antinationalist Ukrainians, as well as government critics, frequently use “Kiev,” rather than “Kyiv.” This doesn’t seem to be limited to native Russian-speakers or people from Eastern Ukraine, because I’ve seen it from antinationalist Western Ukrainians as well. (These Ukrainians seem to use geography and history as a guide to how they refer to places in English, so places in the west like Lviv, Vinnytsia, and Rivne get Ukrainian names, whereas Kiev and other heavily Russian-speaking areas like Kharkov, Zaporozhye, Nikolaev, and Odessa get Russian ones.) Admittedly, this is anecdotal, not scientific.

On top of that, Kiev is historically Russian-speaking. Even nowadays, very few preschoolers in Kiev speak Ukrainian regularly—and this was nine years after nationalist administrations took over and banned the use of Russian in education.

(And if you really want to get into the weeds, “Kiev” resembles the historic name much more than “Kyiv” does. But I’m not going to do that.)

The #KyivNotKiev thing is 100% performative bullshit. Seriously, I blame Donald Trump for this. (It’s always a good idea to blame Trump.) I hate Vladimir Putin and oppose the invasion, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to defend the nationalist bullshit emanating from some parts of the Ukrainian government and its supporters.