There are a lot of bothersome things about Brandeis: laundry, food, overcrowded classes, the list can go on and on. But we would like to focus on an issue that might not bother a lot of people on campus but it does bother us. And if you do value social justice, this issue should bother you too.
The funny thing about this issue is that it is about one short word: “the,” in the case when it is put in front of Ukraine. The Ukraine. Both of us were born in Ukraine, both ended up at Brandeis University for our undergraduate careers and both are members of the incredible editorial board of The Hoot. And yes, while our paper is called The Brandeis Hoot, we are from Ukraine. Not “the Ukraine.”
It is not only a major pet peeve of ours to hear our country being called “the Ukraine,” but it is also borderline offensive. As William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, put it in a Time article from 2014, “The Ukraine is the way the Russians referred to that part of the country during Soviet times … Now that it is a country, a nation, and a recognized state, it is just Ukraine. And it is incorrect to refer to the Ukraine, even though a lot of people do it.” Even Google Docs recognizes that “the Ukraine” is grammatically incorrect by underlining it when typing, in addition to it being politically incorrect, as we have just established.
Ukraine is a nation, not a territory within another country. There is no reason for it to have the article “the” before it. As Ukrainian journalist Olena Goncharova wrote in the “Kyiv Post,” as quoted in an article on Foreign Policy’s website, “Saying ‘the Ukraine’ is more than a grammatical mistake—it is inappropriate and disrespectful for Ukraine and Ukrainians,” as it suggests that Ukraine is a “region of a country” or a “colonial territory.” However, Ukraine is neither of those things, but is its own independent state.
As a fun fact for those who may not be familiar with the Russian or Ukrainian languages, there is no use of articles in the language at all. Therefore, calling it “the Ukraine” is uniquely English jargon. If you are still not convinced, try saying “the Poland” or “the Russia.” Doesn’t sound right, does it? Ukraine works the same way. Losing the article “the” is like a metaphoric gaining of independence for Ukraine.
A large part of the irony is that we have heard it being referred to as “the Ukraine” at Brandeis, which is ridiculous given that it tries to represent itself as a progressive institution with a focus on social justice. If we are talking about social justice, then please do our country the justice it deserves and refer to it in the correct manner. Do you really want to be grammatically incorrect and ignorant? What is also surprising is when we hear our peers say “the Ukraine”: the expression has been incorrect for longer than they have been alive!
It becomes infinitely more ironic when you hear “the Ukraine” from a politics professor, who is lecturing on what is currently happening in Ukraine. At that point it is unclear whether it is just ignorance (which may be to some degree excusable) or an actual insult towards our country (which is unacceptable). There have been times when Sasha climbed over chairs (it was quite a show) to walk out of class, after a politics professor kept referring to it as “the Ukraine.” Even after Sasha pointed it out. So much for political correctness at politically correct Brandeis. Sasha would go as far as to argue that referring to a country correctly is as important as referring to someone with their preferred pronouns. If you do not believe us, just Google “the Ukraine.” You will get thousands of articles that will tell you why “the Ukraine” is wrong and insulting.