Is it Kiev or Kyiv?

Hello Backyard Geographers!

It’s been in the impeachment hearings. It’s been in the news. It’s the elephant in the room. Why is everyone mispronouncing Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev? As it turns out, they’re not. Here’s your cheat sheet to the who, what, where, and why behind Kyiv’s change in spelling.

Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has dealt with various issues around naming. In 1995, Ukraine demanded that its most populous city no longer be referred to as Kiev, but instead Kyiv. There are a few reasons behind this change, but they all tie back to Ukraine no longer being a part of the Soviet Union. 

Kiev is the English understanding of the Russian spelling, which is stylized as “Киев,” whereas the Ukrainian spelling is stylized as “київ.” With the two spellings being visibly different in their languages of origin, it would only make sense that they are translated to English a bit differently. Ukrainian, not Russian, is the official language of Ukraine, so “Kyiv” is the translation that should be utilized by English-speakers, according to the US Board of Geographic Names (BGN). The BGN operates as a sector under the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The board’s job is to standardize names to facilitate ease of communication and clarity across cultures. The BGN has been a key player in this fight, and officially standardized Ukraine’s capital city’s name as “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev” back in 2006.

Before demanding that the name of its capital city change, Ukraine had been fighting to be recognized as “Ukraine” rather than “the Ukraine” beginning in 1991. Ukrainians called for the removal of the oft-used “the” prior to “Ukraine” because of its implications about Ukraine’s independence.

There are several theories behind the roots of Ukraine’s name, but a popular one includes “oukraina” as meaning “borderland,” which facilitated it being referred to as “the Ukraine,” or “the borderland.” According to TIME, “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.” Continuing to refer to “the Ukraine” is problematic for Ukrainians because it centers their entire existence around Russia, depriving them of a sense of national identity apart from Russia.

It’s easy enough to make the change to simply “Ukraine,” but back to Kyiv – how does one pronounce the new spelling? This article contains a pronunciation from Columbia University’s Yuri Shevchuk, stating that “native Ukrainians stress the first vowel, and pronounce it like the ‘i’ in the word ‘kid’ or ‘lid.’ The second vowel is pronounced as a separate syllable, and sounds like the ‘ee’ sound in ‘keel.’ The v is also pronounced a bit differently, like the end of the word ‘low’” (Zraick). It’s a bit different, indeed, but the recording in the article is beneficial for the English-speakers that this change targets.

With all of this in mind, why do so few people utilize the new spelling and pronunciation? For many, it’s a matter of not knowing this change has taken place. For others, it seems to be an issue of old habits dying hard. Business Insider says it best with “I can understand why this argument is infuriating to Ukrainians who want Western media organizations to use ‘Kyiv.’ It’s practically a Catch 22 — the media won’t use that word because no one understands it, but no one understands it because the media doesn’t use it.” However, the impeachment hearings have been a catalyst by which many have become acquainted with the new spelling and pronunciation.

The power of language has been especially prevalent in the media as of late, and can also be seen with Merriam Webster choosing the word “they” as its word of the year. Both of these examples show the transience of language, and that it is sometimes difficult to make a change to things that seem permanent and longstanding. However, all language is created and constantly changing, so it is necessary to appropriately address places, people, and populations by their preferred names.


Go forth and spread the word! #KyivNotKiev




BioBlitz Big Marsh

Hello Backyard Geographers!

      My name is Julie Watkins and I am the Geographic Society of Chicago’s 2019-2020 intern! Today I’d like to share with you our upcoming event, BioBlitz Big Marsh. For those that are unfamiliar, a BioBlitz is defined as “an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area.”¹ This is the GSC’s second time doing a BioBlitz at Big Marsh with the intention of logging the area’s plants and animals via the free app, iNaturalist. This event is free and open to all! Please be sure to RSVP “Going” on the Facebook event. We look forward to seeing you on September 14th! Facebook event link:



  • September 14th
  • 10am-1pm (Friends of Big Marsh celebration 2pm-6pm)
  • Big Marsh, 11599 South Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60617


A Brief History of Big Marsh

      Big Marsh can be found in the Calumet Area Reserve on the Southeast side of Chicago. As Chicago’s 564th park, Big Marsh earned its designation as a park in 2016 after being used as an industrial site in the late 1800s.² Laden with nine steel mills, this industrial site turned the wild and beautiful marshland into a wasteland filled with slag.³ The Chicago Park District acquired all 278 acres of Big Marsh in 2011, and Friends of Big Marsh has been working with the Chicago Park District ever since to create a site of eco-recreation. 

      An eco-recreation site is a site dedicated to habitat restoration as well as leisure and recreation for neighboring communities. For example, Big Marsh’s successful bike park, modeled after Valmont Bike Park in Colorado, is built atop remaining slag from the steel mills.³  Other popular activities to engage in at Big Marsh are hiking, birdwatching, and fishing. Called a “mecca of biodiversity” by Lauren Umek, project manager at Chicago Park District’s Department of Cultural and Natural Resources,³ Big Marsh is a prime spot for a BioBlitz, and certainly sets the bar high for other eco-recreation sites.

      I hope you enjoyed this brief history of Big Marsh, and I look forward to sharing more events, blog posts, seminars, Travelogues, and the like with you all soon!





[1] “BioBlitz.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 July 2019,

[2] “Big Marsh Park (Park No. 564).” Chicago Park District, Chicago Park District, 2014,

[3] Schulman, Ben. “How Chicago Turned an Industrial Waste Site Into a Nature-Loving 

Cyclist’s Paradise.” CityLab, 27 July 2016,

STEM Educators: Independent Contractor Work Available July 2018

BP is sponsoring 3 international Global STEM Academies for a total of 100 international students. These 4-week summer programs in Chicago, Cairo and Brazil are offered in partnership with AFS Intercultural programs.

AFS-USA is looking to hire 2 educators who will deliver STEM program curriculum to the Chicago program. The student group consists of 30+ scholarship students, ages 15-17, from countries like Egypt, South Africa, Germany, China, India, Mexico, Brazil, etc. The program design has classes in the morning from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., and students will have related hands-on type activities and excursions with Program Counselors in the afternoons and evenings to reinforce and give additional exposure to the STEM topics.

Teachers will facilitate two morning classes (9 a.m. -10:25 a.m. and 10:35 a.m. -12 noon) each with approximately 15 students. Scholarship winners are expected to have a medium to high level of English comprehension and will all be non-native participants.

The themes of each week are:

Week 1: Architecture and Engineering

Week 2: The Energy Challenge

Week 3: Landscape Architecture & Art

Week 4: The Energy Challenge, Part 2

Teachers should be able to design curriculum for these topics. Once engaged, teachers will work closely with me to further develop the overall program content and to meld the classwork with the afternoon and evening program.

If interested, please submit a resume to

NEH Summer Seminar – Newberry Library


The Newberry Library’s Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography has announced its 2018 NEH Summer Seminar for K-12 school teachers, Reading Material Maps in the Digital Age.

The four-week seminar, led by Dr. James Akerman (The Newberry Library) and Dr. Peter Nekola (Luther College), will focus on the practice of critically reading and teaching from original map documents, informed by the most recent cartographic scholarship. Material maps are still useful in our everyday life, but there is no question that teaching cartographic literacy is complicated by the advent of the digital age.  If material maps are in fact fading in popularity, what pedagogical purposes can these objects still serve in K-12 humanities teaching?  How can we learn from the material map’s physical presence, historical uses, and meanings? Grounded in the renowned map collections of the library, this exciting program will consist of seminar sessions, readings, workshops, field trips, and personal research.

Applications are encouraged from K-12 faculty in all disciplines. Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $3,300 to help defray travel and housing expenses. The deadline for applying is March 1, 2018.  For more information on the seminar, program faculty, stipend and housing information, and how to apply, please go to the Reading Material Maps website: .

Additional inquiries may be directed to:

Kara Johnson
Program Assistant, Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography
The Newberry Library
60 W Walton St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 255-3575