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




Depaul University’s Map of the Month January 2018 Confederate Street names in Dallas, TX

Check out DePaul University’s Department of Geography January Map of the Month! This month’s map, by Geography undergraduate senior Brooke Robinson, contributes to an on-going project by a Texas-based group working to ‘de-Confederate Dallas.’ Drawing on data provided by de-Confederate Dallas, Brooke constructed this map using Open StreetMap and Adobe Photoshop software.
Brooke has developed her cartographic skills during her undergraduate career at DePaul and she recently received an Undergraduate Excellence Award from the IL Geographic Information Systems Association, a local professional organization.

The Electoral College Explained

by Emily Speelman

The United States is in the last leg of the 2016 Presidential Election and, as November 8 approaches, “The Race to 270” is on. But what does this phrase mean? How does is apply to the everyday voter? And what role does geography play in this race?

“The Race to 270” refers to the number of votes a presidential candidate must win in the Electoral College to secure the presidency. There are a total of 538 members in the college and, to become president, candidates must earn 50% + 1 of their votes. Electors are appointed by their state and the number of electors is equal to their state’s number of representatives in Congress, giving each state a minimum of 3 (accounting for two senators and at least one representative in Congress per state).

Image from National Geographic:

Image from National Geographic:

Rather than voting directly for their desired candidates, citizens cast their ballot to the electors, telling them who to vote for. Based on this popular vote, the state’s electors put all their votes toward the majority candidate. Even if the candidate wins by only 51%, state’s “winner-take-all” policy dedicates that all the state’s electoral college votes can only go to the majority winner.

This applies to all states except Maine and Nebraska, who use Congressional Districts to determine electoral votes. Maine has four electoral votes and two congressional districts: the winner of each district gets at one vote and the statewide winner automatically gets two of the four. Nebraska, with its three electoral votes, has a similar system: the statewide winner gets two votes and the district winner gets the third. It is possible for the votes to split, which is important to note in a close election like this years.

While this sounds pretty straightforward, there are some problems with this system:

  1. Unequal voter power: As previously mentioned, a state’s number of electors is determined by its number of representatives in Congress. With each state getting a minimum of one, the number of house representatives are decided by a state’s total population. By giving each state three electoral votes (to account for the two senators), voting power is unequally distributed amongst the population, which can have a big impact on the election. Votes from states with lower populations (such as Vermont and Wyoming) have more power representation in the Electoral College than their population calls. They receive electoral votes that should belong to states with bigger populations, like California and Texas. Therefore, the individual votes of these smaller population states are giving more weight in determine who their state’s’ electoral votes go.
  2. Problems with a winner-take-all system: The winner-take-all system can greatly misrepresent the popular vote. With this system, the majority candidate in most states gets all of their electoral votes, no matter how much or little they won by. Therefore, the candidate needs to win states votes more than people’s votes.  This can make a massive difference when the nationwide popular vote is calculated, potentially swaying the election results. This occurred in 1876, 1888, and 2000, where the candidate won less than half of the popular vote, but won the election due to the Electoral College’s rules. To see this explained, CGP Grey made video exploring it here.
  3. Missing American Votes: There are a huge amount of American votes missing from each election. Why? This is because US territories are not allowed to vote in the election, with the exception of the District of Columbia (which was only granted in 1964). The territories of Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and US Virgin Islands are not granted Electoral College votes because they are not states. They are, however, US citizens and over 4 million people live here (which is more people than live in the city of Chicago!).

While the Electoral College has its problems, every vote counts in an election. The deadline to register online or by mail in Illinois is October 12 so make sure you are registered and make your voice heard on November 8.


Questions about how to vote in Illinois? Click here for a video explaining IL deadlines, absentee ballots, and more!


For more information on the Electoral College, see the videos and articles below:

A Breakdown of the Electoral College:

How the Electoral College Works:

The Trouble with the Electoral Collage:

History of US Elections:

Romanians in Chicago Help Elect Their New President: Klaus Werner Iohannis

by Derek Kaden

Unlike Americans, Romanian citizens abroad can’t send in an absentee voting ballot through the mail. They need to vote in-person at a facility approved by Romania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the division of government that organizes diaspora voting. During the first and second rounds of the Romanian Presidential Election, which took place this past November 2nd and 16th respectively, Romanians in the U.S. voted at Consulates in major cities, the Embassy in D.C., and various schools and halls in all corners of the country.

Poland, Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova have similar requirements for its citizens who want to vote outside of the country. The rules are pretty straightforward. Voting can only happen on Election Day, and it must take place at an approved polling station. If you’re busy that day, or can’t commute to a polling station, you don’t get to vote. Under the mail-in system, people have a more generous timeframe to send in their ballots. In addition to the U.S., Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Thailand, and Britain allow mail-in voting. Mexico allows it as well, since 2005. In Britain, voting can even be done through proxy: one countryman can designate another to vote for him!

Roughly 3 million Romanian citizens live outside of Romania. That’s enough people to swing the election, which was decided by only 1 million votes. The diaspora leaned heavily toward Iohannis, who was viewed as progressive, anti-corruption, and someone who would nurture Romania’s relationship with Western Europe. Ponta, on the other hand, was seen by the diaspora as traditional, old-guard, and unable to inspire the sense of progress and transparency that Romanians crave.

Klaus Iohannis                                                                       Victor Ponta

Ponta actually had the most votes during the election’s first round on November 2. He got 40%, but needed at least 50% to win. Iohannis was the runner-up at 30%, and the remaining 30% was divided between twelve other candidates from a variety of political parties, including the Romanian Ecologist Party (.45%) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (3.47%). Since no candidate won the majority, the election went into a final round between the top two on November 16.

The map below shows results by locality during the first round. Iohannis, blue, was clearly favored by the diaspora, and also in his home region Transylvania in the northwest of the country. Sibiu, the city where he was born and served as mayor since 2000, is located more-or-less at the crosshairs on the frame of the map. Ponta was favored in the three other major regions of the country: Muntenia, south, which includes Bucharest; Moldavia, northeast; and Dobruja, southeast.

First Round Results
Below is another map showing the election’s second round results. Ponta maintained a sizeable support in Muntenia, Moldavia, and Dobruja, but more localities within those regions voted Iohannis. Bucharest went from supporting Iohannis in only one municipality to all six in the second round. In addition, almost every locale that supported a third party candidate in the first round voted Iohannis in the second.

Second Round Results

In Chicagoland, Romanians either voted at a school in Niles, IL or at the Romanian Consulate downtown. Chicagoland was the only metropolitan region in the U.S. where two polling stations were located. Madrid and Brussels had four polling stations, more than any other city. Italy had a total of fifty-one for the more than 800,000 Romanian citizens living there. Khartoum, Sudan; Abuja, Nigeria; and Colombo, Sri Lanka all had a Romanian Embassy where voting was possible. Surprisingly, there were even two polling stations in Kabul, Afghanistan where there’s a sizeable Romanian military presence. Yes, the diaspora is widespread.

In major Western European cities, as well as in Chicagoland, the government’s organization of polling stations was seen mostly as a disappointment. That being said, it must have been a logistics-headache to staff and manage every polling station: there were more than 200 outside of Romania. Many were quick to blame Prime Minister Ponta, aware of the diaspora’s dismal support for him, for purposefully making polling stations inefficient. In cities like London and Paris, thousands lost the chance to vote because time ran out while they were still waiting in line. Since voting could only take place on Election Day, there was nothing they could do. Others were discouraged from waiting in the first place.

RomaniansI witnessed voting at the station in Niles, IL. The parking lot, similar in size to a suburban grocery store’s, was jam-packed. Volunteers were directing traffic, telling drivers to go to a neighboring parking lot, because there was no room left. Some people, in all the madness, invented their own parking spots by going on the grass, for example. I saw tens of would-be voters turn back to their cars, deciding it wasn’t worth standing gridlocked in line. Those who waited looked understandably tired and impatient, yet they stood dedicatedly. Upon reaching the voting area, people presented their passports, a form, and then stamped the name of their desired candidate in front of a government official. Despite the crowd of hundreds, only four stamps were in use.

Iohannis was sworn into office on December 22, 2014. His job lasts five years, and in 2019 he will have the chance to serve a second and final term.