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Letters in Response to a Ukraine Journal

A scene from the Euromaidan revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 25, 2014 (David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters)

I am in the midst of a journal from Ukraine, and Part II is here (with its predecessor being here). A number of issues arise. Ukraine has had a turbulent existence since its independence in 1991. Two revolutions, the current war, and more. “May you live in interesting times,” is the old Chinese curse.

Here on the Corner, I would like to publish some mail, sent in response to Part I. The first note has to do with the spelling of Ukraine’s capital: “Kiev” (from the Russian) or “Kyiv” (from the Ukrainian). Our reader writes,

I was a CIA analyst on Ukraine in the 1990s. For many years, the Agency, under the influence of its own “Great Russians,” refused to acknowledge Ukrainian as a separate language — it was said to be a dialect of Russian. That’s nonsense, of course, and CIA finally changed that in about 1993, so you could, if you knew Ukrainian and Russian, get language bonuses for both.

I agree with Dickinson [Peter Dickinson, in this piece]. I used to tell people that “Kiev” was what English-speakers speaking English called the Ukrainian capital, just as we say “Cologne,” “Moscow,” and “PAIR-iss,” rather than “Pah-REE.” But the Russians, in their knee-jerk colonial paternalism toward the “Little Russians,” have lost any claim to the name.

Here is a note on the matter of “Ukraine” versus “the Ukraine”:

As a kid, I remember that people who came from the area in question called it “Ukrainia.” Maybe that’s what we should use to avoid “the Ukraine.” It always made perfect sense to my young mind.

I was somewhat touched by this note:

I visited Kiev in ’71 when I was seven — a treat for a kid from a Belorussian backwater.

A friend of mine from Kyiv writes,

You showed a picture of a birch tree, when Kyiv is a city of chestnut trees. (True, this may not be all that obvious in winter, when the trees lack their leaves.) A chestnut-tree arrangement was on Kyiv’s coat of arms in Soviet times and for a short while after that (until 1995) — because, back then, Archangel Michael was not an acceptable thing to put on a coat of arms.

Another friend from Kyiv writes,

Ukrainians are poor, yes, and their monthly salaries are miserable. But, unlike Americans, most of them fully own their homes and apartments, so their net worth is probably more than that of many Americans. I haven’t studied the numbers, but this is something to keep in mind. So instead of paying mortgages and insurance and saving for college as Americans do, they have more spending money than it seems.

A distinguished American academic says, in essence, “Read Gogol’s novella Taras Bulba. Too few Americans do. It’s set right on the fault line between Russia and Ukraine, as that line was being created in the 16th and 17th centuries.”

Finally, this note:

For what it is worth, I had a classmate in high school who was Ukrainian American. Paula Dobriansky went on to a distinguished career in the State Department. I remember vividly the beautiful Easter eggs she brought to school.

Yes, and she is the daughter of the great Lev Dobriansky, econ prof at Georgetown and co-founder of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.