Odessa or Odesa? The Donbass or the Donbas?
Newsrooms have been busy debating the spelling of Ukrainian place names. Many of us in the media have long used Russian transliterations for some places, such as Odessa, while using Ukrainian ones for others, like Kyiv.
Starting this week, the Monitor has shifted entirely to using the renderings established by Ukraine’s government. The principle underlying this is respect for what a sovereign country has chosen. As we wrote in a 2009 article as we switched to Kyiv from Kiev, “we like to call people what they want to be called.” Not doing so can send an unintended message: The Monitor’s Scott Peterson, who reported recently from Odesa, shared some sources’ shocked reactions when they saw a dateline of “Odessa.”
Getting people to adjust to changes in familiar names, even by a letter, is hard. Ukraine launched the global #KyivnotKiev campaign in 2018 to push the point, despite having required Kyiv since 1995. The U.S. State Department and the United Nations use Ukrainian transliterations. Still, other organizations, like the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, long allowed Kiev as an alternative. That stopped in 2019.
Like us, numerous media have shifted recently, including The Associated Press, whose style we largely observe. Our staff took the issue seriously; one editor noted the 58 comments in a newsroomwide message thread about it. In the end, we established our rule based on consistency and, most important, respect.