The recent invasion of Ukraine has brought pronunciation of its capital city into the English speaking world’s spotlight.

The widely used pronunciation in English was /ˈkiːɛv/ (or /ˈkiːɛf/ with a devoiced final consonant) – with the /ɛ/ vowel sound in the second syllable.

But it turns out this is a Russian pronunciation of the capital. The Ukrainian version is closer to /ˈki:ɪv/ or /ˈkɪjɪv/ (/kiː.ɪf/ and /ˈkɪjif/ with devoicing) – either way there’s no /ɛ/ sound.

And since most people in Western Europe and the US appear to be in support of Ukraine sovereignty /ˈsɒvrɪnti/, this is the correct pronunciation for them to use.

It shouldn’t pose any pronunciation problems for English speakers; this sequence of vowel sounds is found in plenty of English words – the gerund of any verb ending /iː/:

skiing /ˈskiːɪŋ/
being /ˈbiːɪŋ/
freeing /ˈfriːɪŋ/

And although it’s only recently hit the headlines, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has been trying to correct the pronunciation and spelling of Kyiv for several years with the popular hashtag #kyivnotkiev.

This led to the BBC and many other news outlets updating their pronunciation and spelling guidance long before the recent invasion:

But despite /ˈkiːɛv/ being a stranger vowel combination than /ˈkiːɪv/ to English speakers, the Russian pronunciation lives in the collective memory owing to a popular 80s ready meal – the CHICKEN KIEV, as seen in this 1988 advert by Sun Valley:

Time will tell if supermarkets join the movement and change the /ɛ/ to /ɪ/.