Pronouncing on the hugeness of Ukraine

If you close your eyes, you can imagine this article written in yellow and blue. These colours are very popular on the Internet at the moment to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

I know very little about Ukraine, except that it is very big – much bigger than I would have guessed it was, say, a couple of months ago. It’s huge. You could lose several armies in it, which is something I would like to see happen quite soon.

I have no idea whether the Ukrainians are particularly nice people or not. It would probably be racist to say they were or they weren’t, because countries are made up of individuals, some of whom will be better than others. The same goes for Russians. Or the British.

What is undoubtedly true is that it is wrong for one country to invade another and kill people. This is something that none of us in the West would do – at least in the 21st century. Of course Mr Putin may not be in the 21st century: it is hard to locate him exactly.

It is however undoubtedly right to be on the side of a country that is invaded, right to open our doors to refugees, to help where we can, and to pray for the terrified.

I do not know one word of Ukrainian. However, I am getting to know a few of their cities. What confuses me slightly is our pronunciation of them. I had known of Sebastopol since childhood, and had always pronounced it Sebastoepoll, with the emphasis on the last syllable. Now I find it is called Sevastopol, which is a minor difference, but apparently pronounced Sebastopple, with the stress on the penultimate syllable.

Kiev, which everyone knew because of the chicken, was always pronounced as two syllables. Now, suddenly, it is pronounced Keev. Is this in solidarity with the Ukrainians, I wonder? If so, I am not sure it works, because it disconnects us from something we could imagine we knew.

Presumably we still call Moscow Moscow because we we will not go along with what the Russians call it, which is Moskva. We might offer to call it that if the Russians withdraw.

I’m sure there will be people who are shocked at my writing about pronunciation when people are being killed and the world is on the brink of a huge, army-devouring disaster. But words are critical: the way we use them shapes our attitudes and leads to conflict or peace.

I could repeat the same truths about finding a way to peace that many others have done, and it is not that I don’t feel them strongly. But if you say the same thing too often, the impact is often lost. I agree with all that, but what can we really do except pray and provide aid? Better people than me may know. I don’t.