Today Russian troops are marching through the streets of their southwestern neighbor, despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s admonition to Russian President Vladimir Putin that there would be consequences. People are going to be talking about this. You are going to be talking about this, even though — let’s be honest — you know nothing about international relations. (It’s cool. Neither do we.) So before you hit up your dinner party, make sure you know the answer to the question: Is it “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine”?

It’s just “Ukraine.” Why? Because that’s the way Ukrainians prefer.

The word “Ukraine” means borderland, which explains why Anglophones have used the word “the” in the past, just like we use the word “the” to refer to the Netherlands (a.k.a. the lowlands), since both names refer to geographic locations. But once Ukraine broke free from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country decided to drop the “the” and assume its own identity, independent of its relation to the U.S.S.R.

Goodbye, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Hello, Ukraine.

Photo credit: Батяшев Александр