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Can anyone explain? Is there some rule for when to use на and when to use в?

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12 Answers 12

14

It's because the word "Ukraine" becomes from Russian "Украина" which means "у края" (the source word is "край" (eng. edge)) or "окраина" (eng.: "closed to border"). And in Russian language it is correct to say "я живу на окраине" and the same way for "я живу на Украине".

But nowadays Ukrainian government prefers to forget that Ukraine was a part of Russia and they say that "Ukraine" has another mistyficated root.

So officialy, in Russia it is correct to say "на Украине", but it is also okay if you say "в Украине". But in Ukraine you have to say only "в Украине" for political reasons.

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    I mostly agree, except that you forget that Ukraine was also a borderland of Poland. Jan 15, 2015 at 10:45
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    @biggvsdiccvs please read at least Wikipedia about Kievan Rus': en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kievan_Rus%27 Jan 16, 2015 at 5:41
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    I'm quite familiar with it, thank you. I wasn't trying to start a discussion, although your statement that "Ukraine was always part of Russia" is quite a stretch. My point, which you seem to be missing, is that in Polish they also say "na Ukraine" (and not "w Ukraine"), and large parts of what is now the state of Ukraine belonged to Poland for quite a long time, and were perceived as Polish borderlands in pretty much the same way. I'm sure you can read all about it in Wikipedia as well. Jan 16, 2015 at 6:52
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    What we need here is linguistic insight into the question, not political speculations without prooflinks.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 17, 2015 at 9:23
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    @YellowSky: Don't ask "prooflinks" if you are not interested to leave your bubble. It is not an advice; it is a demand. Keep your facts straight: I said "Russian" (русский), not "Russia" (Россия) and I said nothing about "Ukraine".
    – jfs
    Jan 24, 2015 at 6:52
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It's political. В Украине is the officially preferred Ukrainian version, на Украине is the one that Russia sticks to, and the fur has been flying for decades at this point. In fact the reason you got downvoted was probably that someone thought you were flamebaiting.

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    +1 Nice to see an answer that just states facts and refrains from giving an opinion on why one is "correct" and the other "wrong". Jan 25, 2015 at 17:02
  • The point is that both version absolutely correct.
    – Rocketq
    Jan 26, 2015 at 14:39
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    @Rocketq, let's say it wasn't necessarily my point. Jan 26, 2015 at 20:42
9

As others have pointed out, this has become politically loaded, I would say since the breakup of the USSR and Ukraine becoming an independent country. Here is a detailed and more or less unbiased analysis of the controversy:

http://gn.org.ua/in_ua

To summarize, both prepositions are technically correct, "на" being much more common at least in the 20th century and supported by the "окраина" etymology, "в" emphasizing a separate country and usually implying an alternative (very contrived) etymology. The definite article was dropped in English also for that reason (compare to The Netherlands).

"В Украине" sounds jarring to my ear, but it is technically not wrong, there are examples of this usage from 19th century Russian classics. From that point of view it just sounds like an anachronism today. Ironically, possibly the most famous poem by the most fervently patriotic 19t-century Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko uses "на".

To answer your question, use "в Украине" if you want to please Ukrainian patriots/nationalists or want to make a political statement, use "на Украине" if you want please the purists, or avoid the construct altogether if you want to be neutral.

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В Украине is the variant used in the Ukraine, including its Russian-speaking parts, and is considered the normative there since early 1990s. Approximately at the same time, the country lost "the" article in its official English name and become just Ukraine.

In Russia, the usage with «в» has long been considered a dialectism among others, but later it received a political meaning. It became even more confusing in the recent crisis, when «в Украине» started to be identified with pro-Russian activists in the East, not only with Ukrainian nationalists. Currently one can hear both usages on both sides of political spectrum, but «на Украине» is still considered academically correct.

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Interestingly (or not), I think there's a similarly politically loaded issue when referring to the country in English: does one say "He is from THE Ukraine", or "He is from Ukraine"? The use of the definite article ("the") suggests that the speaker is thinking of a region rather than a sovereign state, and for that reason, I think that the use of "the" has been disfavored (perhaps officially) since 1991. Still, dropping the article sounds unnatural to me -- though perhaps that's probably because I grew up during the Cold War.

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    The definite article implies a certain etymology, not the lack of sovereignty. A close analog is The Netherlands. No other parts of the former USSR (or the Russian Empire, for that matter) besides [the] Ukraine had a definite article in their names. Indeed it's a similar issue, because people are confusing etymology and political independence in Russian as well. Jan 20, 2015 at 3:14
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As stated in other answers this issue is political.

Some people consider this a non-issue and take it to the point of absurdity by using, both in writing and speech, a combination of prepositions "в/на Украине" (pronounced "вна Украине").

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Does not have anything to do with окраина. Does not have anything to do with "politics". If "окраина"="Украина", then it is the same as Ямайка, Гаити, Байкал, Дальний Восток, Сахалин, Кавказ.

As you can see many geographical places have absolutely no relation with "окраина".

Relative use of preposition for countries is a part of every country. This could be only learned by memory. But there is some useful tricks. Islands and peninsulas are typically "на".

На Ямайке, на Гуадалканал, на побережье и т.д. При этом "в Англии", "в Казахстане". Но при этом "на Каракумы", "на Ладожском озере" и т.д.

But if you suppose that all islands and closed/non-central regions are used with "на" - you are wrong. Examples: в Японии, в Исландии, в Гренландии, в Голландии.

As you can see, relative choice between в/на does not relates nor to size, nor continuity, nor closedness of object, nor relative placement. Equivalence of "окраина" and "Украина" is used by idiots.

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    A little learning is a dangerous thing, as the poet said. Jan 26, 2015 at 12:34
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    Ukraine never has its own entity as a country until beginning of XX century. After Kievskaya Rus; fell there was no Ukraine or something like that in next almost 800 years. South and East of present Ukraine always were parts of Golden Orda and Russian Empire. North and West were always parts of Lituania, Rech Pospolitaya (Poland), Hungary and Russian Empire. The Center was part of all of them. So you can cry or laugh but yes - Ukraine was "окраина" and that is the only reason why it was always (not now, but always) "На Украине". I'm sorry to upset you,
    – Yarri
    Mar 5, 2016 at 8:44
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I don't think there's any actual difference. Also, there are no language rules governing this.

Before the decay of the USSR, the most frequent variant was "на Украине". Nowadays, some Ukrainians prefer we say "в Украине" as a show of respect for their independence.

So this is a political question. If you wish to respect Ukrainian independence, you can say "в". If you prefer to uphold the denial of Ukrainian independence, you can say "на". If you're discussing a politically neutral topic, you can say "на" as was common for so many years.

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My feeling is that it's just a difference between languages: in Russian, it's correct to say НА Украине, while in Ukrainian it's В. But both languages are similar enough that the two forms get mixed up, and nowadays, this difference is political, too.

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The correct version in Russian is "На Украине". "В Украине" is a "political" version for using just IN (or ON) Ukraine.

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My two cents.

The excessive use of «на» instead of «в» in modern Russian is a characteristic of criminal argot. «На тюрьме» (“on prison”) instead of «в тюрьме» (“in prison”), «на Москве» (“on Moscow”) instead of «в Москве» (“in Moscow”) and so on.

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  • What's wrong, guys? It's absolutely true.
    – Shtole
    Aug 6 at 12:33
  • Hi @CocoPop, first of all, I'd like to thank you for your editing, it's valuable for me. May I ask you, why did you remove “the” before “criminal argot”? There are many kinds of slang and I mean specific one. Thanks in advance.
    – Shtole
    Aug 8 at 10:57
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    You're very welcome! The reason you don't need an article in front of slang, argot, Russian, English, etc. is that they refer to modes of communication = languages, and are thus considered abstract. They would take an article if they were attributed to a specific group: ...characteristic of [the criminal argot of Moscow].
    – CocoPop
    Aug 8 at 13:27
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It's correct to use "в" for all countries. Technically, using "на" iin this context is wrong. But as far as the Ukraine, I think people are just accustomed to using "на Украине". In most cases, nobody cares, but if you want to be correct, you should use "в".

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    Some other countries (mostly islands) can be used with «на» as well: на Кипре, на Кубе, на Филиппинах. However, only in [the] Ukraine the grammar becomes so politically sensitive.
    – J-mster
    Jan 15, 2015 at 9:23
  • In many cases people care very deeply about this :) Jan 15, 2015 at 10:48
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    @J-mster its because countries you mentioned are all island states. It is normal to use "на" with islands.
    – Kens
    Jan 19, 2015 at 6:38
  • @biggvsdiccvs I think you are right and many people cares about it. Just in my experience I saw many people who has no difference between these two prepositions.
    – Kens
    Jan 19, 2015 at 6:45

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