Five things I didn’t know this time last month:
1. Ukraine stopped being ‘The Ukraine’ in the early 1990s. Apparently the definite article in English made it sound more like a region, less like a state. To fully recognise the country’s independence, the ‘The’ had to go. Who’d have thought the neighbours would mind so much?
2. Ukraine is specifically where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place, not just somewhere on the Russian borders. When the reactor’s explosion hit the news in 1986, my teenage ears only heard that it had happened on that singular, terrifying landmass where the people speak like a tape played backwards.
3. Ukraine has its own version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: the beloved Roshen plant in Kyiv. Every Xmas and New Year the building is illuminated with fairytale lights and fronted by an ice rink where families skate around a giant sparkling Xmas tree. How many Russian soldiers now bent on demolishing the city will have visited as a child with their Ukrainian relatives?
4. ‘Ukraine’ is pronounced ‘oohkrah-eenah’ by Ukrainians, not ‘youkrayne’. I know this because Julien Miquel told me on YouTube (which you may like to pronounce as ‘oohtube’ in support of Ukrainians). This guy is a real Barry White of a linguist: enjoy the deep-throated resonance in his short pronunciation videos.
5. Ukraine has the coolest President on the world’s stage since Obama demonstrated how a serious politician might also dance and tell jokes. Volodymyr Zelensky’s previous career in entertainment has given him the scripting, production and communication savvy to make a global impact using just a mobile. It also helps that he can carry off an armed forces Tshirt during these international addresses. Putin’s woolly white poloneck carries its own message.