Transliteration is the practice of transcribing a word or text written in one writing system into another writing system, or system of rules for such practice.  It is the way one expresses the sound of the word from a foreign language with a different alphabet in one’s own language.

Ukrainian uses a cyrillic alphabet, and the English language uses a latin one.  The Ukrainian alphabet has more letters than the English alphabet, and not all the Ukrainian letters have corresponding ones in English.

Many systems of transliteration have been used through the years, many of them indirect ones (via a third language or alphabet).  This means that old Ukrainian transliterations are all over the map, and can sometimes be a challenge to figure out.  Often transliteration was done via Russian and through French (resulting in “g”s where there should have been “h”s) or via Polish (resulting in “cz” for “ch”, “sz” for “sh”, “w “for “v” and “j” for “y”) or Czech ( resulting in “c” for “ts” and “s” for “sh” due to the loss of little marks over the letters).

On 19 April 1996, an official Ukrainian-English transliteration system was adopted by the Ukrainian government in order to codify and simplify Ukrainian transliteration.  They included the following notes:

Use of the approved system is not mandatory for the transliteration of foreign names into Ukrainian.

Transliteration should be made directly between Ukrainian and English without the use of any intermediary languages.

For brevity's sake, the system routinely allows for names such as the city of 'Zaporizhzhia' to be given as 'Zaporizhia,' 'L'viv' as 'Lviv,' etc.

Also included is a short list of official spellings for miscellaneous terms: 'Ukraine' (no use of the article 'the'), 'Crimea' (as opposed to 'Krym'), 'Black Sea,' and 'Sea of Azov'. In certain cases, 'traditional' forms may be shown in parentheses after the official form: 'Dnipro (Dnieper).'

In addition, apostrophe marks and softening marks may be omitted upon transliteration into English.

In May 2011 the transliteration scheme was updated. Changes made include that Щ is now transliterated as “Shch” and Ь  is not transliterated any longer.  The chart below if from the Ukrainian Rada website and summarizes this modern transliteration.


I have tried to stick pretty closely to this system in my transliterations.  I do vary a bit from the scheme above in that I almost always represent the “ї” as “yi” (not after a “y” though like in Kyiv) and similarly stick to the other “y + vowel” forms rather than switching to “i + vowel,” because this best represents the actual pronunciation.  I’ve been using the apostrophe to stand in for the Ь, although not consistently, and do not plan to go through and change every usage on my site. 

Anyway, this table is for official government use, and is not mandatory for those of us who are not Ukrainian government functionaries.

Downloadable version here.

Back to MAIN Traditional Pysanky page.

Back to MAIN Ukrainian Language page.

Search my site with Google