Thank you ytterbiumanalyst and theistgal for your responses. As I said before, I think it is only a matter of time before new spellings and new geographical names become the norm. There is always a time period of adjustments to any change. My parents for example, often remind of the changes in Canada from Fahrenheit to Celsius for temperatures and from inches to centimeters for measurement. I grew up with only Celsius and centimeters.
What is wrong with "the Ukraine"? Is "the United States" now wrong, too?
In the French language for example, almost all countries have articles (the only exceptions I can think of are Matla and Cyprus). In German, many countries also have articles, including Ukraine. There is nothing disrespectful about that.
I can also understand how this change can be confusing. It also is an example of a grammatical change in current usuage within our adult lifetime. All the major newspapers of the world now use "Ukraine" without the article. Here is an explanation by Andrew Gregorovich, who recently retired as a major head librarian of the University of Toronto Library System. During his carreer he was also on various boards of academic library associations. he explains the grammatical change better than I ever could.
"Ukraine or "the Ukraine"?
THE NAME UKRAINE, which first appeared in the historical chronicles in 1187, has been common in the English language for almost 350 years. In the earliest years it appeared without the definite article "the" but in this century the definite article increasingly preceded the name Ukraine.
First of all we might note that the Ukrainian language has no articles so this is not a factor except indirectly. The reason for this is that many Ukrainian immigrant scholars, due to their imperfect knowledge of English, used the form "the Ukraine" in their books thus helping to perpetuate this usage.
Does English grammar require the definite article the before Ukraine? Ukraine is the name of an independent country. There are only two groups of countries which require the article in English: Those with plural names such as the United States or the Netherlands. The others have names with adjectival or compound forms which require the article, such as the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, or the Ukrainian SSR.
English grammar does not require a definite article before the names of singular countries such as England, Canada or Ukraine.
Geographical regions such as the Arctic, the Atlantic, the North, the West, and the prairies all require the definite article, but these are not countries. Since 1917 Ukraine has had very definite borders so it cannot be regarded as merely a region. Some people have mistakenly thought that Ukraine is a general word meaning "the borderland;' "the steppes" or "the prairies;' which would require the article…
Is there any other reason to use the definite article in English with Ukraine? Usage has been suggested as a reason but this cannot be accepted today since the majority of books and newspapers do not use it.
But what about the regular daily press in the USA, Canada and England? Even The New York Times (which once required it in its Style Guide) does not use it now. Neither do The Times (London), The Economist (London), Washington Post, TIME, Newsweek or Maclean's. News services such as Canadian Press, Reuters, CNN and Associated Press do not use the article. When the December 1991 referendum confirmed the independence of Ukraine the White House in Washington, D.C. officially announced that it would discontinue use of the definite article before the name Ukraine.
Even the computer age has ruled that "the" Ukraine is wrong in English. Gram-mat-ik, the very popular grammar and style checker for computers by Reference Software International of San Francisco, uses Ukraine without the article and labels "the Ukraine" as a mistake of grammar.
There appears to be virtually no grammatical or logical reason to use the definite article before the name Ukraine. But it is still encountered occasionally because of habit or because the writer is careless or ignorant about Ukraine. Sir Bernard Pares the eminent English historian of Russia suggested that "the Ukraine" came from French usage. We say Ia France, le Canada and l'Ukraine in French but not 'the France; 'the Canada' or 'the Ukraine' in the English language. The definite article the does not add anything to the meaning or clarity when used before the proper noun Ukraine.
Now, the exception to the rule. Yes, it is possible for "the Ukraine" to be correct in English but it is a very rare usage in apposition to contrast the past with the present. For example, one could correctly say, "The America of George Washington is not the America of Bill Clinton" as well as "The Ukraine of Shevchenko is not the Ukraine of Kravchuk."
We may conclude then, that the use of the definite article in English before the name Ukraine is awkward, incorrect and superfluous. Writers who care about good style in their English grammar and the correctness of their language will always avoid the use of "the Ukraine" and use only the simpler and correct "Ukraine."