Posted in Behind the News

Using ‘liberated’ in Ukraine

, by John Daniszewski

The recent recapturing of territory from the Russians in the Kharkiv region by the Ukrainian armed forces has raised a question: Should AP use the term “liberated” for these towns and villages?

While the answer is delicate and nuanced, we believe that it is yes.

Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary gives a straightforward definition for the verb liberate: to release from slavery, oppression, enemy occupation, etc.

That fits the current circumstances. Therefore, in this conflict, we may use the words “liberate,” “liberated” or “liberation” when Ukrainian forces recapture or reacquire Ukrainian territory that had been seized and occupied by Russia. The use of the word recognizes that the territory was invaded and occupied by Russia and now has been restored to Ukraine.

Debris of a railway depot ruined after a Russian rocket attack in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Sept. 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrii Marienko)

It is important to recognize, though, that “liberated” is one of those words that does contain a value judgment. It denotes that these places were under occupation and their recapture means renewed liberty for residents. “Liberation” of territory communicates that the recapture of territory is a restoration.

We should be careful using the word “liberated” for all conflicts, because in some cases it is unclear whether the recapture of territory leads to greater freedom or benefits the population. For instance, many residents of eastern and central Europe may not have felt liberated when Soviet troops replaced German Nazi troops at the end of World War II. And the Chinese government uses the term “liberation” to refer to the 1949 Communist revolution, so the world has obvious pejorative tendencies in certain circumstances.

When it comes to Ukraine, we should attribute the “liberation” to Ukrainian authorities or others unless AP has been able to visit the areas and confirm their recapture.