I am constantly receiving lots of questions about the proper usage of the prepositions ‘in/at/on’ with geographical names. Here is my short guide on how to use НА and В correctly.
What is the general rule to use ‘на’ and ‘в’ with places?
The general rule whether to choose НА or В with geographical names is as follows: if a place is a part of a country; for example, a territory or region, use НА. If it is a separate country or a state, use В/ВО. For example:
Countries: в Герма́нии, в России, во Вьетна́ме, во Фра́нции
States: в Калифо́рнии, в Колора́до, во Фло́риде
Territories or regions: на Камча́тке, на Сахали́не, на Да́льнем Восто́ке, на Ура́ле
BUT: в Сиби́ри, в Крыму́
When does В become ВО?
The preposition В becomes ВО when a noun starts with TWO consonants, and the first consonant is В or Ф. For example: во Франции, во Флориде, во Владивостоке.
If Alaska is a state, why ‘на Аляске’ then?
Alaska was a Russian territory once, so the norm ‘на Аляске’ still remains in the Russian language.
If Cuba is an independent country, why ‘на Кубе’ then?
The countries or states located on the islands (на о́строве – на острова́х) take НА.
For example: на Ку́бе, на Гава́йях, на Ки́пре, на Гваделу́пе, на Мадагаска́ре, на Яма́йке
What is correct: ‘в Украине’ or ‘на Украине’?
For years, the norm of the Russian language was на Украине since Ukraine was a territory of Russia. Due to political changes, when Ukraine became an independent country, there was a request for the preposition change. This is how на Украине became в Украине, and we can hear both variants in the Russian language nowadays. However, the grammatical norms don’t change overnight, and it takes time for в Украине to become a norm. When в Украине is as widely used by the native speakers as на Украине, it will be reflected in the list of the norms of the modern Russian language first and then in the dictionaries along with the old norm на Украине.