This article was written at a point in time, 2014, at which the National Geographic Society needed to consider how to display geopolitical change in the world on its maps.

In the east of Europe there is a place called Crimea. It is a region surrounded by the Black Sea. Crimea is near two countries, Ukraine and Russia.

People don't agree on which country Crimea belongs to. Is it part of Russia? Or is it part of Ukraine? It depends on whom you ask.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea. An annexation is when a country becomes part of another country. Russia said Crimea wanted to become part of Russia. Ukraine does not agree. Ukraine said Russia took over Crimea by force and should give it back. Most countries agree with Ukraine.

The annexation makes things tricky for mapmakers. How should Crimea be drawn on a map? All maps made before 2014 show it as part of Ukraine. Should new maps stay that way? Or should they show Crimea as part of Russia?

The Color Gray Shows Things Are Unclear

The National Geographic Society makes maps. It also helps decide what all maps should look like. National Geographic deals with situations like Crimea very carefully. It does not pick sides. It shows when two countries are arguing over the same area.

Juan Valdes is a geographer. He works for National Geographic. A geographer is someone who studies the shape of Earth and of countries. Geographers make maps based on what they know. Valdes said that sometimes it's not clear if an area belongs to a country. In that case, National Geographic colors the area gray.

Crimea is one of those areas. There are others too. For example, National Geographic maps show Gaza and the West Bank in gray. These are two areas in the Middle East. Some say they belong to the country of Israel. Others say they need to be their own country.

U.S. Does not Agree with Russia

National Geographic maps no longer show Crimea as part of Ukraine. But that does not mean National Geographic agrees with Russia. Crimea does not show up as part of Russia either.

National Geographic said maps should not take sides. It said maps should show the world as it is. The United States government sees things differently. It has not changed U.S. government maps. Russia's annexation was against the law, it said. For that reason, U.S. government maps still show Crimea as part of Ukraine.

William Pomeranz is an expert on Russia. The situation in Crimea is a real problem for mapmakers, he said. Russia said Crimea was a Russian territory. But very few countries accept that. For mapmakers, showing that situation is tricky. Whatever you do, someone will get angry. You can't make everyone happy, Pomeranz said.

How Should Crimea Be Shown on National Geographic Maps
Map of the disputed territory of Crimea, which was seized by Russia despite belonging to the Ukraine. Politically disputed territories represent a special challenge for cartographers.

person who makes maps.


puzzling question or problem.


following a set of laws or rules.


legislature, usually a democratic government's decision-making body.


land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.