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Ph.D. student helps preserve fellow Ukrainians’ scholarly works

Feb 20, 2023

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Iryna Voloshyna was communicating with scholars from her native Ukraine through a group chat as the scholars hid in shelters.

Iryna Voloshyna Ph.D. student Iryna Voloshyna came to the U.S. from Ukraine six years ago. Photo by Chris Meyer, Indiana University

“People were really worried not only about their lives and the lives of their families, but also about the work of their lives and the culture of Ukraine,” said Voloshyna, a Ph.D. student in folklore and ethnomusicology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.

Assessments done by UNESCO show that 231 cultural sites and 2,917 educational institutions have been damaged so far during the war in Ukraine.

Many of the scholars had their research and digital archives stored on laptops or hard drives that they feared could be damaged or destroyed following the invasion. They were looking for places outside of Ukraine to safely store their work, and Voloshyna immediately offered her help.

“The situation was very, very urgent,” she said. “I was calling people at about midnight to come up with a solution. Like many people from Ukraine who are not in Ukraine, I felt very useless not knowing how I could help, and this just appeared as a way for me to be involved.”

Voloshyna started by contacting the American Folklore Society and Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University, along with leaders in the College of Arts and Sciences and the IU Bloomington Libraries. Within hours, colleagues there helped her come up with a temporary solution.

“We realized that we could have a mechanism for supporting some emergency backup uploads for materials on hard drives for scholars who were really afraid of the loss of those things,” said Jessica Turner, executive director of the American Folklore Society. “It was truly a group effort of ‘What’s the best way and easiest way to work together to support this?’”

The American Folklore Society offered free, unlimited cloud space for Ukrainian scholars to upload their work. Voloshyna said there are about 60 folders with materials such as field recordings, transcriptions and research papers from individual researchers, nonprofits and university departments.

Turner also got in touch with several national organizations, including the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, as well as the newly formed initiative SUCHO: Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online, to coordinate their efforts supporting scholars. Additional support came from a leading science and technology museum, who offered to scan the incoming materials for viruses, including the latest malware coming from Russia, and provide additional storage to for backup.

Iryna Voloshyna wearing a head wreath of flowers Iryna Voloshyna pictured in 2016 in Ukraine, wearing a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt from the Borshchiv region and a wreath with field flowers. Photo courtesy of Iryna Voloshyna“Cultural heritage is one of the main markers of a nation,“ Voloshyna said. “If you’re able to erase that, it’s very easy to deny the existence of a nation. And this is the moment when Ukrainians are fighting to remain who we are.”

Voloshyna received the inaugural American Folklore Society Presidential Award for Meritorious Service for her ongoing efforts to preserve Ukrainian cultural heritage. American Folklore Society President Marilyn White established and funded the award after hearing about Voloshyna’s work.

“What she did was so extraordinary that it had to be recognized,” White said. “The Presidential Award recognizes exceptional service to the discipline that goes above and beyond usual research.”

That service continues as Voloshyna works with colleagues to determine a more long-term solution for housing their work. There is no united folklore or ethnomusicology archive in Ukraine where the information could be stored together, but the Ukrainian scholars believe there’s a need for one.

Voloshyna said this work is vital to preserve many of the things she loves about her home country. At one point last year, she received an email from folklorist Andriy Vovchak in Ukraine, who had joined the armed forces at the beginning of the war.

“He wrote to me from the frontlines a very touching email about how much this effort means for Ukraine,” she said. “I only wish my help was not needed.”


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Barbara Brosher

Executive Director of Storytelling and Research Communications, and Interim Associate Vice President for Strategic Communications

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