In class after class, Indiana University students are learning about Ukraine. They’re learning about its culture, its language, the war, its history with Russia. Other classes are meeting with Ukrainian students, to share more about their daily lives and to learn each other’s languages.
They’re also helping those impacted by the war that started last year. Students are translating for Ukrainian organizations to ease their burden and share their message with English speakers. They are working on projects with students from Ukrainian universities.
Faculty are incorporating even more historical and cultural context into current and new classes.
“I’m always impressed by how energetic our faculty, staff and students are, and how dedicated they are to educating the community, educating folks affiliated with IU, as well as educating our students and frankly ourselves, about what’s going on across the globe,” said Sarah Phillips, director of the Robert F. Byrnes Russian and East European Institute at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. “The community has really come together. Right after the war started, when we’d hold rallies or protests or vigils, it was amazing to see how many people show up from all walks of life, university administrators, students, coming out to support our colleagues who are really suffering from all this violence.
“It’s also inspiring to see how students have been really following this. They’ve pursued topics for papers and projects that focus on Russia-Ukraine relations, or Ukrainian history. Even if their theses weren’t directly on the war, you could tell it had influenced their choice of topic.”
Svitlana Melnyk, senior lecturer in Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, starts her Intro to Ukrainian Culture class each day with a discussion of news items: the most recent events students have seen or read about Ukraine.
“Every single effort matters,” she said. “This is how we can change the world. Every small effort, there will be a big impact.
“Our hope as professors is to undermine all those myths and narratives from Russia about the war. And not just through text or the articles we pick for class, but by giving students first-hand experience through projects with students from Ukraine, that’s the best way to learn about a country.”
In one of the courses Melnyk teaches, students are translating Ukrainian movie synopses into English for Kyiv’s Dovzhenko Cinema Center. They’re also helping with social media posts for a public library in Melnyk’s native town, Vyhoda. The first series of posts about comics was written and published by master’s student Becky Craft, with more posts from other students soon to come.
Other students from Melnyk’s Ukrainian class in a Summer Language Workshop volunteered to translate a round table discussion with Ukrainian photographers into English for a catalog for the exhibition Reclaiming Agency in the Southern Utah Museum of Art. The exhibition was curated by IU alumnus Dr. Joanna Matuszak.
Graduate students Rachel Kelly, Sasha Goryl and Elijah Kelsey also translated bios for Ukrainian students from the Salvador Dali Academy of Contemporary Arts in Kyiv, for an ongoing art sale exhibition at the Viridian Moon Art Gallery in Bloomington. Gallery owner Irina Shishova organized the print sale to support talented young artists from Ukraine, and all of the proceeds benefit the Art Academy students in Kyiv.
Connecting Bloomington and L’viv
Students in Sofiya Asher’s Elementary Ukrainian course already had regular online meetings with students from The Ukrainian Catholic University in L’viv before the war started.
“The best part for me was having the conversations with the native English speakers,” said Vitalii Dziadyk, a second-year student in Lviv. “I was able to improve my English-speaking skills. The U.S. students also improved their Ukrainian and had the experience of studying Ukrainian with native speakers, so those conversations were beneficial for us both.”
After Feb. 24, 2022, they continued to meet.
“I felt it important to continue meeting with the Ukrainian students, if they wanted to meet or if they were able,” said Asher, a senior lecturer in Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “Some students had to stop attending the meetings; they were volunteering and helping with humanitarian responses.
“I remember students had to join us from their apartments when there were siren warnings of Russian shelling. Another student joined us from a huge warehouse, where people were weaving camouflage nets.”
“On the day after the war started, a few of our Ukrainian students showed up, and we all tried to speak in English about something else besides the war,” said Luke Parra, who graduated from the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2022. “Watching people younger than me having to adjust to this new, brutal reality throughout the semester was heartbreaking. However, they’re so resilient. They carried on coming to classes when they could and worked on their tasks.”
“When the war started, I was able to tell Sofiya and her students about the most recent situation in Ukraine, sharing my experience of studying and living during the war,” Dziadyk said. “Our conversations were a powerful tool for spreading the truth about the horrifying war in Ukraine. Also, Sofiya and her students organized many charity events for helping Ukraine, which we were grateful for.”
Asher’s students continue to meet with a student from L’viv, Viktoria Deshchakivska, this semester on a regular basis, as well.
New courses, seminars
Timothy Waters, a professor of law in the IU Maurer School of Law, was involved in the university-wide teach-in organized by the Russian and East European Institute after the war started. After that, he proposed teaching a new seminar on the war; Russia and Ukraine: Law, Power and Global Order started in the fall.
“The basic idea is for the students to be exposed to some of the basic issues in public international law through the particular problems being raised in the war: use of force, war crimes and trials, refugees, and so on,” Waters said.
“A lot of the topics had to be revised on the fly, because when I first decided to offer the course we all still thought it would be a short war, and no one knew how things would go. But I think that made the class more interesting and valuable to the students, who got to study and do research on topics that were changing quite literally day to day.”
Regina Smyth, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences, started a new Speaker Series running this semester called Russia at War. Smyth hopes to debunk misconceptions about the war and counter misinformation.
“Our faculty at IU have always offered students both the cultural knowledge and language skills so they can analyze and understand global issues,” Phillips said. “But the outpouring of support that started after the war and continued has been amazing.”
“All of the support from colleagues and students, it means so much,” said Melnyk, who is from Ukraine. “I continue to receive cards, flowers, or others stop to talk. And every class discussion matters. I am so grateful for my IU community.”