“I don’t want to leave Kyiv. I was born here. I love Kyiv. Kyiv is the most beautiful city in the world,” said Vitaly Chernoivanenko, Ph.D., a Ukrainian scholar who spoke at a Fordham virtual panel on March 17. “I’m not afraid of Putin and his military forces.”
The panel is part of a new Fordham initiative designed to help Ukrainians during the Russia-Ukraine war. Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is co-hosting a virtual lecture series that discusses how the current crisis is affecting academia and co-sponsoring a fellowship program for Ukrainian scholars. The center is collaborating with three organizations: the American Academy for Jewish Research, the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, and the Lviv Center for Urban History in Ukraine.
“With people in war zones and in exile from their homes and in need of basic supplies, it may not seem urgent to give attention to scholarship. Nevertheless, society also depends on those who create and preserve knowledge through their scholarship, work, and institutions devoted to research and culture,” said Magda Teter, Ph.D., Fordham’s Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies and a professor of history who is moderating the lecture series.
The first lecture featured two Ukrainian scholars: Chernoivanenko, a senior research fellow at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and president of the Ukrainian Association for Jewish Studies, and Sofia Dyak, Ph.D., a historian and director of the Lviv Center for Urban History. The panel was moderated by Teter and Iryna Klymenko, Ph.D., a European history scholar from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
‘We Don’t Think About the Office or Our Laptops. We Think About People’
Chernoivanenko reflected on how the past three weeks have affected his professional and personal life. As a scholar who specializes in Jewish studies, preserving the work of his predecessors and colleagues is important, he said, especially in Ukraine, where his scholarship was once banned under Soviet rule.
“It’s a miracle that for these 30 years since our independence was proclaimed in 1991, we have a very prospective field … All these scholars sincerely want to research Jewish heritage of Ukraine and Eastern Europe,” said Chernoivanenko, who established the first Ukrainian peer-reviewed journal in Jewish studies and the first master’s degree program in Jewish studies in Ukraine. “It’s very important to preserve this heritage, especially now during the war.”
Chernoivanenko said many of his colleagues are still in Ukraine, where they are doing what they can to help with the war effort.
“We don’t think about the office or our laptops. We think about people, our colleagues,” said Chernoivanenko, speaking from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
Chernoivanenko said he has been assisting local defense forces and strangers in the streets, including the homeless population. He added that he is thankful for his colleagues across the world who invited him to flee Ukraine by taking scholarship positions in their schools, but he said he wanted to stay home and help. His father and mother, who are 74 and 73, respectively, aren’t fleeing either, he said.
“My parents are very brave,” he said. “They said no, never. We believe in our military forces.”
Protecting Heritage and New Priorities
Scholars in Ukraine and those who have fled the country both need support, said Teter and Klymenko. There are opportunities that can help scholars who live anywhere, like the new fellowship co-sponsored by Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies and the American Academy for Jewish Research, said Teter, which consists of a $5,000 stipend, remote access to library resources, and networking with faculty members from both institutions. Klymenko added that her own university’s history department has been providing financial aid and refuge for displaced Ukrainian scholars in Germany. Most of the refugees are women with children and elderly parents, she said.
“These are people, mainly scholars, who are basically trying to save their children from being further traumatized,” said Klymenko, who is affiliated with the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany.
The war has also changed people’s views on the preservation of heritage, said Dyak, director of a research institution in Lviv, Ukraine. Her colleagues have been wondering whether or not their artifacts should be wrapped, hidden, or moved. They have also accommodated their facilities to the realities of wartime, she said.
“We turned our conference room and cafe into shelters … We are discussing [playing]cartoons and classic films for kids, but not home movies because that would be very painful. The shelter is for people who lost their homes or probably can’t go back to their homes,” Dyak said.
A Silver Lining and Hope
There is a silver lining within the chaos of the current crisis, said Teter.
“It is terrible that a war had to happen, but it puts your voices out there and makes the world discover the amazing scholarship that is being produced in Ukraine and your centers and institutions,” Teter said, directly addressing the panelists.
It is unclear when Ukrainian scholars will continue their partnerships with Russian scholars and institutions, said Dyak. She added that the path to collaboration will require much introspection on Russia’s part.
“Cultural arrogance can lead to violence,” Dyak said. “I am hopeful that in the future, from our shared experiences, we will be able to revisit, in a new way, conversations that are painful and hard … Right now we probably are not able to pick up these conversations, but I do hope that these shared experiences will create a space of trust.”
The second lecture will be held this Thursday, March 24, at 10 a.m. EST. Watch a full recording of the first lecture below: