The Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum connects scholars in Canada and Ukraine and provides expert commentary on the conflict
“No one plans a revolution.”
As Olenka Bilash begins to talk about the Euromaidan movement, and the subsequent conflict that has gripped Ukraine since late 2013, her colleague Oleksandr Pankieiev listens attentively from the other side of the table.
Before Euromaidan, they had never met. Bilash, a professor in the Faculty of Education, and Pankieiev, a researcher from Ukraine who works with the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS), had no reason to cross paths.
They were brought together by the Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum, a website that took root at the U of A in response to escalating events in Ukraine. The two now work closely together on a regular basis, with Bilash as a co-chair, along with Roman Petryshyn from MacEwan University, and Pankieiev as the project coordinator.
“One of the amazing things about this project is to find out that people can act so quickly,” Bilash says.
Indeed, the website is what another key partner, Geoffrey Rockwell from the Kule Institute for Advanced Study (KIAS), has dubbed a “rapid research response.”
“Euromaidan is happening. I have no doubt that researchers at the University of Alberta will be publishing great books about it two years from now, but can we respond right now, showing what is already happening and finding a way to describe to the public the depth of what is happening?” explains Rockwell.
With KIAS providing early impetus for the project, through both funding and Rockwell’s guidance, an interdisciplinary, international team began to form. Along with the University of Alberta and MacEwan University, Concordia University College became involved, as did two institutions in Ukraine: the Ukrainian Catholic University and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Each institution has a roster of experts participating. Experts at the U of A include several Ukrainian professors from the Department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies and history professor David Marples, whose commentary on the conflict has been widely sought by media outlets around the world.
Working via video conferences, the experts identified key issues of interest and grouped them into research clusters that cover everything from the Ukrainian diaspora to folklore, literature, religion, the arts, and social and political sciences.
“One of our goals is not just to provide information about what’s going on in Ukraine; we are trying to explain why and give commentary,” explains Pankieiev, who sources and coordinates all the content for the site, including blog posts, interviews, photos and videos.
“It’s about what this means,” adds Bilash. “How does what’s taking place relate to what has taken place – not only since the beginning of the Euromaidan, but from the Orange Revolution and from hundreds of years ago?”
Bilash and Pankieiev are excited by the potential of the new research collaborations that are emerging as a result of the connections the site has enabled between scholars here and in Ukraine.
With a project of this nature, however, it’s not always possible to separate the academic from the personal. Bilash talks about the devastation they all felt when they learned that protesters were being killed, including one of their colleagues from the Ukrainian Catholic University. Pankieiev says there were days when he couldn’t work, overcome with fear for the people he knew in Ukraine who were in danger.
Despite these low points, their motivation to continue the project has remained strong. “[Euromaidan] brought together all ethnic groups in Ukraine, people who speak different languages, from different religious affiliations, from different political factions,” Bilash says. “They united against the oligarchic government. I’m not sure that message comes through enough in the media, which can twist it to become a Russian-Ukrainian conflict. For a country that is seeking democracy, it’s a significant moment that can’t be taken for granted.”
Currently, the research forum features a series of essays written in English by graduate students from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy – students who have witnessed and lived the events – about their views of Euromaidan.
Bilash and Pankieiev are also busy coordinating an international video conference that will take place on June 26, featuring participants from Canada, Ukraine, Spain, England and the United States. The presentations will be live-streamed from the Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum website beginning at 8:30 a.m. MST and questions will be fielded on Twitter (@EuromaidanForum) throughout the four-hour conference. All of the presentations will be added to the archive of materials available on the site.
There are also plans to feature Euromaidan research in the inaugural issue of a new academic journal titled Social, Health and Communication Studies, which will launch later this year and is being produced by MacEwan University and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
Bilash and Pankieiev say the research forum will continue over the summer as they see what happens under Ukraine’s new leadership, and ideally until the country has achieved a sense of stability. As they move forward, they hope to draw in more participants from Ukraine.
“When we began, we thought that other universities in Ukraine might be interested in joining us, but then we began to understand their fear in participating. Some people were afraid for their lives,” says Pankieiev. “I hope after this election, the situation will change.”
Photo of Euromaidan by Olga Poliukhovych
Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum
Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies
Kule Institute for Advanced Study
Fall 2014 Euromaidan course (Department of Modern Languages & Cultural Studies)