Blog / Ukraine in Focus

Ukraine in Focus

In solidarity with Ukraine as the country seeks to defend itself against Russian aggression, and in recognition of the need to amplify the voices of intellectuals from Ukraine and abroad who have engaged deeply with the most pressing issues facing the country, the IWM is launching Ukraine in Focus, a selection of materials from members of the IWM community that will be updated each week, curated by Katherine Younger, Research Director of our Ukraine in European Dialogue Program.

Ukraine in Focus is an initiative of the IWM’s program Ukraine in European Dialogue. Since its creation in 2015, UiED has sought to foster intellectual and cultural exchange between Ukrainians and their counterparts across Europe and North America, through fellowships, events, and publications. 

The program is premised on the conviction that Ukrainians have much to contribute to broader intellectual discussion and that understanding the Ukrainian experience, both historically and in the present moment, sheds light on some of the key issues facing the world today.  

UiED continues the IWM’s longstanding tradition of solidarity with societies in transition, as well as its long-running engagement with the Ukrainian intellectual sphere. The “Ukraine in Focus” series revives an initiative started in 2014 that was curated by inaugural UiED Research Director Tatiana Zhurzhenko and formed part of Tr@nsit Online, IWM’s former online magazine. 

The emphasis here is on newly-published and still-relevant older materials that offer a rich, multifaceted picture of the current situation and of Ukrainian society, rather than coverage of rapidly-developing events. Reliable Ukrainian-run, English-language news sources include the Kyiv Independent, New Voice of Ukraine, and Ukraine World.

Sign up to our weekly Ukraine Newsletter to receive updates from the blog, along with information and events from our Ukraine in European Dialogue community.

Interview: Lizaveta German on Art and Culture in Ukraine

Under a hail of bombs and missiles, Ukraine experiences its cultural renaissance. The outburst of creativity is visible in new bookstores that are springing up across Ukraine, in art centers and galleries that bring to light forgotten artistic works, and in literary discussions that interrogate the canon. Internationally, Ukrainian art is being discovered for the first time separately from Russian. The reclaiming of artists long appropriated by Russia has been emblematic of the cultural war effort. How do Ukrainians rethink their past through art history? How can we talk about Ukrainian art to both Ukrainian and foreign audiences? How has the Ukrainian art scene changed since the full-scale Russian invasion? To answer these questions, we sat down with art historian and curator Lizaveta German, who in Spring 2024 was a visiting fellow of the Ukraine in European Dialogue Program at the IWM. 

Two Years of Full-Scale War: Taking Stock with Timothy Snyder

This month, the world marks two years since the start of Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine and ten years since the culmination of the Revolution of Dignity and Russia’s invasion of Crimea and Donbas. As we mourn and grieve the victims, we also pause to think about the last two years and what can be done to ensure Ukraine wins this unjust war. To help us take stock of these uneasy times, historian and IWM Permanent Fellow Timothy Snyder shared some of his recent thoughts with the IWM community and the Austrian press at an event on 19 February. 

Teaching as Resistance: Ukrainian Educators Reflect on Their Role in Wartime

One and a half years since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian educators continue to teach classes, conduct and share their research, and publish papers and monographs. As early as March 2022, only a few weeks after the beginning of the all-out war, universities resumed their online classes. As the educational process continued, Russia bombed and shelled 3,758 educational institutions, of which 363 are now completely destroyed.   The Ukraine in European Dialogue program at the Institute for Human Sciences is committed to supporting educators and scholars who remain in Ukraine and continue their work, which they regard as a key act of resistance to Russian terrorism. Thanks to the generosity of the City of Vienna, we were able to invite university educators from different regions in Ukraine to spend two months as UiED visiting fellows in summer 2023. In this series, we share their stories of education and resistance, teaching and working under Russian fire.   

The Tragedy of Kakhovka Reservoir

In response to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) joined forces with the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University (HURI) and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University to support Ukraine’s intellectual community that remained in Ukraine. Over the course of two years, the non-residential fellowships were awarded to over sixty scholars, enabling them to continue their academic work in the direst circumstances. We invited our non-residential alumni to share their work with us and our readers. The first in the series of blogs is the article “The Tragedy of the Kakhovka Reservoir” by Natalia Kuzovova, a historian and professor at Kherson State University.

On Loss, and What Can and Cannot Be Saved   

War is about many things. Over the course of its long days and months, some things take the driver's seat in our thinking process, while others wait patiently for their turn. As the second year of the Russo-Ukrainian war is coming to a close, its toll on the Ukrainian people is more evident as discussions of loss become ever more central. Of course, loss is arguably the most obvious consequence of war, and it has been part of its discourse since day one—not only 24 February, but back to 2014. Yet, with every new day, there are new losses. And with new losses, there are new realizations of the effects they have on individuals and society at large. If previous discussions of loss were fused with shock and anger, punctuated by calls for justice, today’s discussions are measured and contemplative, filled with grief and mournful meditation.

Teaching as Resistance: Ukrainian Educators Reflect on Their Role in Wartime

One and a half years since the start of the full-scale invasion, Ukrainian educators continue to teach classes, conduct and share their research, and publish papers and monographs. As early as March 2022, only a few weeks after the beginning of the all-out war, universities resumed their online classes. As the educational process continued, Russia bombed and shelled 3,758 educational institutions, of which 363 are now completely destroyed.   The Ukraine in European Dialogue program at the Institute for Human Sciences is committed to supporting educators and scholars who remain in Ukraine and continue their work, which they regard as a key act of resistance to Russian terrorism. Thanks to the generosity of the City of Vienna, we were able to invite university educators from different regions in Ukraine to spend two months as UiED visiting fellows in summer 2023. In this series, we share their stories of education and resistance, teaching and working under Russian fire.  

Interview: Kateryna Ruban on Decolonization in Slavic Studies

The concept of decolonization was a latecomer to the field of Slavic studies in North American academic institutions. For decades, the post-colonial and de-colonial areas of studies existed in parallel and rarely intersected with the Slavic field. A shift happened in 2021, following the Black Lives Matter protests, as Slavic studies began to interrogate its own role in the reproduction of racial inequalities. The 55th Annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies brought hundreds of scholars to reflect on “diversity, intersectionality, interdisciplinarity”.

Ukrainians Speak Global: In Search of a Common Language

Ukrainians are acutely aware of the global stakes of the Russo-Ukrainian War; a major task for Ukrainian intellectuals over the past year and a half has been helping the international community see those stakes more clearly. What concepts, metaphors, and intellectual frameworks are Ukrainians turning to as they explain Russian aggression to the world?

Justice and Accountability for Ukraine

Today, on 9 May, the Ukrainian human rights activist Oleksandra Matviichuk, head of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Center for Civil Liberties, will deliver the Speech to Europe 2023. Under the banner “No Peace without Freedom, No Justice without Law,” she will underline the importance of international solidarity and resistance against injustice.

Interview: Volodymyr Kulyk on Language Politics and Identity in Ukraine

The language question in Ukraine has long puzzled social scientists and political observers fascinated with Ukraine’s bilingualism. Language was used as a variable to explain electoral results, political and geopolitical preferences, and identifications. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, however, it seems that the bilingual status quo is changing as more Ukrainians reject Russian language in favor of Ukrainian. I sat down with Volodymyr Kulyk, a renowned scholar of Ukraine’s language, memory, and national identity to talk about his research during the war, the recent trends in language attitudes and what they would mean for Ukraine’s future.

Ukraine in Print: Recent Books and Perspectives

The IWM is heading to Leipzig to take part in this year’s Leipziger Buchmesse from 27-30 April, including two discussions with Ukrainian authors: Artem Chapeye will speak with IWM Permanent Fellow Katherine Younger about his experiences as a writer-turned-soldier, and Kateryna Mishchenko and Nelia Vakhovska, along with Karl-Markus Gauß, will discuss memory, amnesia, and the trauma of war in a panel moderated by IWM Permanent Fellow Ludger Hagedorn. In anticipation of the Book Fair, here we look at some of the many German- and English-language books published in the past year by Ukrainian members of the IWM community.

The Language of War

For those working with words – writers, philosophers, poets but also legal scholars and practitioners – finding the right vocabulary to talk about the Russo-Ukrainian war is a daunting task. The usual “civil” pre-war language seems outdated, false, and redundant. Ukrainian intellectuals search for the right language to describe their and their compatriots' experiences, with the full awareness of the limitations both of language itself and of the ability to fully grasp some of these experiences. What words can elucidate the kind of atrocities and horrors taking place in Ukraine? Whose words count as the most credible?

The Longest February: One Year of Full-Scale War

There has not been a moment since the morning of 24 February 2022 left untouched by the Russo-Ukrainian War. A wry commonplace among Ukrainians is that February 2022 still hasn’t ended – we are now in its 13thmonth. It feels both impossible and essential to reflect on the past year, to think about where we stand now, and to envision the future. Here we present a selection of publications by members of the IWM community tied in some way to the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, in English and German. Many of the authors represented here are part of the IWM's Documenting Ukraine program. New items are added on an ongoing basis. 

The Cure for Generational Trauma

For many Ukrainians, painful echoes of the past are all too real in the wake of the Russian full-scale invasion. In attempting to re-colonize and enslave its former colony, Russia is awakening old traumas in addition to producing new ones. As Timothy Snyder neatly captured in a recent Substack post, “Ukrainians are acutely aware that the effort to destroy their culture is generational”.

Remembering the Holodomor in Wartime

For people across Ukraine, this past weekend’s commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor could not help but resonate in profound ways. The usual ritual of lighting a candle at 4pm on the fourth Saturday in November was marked this year against the backdrop of widespread power outages, as the Russian assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure continues.

On Encounters and Bearing Witness

Throughout the Russo-Ukrainian War, Ukrainian culture has borne witness in a double sense. Writers and artists have found ways to represent and conceptualize the war in moving, incisive, and morally urgent ways. They do this in the face of Russia’s targeted destruction of Ukrainian cultural symbols and institutions, which tells a much longer story of imperialism, violence, and erasure.

“Ein Zuhause für Europa“

How does our own past and sense of belonging affect how we describe others? To what extent is a culture immutable, with deep roots in the long past, and to what extent is it remade by every generation? What language and concepts allow us to understand the Russo-Ukrainian War, and what actions does our understanding compel us to take?

Occupation and De-Occupation

In the past month, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have liberated thousands of square kilometers of territory from Russian occupation in the northeast, east, and south of Ukraine. Stories from these newly liberates areas shed more light on what life is like for Ukrainians under Russian occupation – not only the horrors of torture and mass graves of civilians, but also aspects that could be ascribed more to the realm of everyday life and yet still have a massive, long-lasting impact.

Writing about War, Writing in Wartime

“This war is changing all of us—both those who write and those who read. Everything is changing. Literature included.” Serhii Zhadan wrote for the IWMpost in 2016. If the eight years of war from 2014-2022 left an indelible mark on Ukrainian literature, how will the full-scale Russo-Ukrainian War that began in February deepen or alter these shifts? While this question will take years to be answered in full, the all-encompassing nature of this war, which at times might even seem unspeakable, will inevitably be reflected in Ukrainian writers’ works, whether we speak of theme, language, or form.

Ukraine’s History, Revisited

Taking Ukraine as a starting point gives us a new perspective on events and ideas that are commonly written about from the “center”: How does our understanding of the Cold War, to take just one example, change when we foreground Ukraine? The same holds in the opposite direction: just as stories that go beyond Ukraine are enriched by bringing Ukraine in, so is the history of Ukraine made more meaningful by breaking out of the national paradigm. A new “global history of Ukraine”, for example, points to the tight embeddedness of the lands of today’s Ukraine in global processes: colonialism, migration, mass violence, and the emergence of a language of human rights, to name just a few.

Describing Ukrainian Reality

Six months after the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, certain themes have emerged as central to understanding the war. Now-widespread debates on topics such as colonialism and imperialism, language and culture, and responsibility and guilt have provided many opportunities for reflection.

Ukrainian Democracy and Global Asymmetries

After five months of full-scale war, Ukrainians’ collective resilience continues to play a decisive role. One of the cornerstones of that resilience is collective action, cooperation among ordinary Ukrainians and between them and the state.

A War of Annihilation

“There’s a war going on here, a war aimed at the annihilation of the Ukrainian people. The Russians have come to annihilate us as a nation, as a people who have dared to choose their own path of development, one not coinciding with the Kremlin’s imperial ambitions, with the revanchist desires of the mass of the Russian people,” Volodymyr Rafeyenko tells Marci Shore in an interview that discusses Rafeyenko’s experience of the war and a wide range of philosophical issues raised by it (for Project Syndicate in English; for Kultura in Bulgarian; for Scena9 in Romanian; and for in Lithuanian).

The terms of debate

How are Ukrainians talking about the war?

The Folly of "Off-Ramps"

When Ukraine wins the war, Putin will build his own

Victory, Community, Humanity

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February, an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians have been convinced that Ukraine will be victorious in the war. As the Ukrainian military continues to hold strong in the east – this week, Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian forces back across the border in the Kharkiv region – the discordance grows between the conceivability of a Ukrainian victory on the one hand and, on the other, rumblings in the international community that the Kremlin should not be humiliated by a punitive peace settlement.

Ukrainian History as World History 1917-2017

This is a transcript of the keynote speech given by Timothy Snyder in the IWM Library, as part of the "Revolutionary Ukraine: A Reflection on 1917 and Its Aftermath" Conference (October 13-15 2017). The main theme of European history in the 20th Century is the transition from empire to integration. Ukraine is the country whose experiences bring together European and global themes that allow us to see this process. 1917 is the year to begin – the anti-colonial revolution that was also a colonial revolution. Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a Permanent Fellow at the IWM. 

History and Moral Responsibility

"War brings the graphically empirical into sharp proximity with the metaphysical: the mangled bodies and the question of the nature of evil," Marci Shore reflects for Democracy Seminar. Against the backdrop of Russia’s war against Ukraine, questions of responsibility and moral obligation in the present moment take on the utmost urgency.

War in the Donbas

The Donbas has become the main arena of Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine, as Russian forces attempt to control the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. With this new phase, the region that has already endured eight years of war is once again under assault. The renewed focus on the Donbas brings into acute focus many of the issues that have been explored by Ukrainian scholars, writers, and journalists over the past eight years. This week we present a small selection of materials written by members of the IWM community since the initial Russian invasion in 2014, putting the war in its broader context.

Russia's Easter Offensive

Jesus in east European political thought Today Easter is celebrated by western Christians; a week from now it will be celebrated by the Orthodox and Greek Catholics in Ukraine, and by the Orthodox in Russia.  By then, Russian troops will be engaged in their Easter Offensive, a new Russian attack on Ukraine in the Donbas. 

After Bucha  

The scenes from Bucha and other towns in the Kyiv region, documented in the wake of Russian forces‘ pullback, have heightened international outrage over Russia’s war of aggression. Yuri Andrukhovych writes for FAZ that „We must be clear to ourselves that Bucha is not an isolated case, even if it is the most glaring example to date. That Bucha (and all the other Buchas) is not a sad fluke, not an ‘operational incident,’ not an instance of the hysteria of ‘simple Russian boys’ put in a desperate situation by their war. But rather the planned and methodical implementation of a Russian state program, the content of which is partially the enslavement and largely the elimination of Ukrainians.

Misunderstanding Ukraine

“Before the invasion, did you struggle to understand Ukraine? Could you place it on a map or picture its people? Perhaps it existed on the periphery of your imagination, a bleak suburb of Greater Russia, which Vladimir Putin claims doesn’t really exist. You wouldn’t be alone,” writes Peter Pomerantsev for The Economist’s 1843 Magazine. Indeed, the longstanding problem of misunderstanding, overlooking, or underestimating Ukraine can be seen everywhere you look in this war, starting with the hubristic Russian conviction that Ukraine would capitulate within days. It also reveals itself, albeit in a less directly lethal way, in discussions of Ukraine’s future that deprive Ukrainians of agency in determining that future.  

The War in Ukraine and Universal Values: Transcript

This public conversation took place in the IWM Library on 11 March 2022, with Serhii Plokhii and Timothy Snyder, moderated by Philipp Blom. It considered what is at stake after Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, turning an eight-year conflict that started with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, into a full-scale war.

The Lives Transformed by War

This Thursday, 24 March, will mark one month of war in Ukraine. The scale is staggering: cities have been leveled; thousands of civilians have become casualties of war; 10 million people have been displaced. Over 40 million lives have been fundamentally changed by the Russian invasion. In the face of mass violence, the incomprehensibility of its extent, it is worth pausing to consider those individual lives. 

Through whose eyes? 

Who will we listen to as we try to make sense of the war in Ukraine? As we seek to understand what is happening, why it is happening, and what is at stake, who better to turn to than Ukrainians themselves? 

Ukrainians are consoling us by setting an example of how to live

I spent a weekend in Vienna, filled with Ukrainian activities, including discussing "Ukraine and Universal Values" at the Institute for Human Sciences, and attending a reading of Ukrainian (and Russian and Belarusian) texts by Austrian actors at the Volkstheater.  I had never seen actors break down and weep on stage before.  The moderator had to leave the stage to collect herself.  And rather than inappropriate that seemed just right, even dignified, as if not to cry would have been not to acknowledge the weight of war and the need we have for words that can help us to feel it.

Sacrifice and Responsibility

War is taking an unspeakable toll on Ukraine: once it became clear Russia’s initial assault failed to topple the Ukrainian government, the aggressor shifted to the savage punishment of Ukrainian civilians for their staunch resistance. Cities are encircled and civilian targets, from kindergartens to hospitals to zoos, are under attack; Russian forces are deliberately killing people trying to flee to safety.  

"How to talk about the war?"

History and myth in Russian schools, from Novaya Gazeta

Ukrainian Resolve

In the days since Vladimir Putin launched a horrific full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians have demonstrated astounding individual and collective courage.

"Genocide" and Genocide. How Putin's atrocity talk leads to atrocities

What does it mean that Vladimir Putin accuses the Ukrainian government of "genocide," and promises "denazification" after conquering the country?  It means, most likely, that he plans to arrest the political and civic leaders of Ukraine, carry out show trials, and have innocent people executed. 
A telephone pole falling over in the snow

Redefining normality in Ukraine

In his recent lecture for the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, co-sponsored by the IWM, Timothy Snyder argued that we should think of Ukraine as a normal country – a place that might be exceptional only for the intensity with which it has experienced major historical trends. Recasting Ukraine’s past in this light helps to cut through the historical myths propagated by the Kremlin and to understand present-day Ukraine in its own right.