Meet the Ukrainian scholars supported by UCL’s Academic Fellowship Scheme
24 February 2023
One year after Russia's invasion of their home country, four Ukrainian scholars hosted by UCL's scheme for displaced academics share their experiences of war, upheaval and resilience.
Building on a long-standing partnership with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), UCL set up the Ukraine Academic Fellowship Scheme to support Ukrainian academics and host them at UCL. The aim is to provide help where it is needed while maintaining close ties with the region’s scholars and institutions as well as expanding UCL’s own research and cultural base, alongside further plans to support at-risk academics from other regions as well.
The scheme was launched by a donation from the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, which was then match funded by UCL and has since attracted additional support including from the Lord Randolph Quirk Endowment Fund.
UCL has a long history of academic partnership with Ukraine. UCL researchers have co-published more than 200 papers with almost 60 Ukrainian partners over the last five years and have academic links in a range of fields. The UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies (SSEES) has particularly strong connections with Ukraine.
So far, thirteen Ukrainian scholars have been supported through the scheme. Participants range from early career researchers to senior academics studying topics including ecology, energy, literature and society.
UCL’s President & Provost, Dr Michael Spence, said: “It has been a privilege for the university to be able to welcome these research fellows from Ukraine, as they have been making invaluable contributions to our research, to our long-standing connections to Ukraine, and to our campus community.
“We are grateful to our partners for helping us to support these brilliant academics, as we seek to do what we can to support those whose lives have been irreparably affected by the crisis.”
Meet the scholars
She arrived in the UK in March 2022, after learning about the fellowship Scheme through Dr Michal Murawski from the UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies.
Her appointment at UCL has offered her the chance to delve into a subject close to her heart – the environmental issues facing Ukraine’s largest river, the Dnipro, which snakes through the centre of the country.
“I’ve been working with rivers for a while, combining artistic and curatorial practice, so it’s an amazing opportunity now to study the Dnipro,” Kamyshan said. “It is the main river, and it is in very deep crisis.”
For over a century, pollution and environmental mismanagement have harmed the ecological health of the river. By some estimates, the river will not be able to supply the country’s drinking water in thirty years.
“The Dnipro is in crisis, but it is not in the focus of people’s eyes,” Kamyshan said. “I am in this position of collecting information and ideally spreading the information to a wider audience. I see myself as a mediator between the specific specialists of the Dnipro and the broader audience.”
She plans to continue gathering and highlighting information about this crucial waterway until a time when the public and political establishment can more fully address its needs.
“Sooner or later the war will end and at that moment I can bring the Dnipro research to the stage and raise the question ‘OK guys, we won the war, what do we do next with our river?’”
The Russian invasion meant she had to take cover from Russian bombs, sometimes for hours at a time. When she could, she searched online for research opportunities, which is how she found out about UCL’s fellowship scheme.
“I found this information on Twitter,” Dr Kolosok said. “It was hard to find any information. We tried to find a safe place and also check news about the situation in Ukraine.”
Her fellowship started in December 2022. She had never been to the UK before applying for the fellowship, but upon arriving, she found safe conditions and colleagues who could support her teaching and research in Ukraine.
“I found a wonderful environment and a wonderful team,” Dr Kolosok said. “I previously focused on general aspects of energy and climate change, but now I just want to research energy security.”
She is looking to not only build on her earlier energy research, which had been supported by the European Commission as well as the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, but is also taking part in new project calls. With access to libraries, databases and other resources at UCL, she has a range of available resources for further studies. She hopes her research will be useful for developing Ukraine's economy.
“I’m interested in how culture was developed in this very small period between the late years of the Soviet fall and the early years of Ukrainian independence,” Iakovlenko said.
She studies cinema, literature, music and art to understand how culture and the sense of identity changed at this time of political upheaval, both in Ukraine and across Europe. It’s a topic she said hasn’t received a great deal of critical scholarly analysis, something she hopes to change.
“I really believe that it is important for a European context as well, because the time of the Soviet fall was also the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and also the beginning of the Balkan Wars,” she said. “This is a time when, in different parts of Europe, identical social and economic changes were happening.”
After the Russian invasion, she learned about UCL’s Ukraine Academic Fellowship Scheme from Dr Uilleam Blacker (UCL School of Slavonic & East European Studies). They had collaborated several times previously on book chapters and articles.
Using UCL’s library and databases, Iakovlenko is continuing her writing and research, and further developing projects she started before the invasion. She is hoping to make a difference at UCL in expanding its resources of Ukrainian literature and translated literature, and also expects that she and other visiting Ukrainians will leave their mark on the UK as well.
“I find that the UK also now knows much more about Ukraine because of us,” Iakovlenko said. “This is a huge exchange of knowledge that has become possible because of this programme.”
“When the war started my city was immediately under shelling,” Dr Ostapchuk said. “We grabbed our kids and we fled the city and settled in the central part of Ukraine for another two months after the beginning of the war.”
From there, she applied through CARA for the UCL Academic Sanctuary Fellowship Scheme, as well as for the UK’s Homes for Ukraine scheme. She arrived safely in Kent in late April and began her fellowship at UCL in November.
“The year at UCL gives me a chance to continue my research,” she said. “The idea is to work on the Ukrainian borders in times of crisis in comparative culture perspective. The goal of my research is to work with displaced persons narratives from the 20th and the 21st centuries.”
A particular focus of hers is the Chornobyl disaster and how it has affected and disrupted the people of the region. She’s interested in exploring how it has been depicted in popular culture, and the narratives around the displaced people who have continued to live in the irradiated exclusion zone around the reactor.
“For many years I think that popular culture was responsible for maintaining the image of Chornobyl and keeping it visible,” Dr Ostapchuk said, adding that when Russia deployed soldiers inside the exclusion zone, it brought the issue back to the forefront of the public consciousness.
She’s been using the university’s resources to expand on research she started previously, but with access to materials that were unavailable in Ukraine because of copyright and other restrictions. She’s been developing manuscripts for a range of academic journals, as well as presentations for international research conferences.
Dr Ostapchuk said that having to leave Ukraine has given her an enriched perspective around the experiences of the displaced people she’s studied, as well as a stronger sense of the historical context of today’s conflict.
“What we experience now, in this human sense, this is a universal sort of experience. It happened in our history so many times, it happens in the history of other cultures and nations as well,” she said.
“We think that the Ukrainian experience is unique, but it is not unique, it happens everywhere, it happens very often, and it happens many many times in the history of humanity. The universality of the experience gives us a chance to find appropriate words for how to talk about it; how to tell people of the world about the war; how to gain their attention, understanding, and support, because only jointly we can win and maintain peace, stability, prosperity, freedoms, human rights, and justice for all nations.”
- Read about the launch of UCL’s Ukraine Academic Fellowship Scheme
- Learn more about UCL’s Ukraine Academic Fellowship Scheme
- Donate to UCL’s Ukraine Response Fund
- Victor Pinchuk Foundation
- Support for staff and students affected by the war in Ukraine
- SSEES on Ukraine
- Cara website
- Credit: Simoncountry via iStock Photo