In response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia (WCEE) created the WCEE Scholars at Risk Fellowship to support Ukrainian scholars who could not safely conduct their research in Ukraine. They were matched with U-M faculty partners and arrived in Ann Arbor in August 2022. Thanks to generous contributions from individual donors and partnering U-M units, WCEE was able to provide round-trip airfare for fellows and dependents, visa support, health insurance, and salary.

From day one of their fellowship, the scholars have actively engaged with U-M’s academic community by collaborating with faculty, presenting their own research, and sharing their expertise with students. For the 2023-24 academic year, the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES) invited four fellows—Oksana Chabanyuk, Yurii Kaparulin, Katerina Sirinyok-Dolgaryova, and Kseniya Yurtayeva—to teach courses open to both undergraduate and graduate students. 

“Each of the Ukrainian scholars’ teaching and student mentorship has greatly enriched our curriculum and their engagement with CREES events has added significantly to our community,” said CREES Director Elizabeth King. “We are thrilled that the scholars have developed new courses for Fall 2024.”

WCEE Initiatives and External Relations Coordinator Derek Groom sat down with the scholars and asked them to reflect on their teaching experience for CREES. Highlights from these interviews, as well as feedback from their students, are below.

Groom - Please provide some background on your course. Why is this topic important for U-M students to learn right now?

Chabanyuk - There are several reasons why topics in my two courses, “Architecture of Soviet Ukraine” and “Urban Concepts in Eastern Europe XIX-XX Centuries,” are important for U-M students to learn right now. First, they highlight the important development of cities and architectural styles during the Soviet period and post-socialist transition in Ukraine. Second, they facilitate discussion around the current state of architecture and urban landscape in Ukraine in the context of war. Relatedly, they emphasize the value of architectural monuments in Ukraine as UNESCO heritage sites for the country’s culture and history.

I am very thankful to CREES for cross-listing my two architecture elective courses this year within the Center’s curriculum.

Kaparulin - The central theme of my course, “The Crime of Genocide in the History of Ukraine (XX-XXI Centuries),” is the problem of mass violence, which has taken various forms over the last hundred years of Ukrainian history. From the very beginning, the course was conceived as interdisciplinary and accessible to students of different years of study. Its main goal is to deepen knowledge of Ukraine's past and present at a critical moment in its development, which is connected to the Russian Federation’s armed aggression. We are trying to understand the intricacies of historical events and their projections on current political ones. 

Sirinyok-Dolgaryova - The ability to distinguish between harmful media content and quality information is essential in the modern world, especially for people who will be future decision makers (intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, etc.), who are specifically targeted by propagandists and manipulators. And I am sure that U-M students are future American leaders in every sphere of public life. My course, “Propaganda and Disinformation in the Russia-Ukraine War,” will teach students about the region and the roots of the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine. 

Yurtayeva - The course “Theory of Hybrid Conflicts in the Context of the Russia-Ukraine War” outlines implications of Russian aggression against Ukraine, but it is by no means limited to this issue. In my lecture material and during student discussion, I extensively utilize examples and analogies from other past and present international confrontations, which reveal important similarities and allow students to enhance their critical thinking skills.

Groom - What are some differences that you have noticed between an American and Ukrainian college classroom? Did you have to adjust your teaching style?

Sirinyok-Dolgaryova - The Covid-19 pandemic and then full-scale war forced the majority of Ukraine’s schools to switch partially or fully to online teaching due to safety concerns (missile attacks, frequent air raid sirens, etc.). I still teach at my Ukrainian institution, Zaporizhzhia National University, which has 100% of classes online, and can say that students struggle with this terribly. They long for in-person education; classroom interaction is invaluable. I missed it so much and was so happy to resume in-person teaching at U-M. It has been a very positive, enjoyable, and rewarding experience!

Yurtayeva - I find both Ukrainian and American students to be very talented, engaging in scientific research from the start of their university years. In Ukraine, I had considerable experience in mentoring students for participation in national and international scientific events. I was glad to provide mentorship for individual research projects conducted by U-M students.

Groom - Can you describe a moment when you learned something from your students or had a memorable classroom experience?

Chabanyuk - We have had many memorable discussions, especially last semester when we hosted several ARCH History Beyond the Classroom workshops and two online guest speakers. One speaker was Pavlo Kravchuk from the Zaporizhzhia city council’s Department of Culture and Tourism, who is an expert in the city’s historical and cultural heritage. Students were very interested in learning about Pavlo’s project, Fragile Heritage, which covers architectural modernism of southern and eastern Ukraine from 1950 through the 1980s. 

Kaparulin - My approach to teaching the course was not ethnocentric, but rather rooted in a multicultural understanding of the past and present of Ukraine as a diverse country united as one political nation. This is probably why, in my opinion, one of the most successful classes was a lecture on the genocide of the Crimean Tatar people and a meeting with a guest speaker whose ancestors managed to escape Soviet deportation in 1944 to eventually find refuge and a new life in the United States.

One day, students asked me how I manage to work and teach such difficult topics when my family and I are personally experiencing the consequences of war and mass violence. I had to answer both to my students and myself. I remember coming across an article by my colleague, a well-known Holocaust scholar, Omer Bartov, who said that we have no choice but to train emotional resilience if we want to work in this field. I can add that it is also necessary to look for like-minded people and stay in your professional environment. In this regard, I am grateful to the University of Michigan for all the conditions created and the opportunities provided to continue my work.

Sirinyok-Dolgaryova - I loved the diversity we had in class: there were students of different ages, genders, education levels (undergraduates, Master’s and PhD students), and racial and cultural backgrounds, and they generously shared their thoughts and perspectives.

 I think one of the most memorable classes we had was a Zoom conference with the New York Times photo correspondent Brendan Hoffman. He joined us from Kyiv, shared his impressive photos, and talked about his experience working in Ukraine from the 2013 Maidan Revolution until present day. His personal and professional story touched students, and prompted discussion in class on how important quality journalism is for countering disinformation, especially in wartime conditions. I also admired the professional attitude my students had to all assignments, in particular to the fact-checking practicum. They did a great job debunking Russian fakes and writing their analytical pieces.

Yurtayeva - For me, education is a reciprocal process, and I feel very inspired and enriched from my time teaching for CREES. One of my most memorable experiences was a student’s presentation on Ukrainian cultural resistance during wartime. Frankly speaking, I was a bit concerned that this topic would be too complicated for an American student. I was absolutely amazed, however, with the presentation’s scope and the student’s deep understanding of Ukrainian culture. I was surprised to learn about a digital app that allows a user to scan and create 3D models of buildings and monuments, which is an invaluable resource in the event of damage or destruction. 

Reflections from students

Timothy Olson, MIRS-REEES student 

After first hearing Professor Yurtayeva speak as part of a panel of Ukrainian scholars in early 2023, I would have likely signed up for any class that she offered. Several months later, when the course was announced, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the topic aligned perfectly with my own research interests. The utility of this course is obvious for students interested in Russia and Ukraine, but the course would be equally valuable for those studying other regions of the world, as employing and/or combatting hybrid warfare threats has become a major priority in the last decade. I would urge anyone to take a class with Professor Yurtayeva. Her combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience in her field offers a unique opportunity for students interested in Russia, Ukraine, or hybrid warfare.

Elaina Karpenko, MIRS-REEES student 

I feel that the content of Professor Chabanyuk’s course is important to both Ukraine's past and future, looking at how architecture is a part of Ukraine's cultural and historical legacy and how architecture can be reimagined in rebuilding many of Ukraine's cities. I really appreciated Professor Chabanyuk's firsthand experience of architecture in Ukraine, including her own photos that helped bridge the gap between the Ukrainian landscape and an American classroom.

Arthur Mengozzi, Ph.D. student in Slavic Languages and Literatures & MIRS-REEES graduate

I cannot overstate the importance of Professors Sirinyok-Dolgaryova and Kaparulin’s courses. The Russia-Ukraine War has cast a tremendous shadow over the discipline of Slavic Studies and the public life of the entire world. It has been a focal point in vigorous discussions with major implications for American foreign and domestic policy. Yet as the war grinds to a stalemate, at least for now, it has receded to the back burner of the American media cycle, relegating the conversation on Ukraine to political circles. The courses of the WCEE Fellows allow students to engage with critical questions on Ukraine, keeping our focus on the country as it combats Russian military and political aggression.

Genni Driker, MIRS-REEES student 

It was very important to learn about Russian disinformation from Professor Sirinyok-Dolgaryova who is both from Ukraine and an experienced journalist. As a Ukrainian myself, it was reassuring to know that the person teaching about these painfully relevant topics was someone to whom this hits just as close. In times of active conflict, voices from the affected region are always the ones to prioritize, and I’m glad that U-M gave these authentic voices a platform.

Samantha Farmer, Ph.D. student in Slavic Languages and Literatures & CREES Graduate Associate

I took Architecture of Soviet Ukraine with Professor Chabanyuk because I was looking to supplement my Ukrainian language study. The course provided a nuanced perspective on the aesthetic and social value of early Soviet architecture and its unique characteristics in Ukraine; this architecture is an important regional and global cultural heritage that is currently under threat. As a humanities student, I enjoyed taking a course in Taubman and working with Architecture and Urban Planning students. One of the final projects was a poster, which I found to be a challenging and creative change of pace from traditional research papers. My favorite classes were when Professor Chabanyuk took us to the Bentley Library and the Architecture Library. It was wonderful to see archival materials related to the course and explore Soviet-era blueprints or beautiful promotional materials. 

Anton Greene, undergraduate student, LSA

Professor Yurtayeva very generously agreed to help me improve my academic writing in Ukrainian, and guided me through a very tough and complex topic. I researched the International Criminal Court case against Russian President Putin and Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, and wrote a research essay in Ukrainian about it. We met practically every week and she was glad to look over my work, give me pointers, and just chat in Ukrainian about current events and anything else.