Olena Nikolayenko

Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science, Fordham University and Member of the Board of Directors, The Shevchenko Scientific Society in the United States

Born and raised in Ukraine, I studied foreign languages and spent an academic year at Montana State University thanks to the Open Society Institute Undergraduate Scholarship (1998-1999). As a result of this study abroad experience, my career interests evolved from linguistics to social sciences. I received a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and revised my dissertation into the book, Citizens in the Making in Post-Soviet States (Routledge, 2011). Then, as an SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, I conducted research on youth movements and electoral revolutions in the post-communist region. Drawing on in-depth interviews with movement participants and fieldwork in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Serbia, and Ukraine, I published the book, Youth Movements and Elections in Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2017). More recently, I contributed a chapter on youth activism before and during the Russia-Ukraine war to the Handbook on Youth Activism (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2023).

My current book project, tentatively titled Invisible Revolutionaries: Women’s Participation in the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, highlights the role of women during the Revolution of Dignity, also known as the EuroMaidan. The project seeks to answer three interrelated questions: (1) Why did women participate in the revolution?; (2) Which roles did women assume over the course of mass mobilization?; and (3) What were gender outcomes of the revolution? Some of the findings from this project have appeared in Comparative Politics and Slavic Review.

Russia’s unconscionable invasion of Ukraine took a heavy toll on the country. Specifically, Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure resulted in the destruction of university buildings, disruption of academic activities, and deaths of civilians, including students, faculty, and staff. Among Ukrainian scientists killed by the Russian armed forces were Andriy Kravchenko, a 41-year-old researcher at the Chuiko Institute of Surface Chemistry, Oleksandr Kysliuk, a 60-year-old professor of Latin and Roman law at the Drahomanov National Pedagogical University, and Yulia Zdanovska, a 21-year-old Teach for Ukraine volunteer and a silver medalist at the 2017 European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad. These tragic human losses have a profound impact on Ukrainian society and the education system.

The preservation of Ukrainian heritage and culture is another matter of concern to Ukrainian scholars. In collaboration with their international partners, a number of Ukrainian scholars are currently trying to save rare book collections, paintings, maps, and unique artifacts at local archives, museums, and libraries. For example, Anna Kijas, head of Lily Music Library at Tufts University, co-organized the Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO) Project, which identifies and archives at-risk sites, digital content, and data stored by Ukrainian cultural heritage institutions.

There are numerous ways in which U.S. institutions can provide support for Ukrainian scholars affected by the war. First, U.S. institutions can organize a series of virtual and in-person public events in the fall of 2022 and invite Ukrainian scholars as guest speakers. Given the passage of time since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the approach of midterm elections, the general public appears to have lost interest in the war. Ukraine still needs a great deal of Western support to fight against the world’s second strongest military. Second, research centers can offer non-residential fellowships for Ukrainian scholars to remain active in academia. In addition, U.S. institutions can offer free learning opportunities for Ukrainian students. For example, the consortium of leading Ukrainian educational institutions and organizations launched The Ukrainian Global University to facilitate access to various study and research opportunities for Ukrainian students and scholars.

My hope is that U.S. academic institutions will broaden the scope of their programming and invest more resources into the development of Ukrainian Studies and the cultivation of partnerships with Ukrainian universities in the wake of the war. Programs in East European Studies, for example, might consider offering a wider range of Slavic literature and culture courses to highlight outstanding literary works by Ukrainian writers and poets. Furthermore, it is important to examine political processes in Eastern Europe from multiple perspectives rather than through a Russian lens.