“The scariest part was leaving the loved ones behind”

Ukrainian Visiting Fellow Olena Uvarova is a historian and a social scientist who researches the history of Greek communities in Odesa. Her two-month stay is funded by the University of Helsinki Ukraine Appeal.

Associate Professor Olena Uvarova from Odesa, Ukraine, is halfway through her two-month stay at the Aleksanteri Institute, the Finnish Centre for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Helsinki. She is one of the twelve annually chosen Visiting Fellows at the Institute.

This is her first visit outside Odesa since the war began.

“I decided to stay at home. I cannot say that I wasn’t afraid at all. But my relatives, friends, and neighbors almost all stayed in the city, and I felt their support,” Uvarova says.

Uvarova is a historian and a social scientist posted as the Associate Professor at the Social Sciences Department of the Odesa National Medical University. Her visit to Helsinki is funded by the Ukraine Appeal, a fundraising founded by the University of Helsinki after the Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022. More than €227,000 was collected in the campaign, and the sum has made it possible to award 56 grants to Ukrainian students and three grants to researchers.

Getting the research fellowship at the Aleksanteri Institute was a positive surprise. At first it seemed unlikely to Uvarova to be among the selected ones out of the over 150 applicants, as she had concentrated on teaching for several years before Covid.  

“I teach history of Ukraine and history of Ukrainian culture. All students at the Medical University, including foreign, study these subjects. And last year our department increased the number of such disciplines. There is a need for patriotism, as shown by the events currently taking place in Ukraine. I am proud of the Ukrainian people.”

Research into Greek diaspora

Uvarova tells that with Covid restrictions and remote studying, her time to do her research increased. She delved into the theme of Greek diaspora in the 1800s.

“Since my student years, I have been researching the history of Greek communities in Ukraine, primarily in Odesa. It is interesting that at the beginning of the development of the city there were people of different nationalities, and multiculturalism was a feature of Odesa in the 19th century.”

Already her PhD concentrated on the Russian Empire’s “patronage” policies towards the Greeks in the 18th and 19th centuries. After Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022, Uvarova started paying attention also to another aspect in her research theme:

“I want to trace the ideological basis of the Russian “patronage” towards the Christian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire as it is somewhat similar to slogans of so-called “protection” to Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine.”

There is also a different dimension to Uvarova’s time spent on her research work:

“Science helps me a lot to keep going. I found meaning in it and in the terrible year of 2022, I, surprisingly, published 6 scientific articles.”

Parting Odesa was challenging

Uvarova tells that her stay at Helsinki has been fulfilling, both academically and in other ways.

“This is a wonderful city! And not only through architecture, museums and parks. The main thing is that I meet wonderful people everywhere! Also, the first month at the Fellowship has already brought me many new work acquaintances and new knowledge.”

Still, parting with Odesa proved challenging. Uvarova says that the scariest part in leaving was not travelling through the war-ridden country but leaving the loved ones behind.  

“The situation in the city worsened sharply this summer, and about three weeks before my departure, very strong Russian missile attacks on Odesa began. Both residential buildings and architectural monuments in the city center have been destroyed.”

The worst are the nights when missiles and drones come in waves.

“We wake up from alarms, hear explosions, run to shelters or hide under blankets under tables and away from the windows. The support of friends and relatives helps through: during the air alarms that can drag on for hours, we call each other by phone.”

Support makes it feel less alone

When the acceptance letter came, Uvarova hesitated to leave but her friends and family ushered her to go. Both to take on the opportunity to meet researchers at the University of Helsinki and to have some rest.

“Finally, I can sleep! I shut down my phone before I go to sleep and actually manage to drift into a deep rest. Then, first thing in the morning, I turn my phone on again and check whether everyone is still there.”

The support she feels in Helsinki both from the people and the government makes her feel less alone.

“I always stop on the street in Helsinki when I see the Ukrainian flag. There is one at the main railway station. I always stop and take a photo of it when I see it between buildings. And I am very grateful to the Aleksanteri Institute and the University of Helsinki for this opportunity of Fellowship and for supporting Ukrainian scientists.”


Olena Uvarova is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at Odesa National Medical University, Ukraine.

She teaches courses such as “History of Ukraine and Ukrainian Culture” “Ethnopsychology” and is the Chair of the student scientific group at her department.

Her research interests include several topics that have a common orientation: European international relations in the 18th–19th century, Greek communities in Ukraine and Odesa, and history of Odesa.

Russian ‘Patronage Policy’ for Ottoman Christians in the second half of the 18th - the first third of the 19th centuries: on example of Greeks

13 Sept 2023 | 15.00-16.30
Unioninkatu 40, room 17 | Streamed on Zoom

Speaker: Olena Uvarova, Associate Professor
Odesa National Medical University
Chair: Elina Kahla, Principal Investigator, Liaison Manager
Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

Russian ‘Patronage Policy’ for Ottoman Christians in the 18th & 19th centuries

Sept 13 | 15.00-16.30 
Unioninkatu 40, room 17

Speaker: Olena Uvarova, Associate Professor
Odesa National Medical University
Chair: Elina Kahla, Liaison Manager
Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki