Supporting the home front with research

In March 2022, battles were approaching Oksana Domina’s hometown near Kyiv, Ukraine. She found safety in Finland, and is now working as a researcher at the Centre for Consumer Society Research at the Faculty of Social Sciences.

You have been working at the Centre for Consumer Society Research, located at the Faculty of Social Sciences, for 1.5 years (6 months as a grant-funded researcher, 12 months as a postdoctoral researcher). You also hold a permanent position as an assistant professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and you are an executive director of the Ukrainian Union of Marketing Experts. How did you end up in Helsinki and how have you found our Faculty as a working environment?  

I reside in Brovary, a suburb of Kyiv, situated 24 km from the first stop of the Kyiv metro where I work. In March 2022, our city faced a grave threat, with the enemy advancing to within 10–15 km of Brovary. Fierce battles ensued, and it was only through the heroism of our military and territorial defence forces that the aggressor was prevented from entering our city. I am certain that if the Russians had succeeded, they would have subjected our city and its residents to the same atrocities witnessed in the notorious towns of Irpin and Bucha. Local authorities declared an evacuation. It was very difficult to leave home and family. 

During this challenging period, I was presented with a unique opportunity not only to continue my work but also to become a small part of your University's scientific community. Despite everyday problems and language difficulties, I was immersed in the scientific and educational environment of the Faculty of Social Sciences, where various scientific schools have been formed over the decade, where frank and sincere relationships and a vision of the future predominate. I feel privileged to be working in your libraries, which are rich in literature and equipped with comfortable workspaces, modern technology, and, most importantly, individuals from diverse backgrounds and ages who are driven by a thirst for knowledge.  My deepest gratitude goes out to every employee of the Faculty of Social Sciences for their help, advice, and comprehensive support. 

Your research focuses on the development patterns of marketing theory and practice in countries with a developed economy and a transitional economy. Finland serves an example of the former, while Ukraine represents the latter. Could you elaborate a little bit on your main findings? 

This research project was initiated prior to the full-scale invasion of Russia into Ukraine, in collaboration with my academic supervisor and the founder of Ukrainian marketing, Dr. Alla Starostina (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv). The possibility of continuing this research in Finland provided a ‘haven of stability’ to which I clung. 

Based on a historical approach and using empirical data, we were able to determine the periodization criteria of marketing development stages for the first time. We then characterized the stages of marketing development in Finland and Ukraine, along with their comparative analysis. In addition, we introduced a methodological approach to identifying trends in marketing development, distinguishing it as either traditional or regulated, as based on the criterion of the market-relationship development. 

Currently, I am continuing to work on this topic, planning to write an article and focusing on the current stage of marketing development in Ukraine and Finland, with a particular emphasis on consumer behaviour during the war. 

The recent news regarding support for Ukraine are not exactly reassuring. A stopgap bill to keep the U.S. government open until mid-November does not include financial aid for Ukraine, regardless of President Biden's efforts. Fico's coalition government in Slovakia was won by a socially conservative campaign that included a pledge to stop all arms shipments to Ukraine. Most lately, a potential escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas has shifted focus from Europe to Middle East. How do you interpret these signals: are we facing a bigger trend of declining support from the West, not only in terms of money but also in moral solidarity? And if yes, what would be the wider global implications of that? 

For decades, Russia has been cultivating fifth columns worldwide across various aspects of life. In countries within the socialist bloc and the so-called third world, they promoted false political ideologies and extolled the supposed benefits of “communism” in the Soviet Union and later in Russia. These efforts were orchestrated at the state level, and today we witness the enduring impact of their influence. 

In my view, these isolated instances do not represent a prevailing global trend of support for Ukraine. I agree with the authors of The Economist, “Defeat would mean a failed state on the EU’s flank and Mr Putin’s killing machine closer to more of its borders. Success would mean a new EU member with 30m well-educated people, Europe’s biggest army and a large agricultural and industrial base”. There is no other option but for Ukraine to win.

Ukraine’s response to Putin’s invasion has been personified in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has worked tirelessly to motivate the will to defend the country internally as well as internationally. How do you find him as a political leader, also from the perspective of your own research?  

In my perspective, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s personal transformation can be divided into three distinct stages. The initial stage of his public career was marked by pro-Russian views. The second stage encompassed his election campaign and the early days of his presidency, during which he expressed a desire to “look the enemy in the eye”, to “stop shooting”. The current stage is characterized by a realization of the necessity for a resolute defence of his country, particularly in the face of a full-scale invasion. There are also questions for him: Why, upon assuming power, did he not adequately prepare the nation’s defence? Why did he permit the activities of pro-Russian political groups within Ukraine’s borders? 

Simultaneously, within the context of my research, Volodymyr Zelenskyy serves as an example of a leader who adeptly harnesses his media influence. In an era of information warfare, a president who is trusted, who does not hide in a bunker, who works with his people every day, is a pivotal component of the ongoing struggle and the moral resilience of the nation. 

It seems very difficult to comprehend that the war has been going on for 20 months with no resolution at sight. What kind of scenarios do you perceive as most likely? And how do you conform your personal plans with those? It’s hard to even imagine how stressful it must be to live in such a state of flux. On the other hand, staying positive and focusing on a brighter future is always the only way forward in times of struggle.  

As it turns out, our whole life is filled with struggles. During times of peace, it’s a struggle with oneself to achieve goals, to uphold honesty and fairness. In times of war, it becomes a battle for survival, not just for one’s own life but also for the lives of those alongside you, as we face a vile and insidious enemy who once claimed, “We are brothers.” War has taught us all to live day by day. It’s hard to plan when even now the alarm is sounding all over Ukraine, it happens every day around the clock. 

My plan for today includes conducting online classes for my students in Ukraine, checking the air alert map, contacting my family, donating to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, reviewing the air alert map once more, writing an article, keeping up with Ukrainian news, and so on. Our plan is to fight to victory, for everybody to fight in their own place. 

With your permission, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the people and government of Finland for their unwavering support of Ukraine. You understand first-hand what it means to fight for independence.