Bringing Ukrainian Voices to the Fore in Times of Tribulation

University of Helsinki's new interactive webinars and course

After the unprovoked and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 generated shock and brought back the ghosts of past conflicts into people's remembrance, the many facets of the war still puzzle political scholars. More specifically, one phenomenon of the war which draws numerous interpretations and debates is its discursive dimension. From the now-famous Z letter to the information war on social media, the construction of urban myths and imagery, Russia's war on Ukraine highlights new discursive nuances which serve as mobilization tools. Even so, this nefarious event causes an opportunity for specialists on Ukrainian politics to voice their understanding of the topic and create awareness of the reality of having an aggressive neighbour who seeks to alter Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial independence. At the same time, this event represents an occasion for universities to teach students the many aspects of the war on Ukraine in real-time and with interactive modules. Consequently, such an academic endeavour was implemented by senior lecturer Dr Emilia Palonen at the University of Helsinki. 

Exactly one month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine started, on March 24, the University of Helsinki created a novel online platform for Ukrainian academic voices. In a joint effort, the University of Helsinki's HEPP research group, its Now-Time Us-Space project funded by the Kone Foundation, the Aleksanteri Institute, and the Degree Programme of Politics from Tampere University have partnered in creating a platform for Ukrainian scholars to provide their perspectives on the discursive aspects of the war. At this crucial moment for European security and regional geopolitics, the seminar series "The Russian Invasion in the Core of Europe: Bringing Ukrainian Voices to the Fore” aimed to give proper agency to Ukrainians for the world to perceive their perspective and visions for the future. From March 24 to May 18, twelve webinars showcased real-time analyses and perspectives on the conflict from senior and junior researchers.  

On March 24, the “Ukrainian Voices”-seminars kicked off with a session that provided insightful academic perspectives from Tatiana Zhurzhenko, Tymofii Brik, and Yuliya Bidenko, on the war in Ukraine, moderated by HEPP and NTUS post-doctoral researcher Ruta Kazlauskaite. The series resumed on March 29 and 31 with its second and third sessions entitled 'Ukraine at war' with Dr. Maksym Yakovlyev and 'Revolutions in Ukraine from the perspective of sociology' with Arseniy Svynarenko. As the war on Ukraine progressed in April, so its discursive nature intensified. Accordingly, during the seminar series, two webinars investigated on April 5 one of Russia's reasons for invading Ukraine, i.e., its non-existent language with Natalya Kobchenko; on April 8, the seminar series focused on ‘Women's Participation Protests and War in Ukraine’ with Tamara Martsenyuk. Towards the end of April, HEPP founder and NTUS PI Emilia Palonen chaired a session that analysed the Ukrainian identity and feeling of belonging during the war with Volodymyr Kulyk. On April 21, HEPP and NTUS's doctoral researcher Sabine Volk chaired a session on how the war in Ukraine weaponized the past. Towards the end of April, the series focused on revealing how major cities like Kharkiv were changed during the war on Ukraine.  

On May 3, the Human Rights Committee of the Finnish Council of Academies from Helsinki featured an on-site and online discussion chaired by the senior lecturer Dr Emilia Palonen on the current political and humanitarian crisis in Europe and its effects on the global science community. As the destruction of Ukraine's cities, culture, and all aspects of life intensified, the country's academic life suffered. As a result, the seminar series continued its webinars on May 5, when it discussed how the war has affected science and research experience in Ukraine. The seminar series continued with a new session on May 10 moderated by HEPP's and NTUS's doctoral researcher Ionut Chiruta, highlighting the perspectives of junior researchers whose ethnographic research was affected by the war. Finally, on May 18, the webinar ended with an important discussion on 'Ukraine and the changing nature of war: geopolitics, challenges, narratives.' 

As the seminar series drew to a close, the material highlighted by dozens of scholars on Ukraine during the lectures was collected as a teaching tool for students at the University of Helsinki. Under the guidance of Dr. Palonen, the Ukraine Lectures Course offered renewed comparative research on Ukrainian Studies to students from the University of Helsinki. The Ukraine Lecture Course aims to reflect on how research is done in war-like or conflict situations. In addition to the online lectures, the students are presented with up-to-date academic reading material to distinguish between the acquisition and communication of knowledge in war-time situations. The course promises an interactive platform in which discussions between the students and the lecturer revolves around the conceptualization of the Ukraine war and the understanding of its changing discursive nature. This course encourages students to challenge their beliefs constructed by today's mediums (e.g., social media and traditional media) with existing research from contemporary academics who investigate this nefarious phenomenon to understand the many facets of the war on Ukraine.