June 23, 2022

Ukrainian scholars prepare for Purdue arrival this month, gaining refuge from their war-torn country to restart academic endeavors

Ukrainian doctoral student Tetiana “Tanya” Gordiienko fights back the emotions as she describes how life has dramatically changed in Kyiv since Feb. 24. That fateful day, Russia’s military invaded Ukraine, triggering a refugee crisis and forcing the shuttering of all activities around the capital city, including where Gordiienko is pursuing a doctorate in media and communication at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

“It’s really hard to feel safe when you know that, at any moment, there could be a missile strike,” says Gordiienko, her voice quivering. “Some people have developed phantom air raid alarms that they hear in their heads. People are building a new notion of normal. War ruins all plans for your future.”

Now, Purdue University will play an essential role for Gordiienko toward completing her PhD when she arrives next month as one of 20 individuals through Purdue’s Ukrainian Scholars Initiative. Beginning travel to Purdue on June 11, she boarded a train — first for Warsaw, Poland, and then onto Munich, Germany, where she began the visa application process.

“This opportunity means so much to me,” says Gordiienko, a former journalist whose husband, veteran photojournalist Vitaliy Nosach, will remain — at least in the short term — as all Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country.

Each Ukrainian scholar coming to Purdue this summer has their own story, overcoming incredible and impossible obstacles and escaping — often with their families — from the horrors from Russia’s military invasion that has already displaced nearly 7 million people and left devastation, destruction and disruption across the Eastern European country since late February.

The United Nations estimates there have been nearly 10,000 Ukrainian casualties through the first 100-plus days of the war, including 4,250 killed, while up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed so far.

In an effort to provide a portion of promise for its academic brethren in Ukraine during this tumultuous and uncertain time, Purdue is offering academic and personal refuge to scholars like Gordiienko, welcoming 20 faculty members and researchers beginning this month through its Ukrainian Scholars Initiative.

“Our aim is to make at least one small contribution to help the Ukrainian people in this moment of peril,” says Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “Our hope is that we can offer refuge to these scholars and a change to continue pursuing their work, and then see them returns to a safe and free Ukraine. But while they are with us, I don’t doubt that they will personify and perhaps share with our students the precious value of freedom and the constant need to defend it from its enemies.”

Program draws a deep diversity of scholars

The scholars from Ukraine preparing to arrive for at least 12 months stretch across a diversity of disciplines — from chemistry, library sciences, psychology, linguistics, sociology and neuroscience to political science, management, history, and earth and planetary sciences. And they’re escaping the destruction that shuttered their universities and devastated prominent Ukrainian cities such as Mariupol, Kharkiv, Odessa and the capital city of Kyiv.

pt-lantukh-ukrainian-scholar Ihor Lantukh, a Purdue Ukrainian scholar from the National University of Kharkiv in Ukraine, is an expert in entrepreneurship in Ukraine after the abolishment of selfdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. After marrying in 2019, Lantukh and his wife welcomed a daughter and bought a small apartment, a promising life that has been dramatically changed since war broke out in his country. (Photo provided) Download image

“We used to have a good life, used to dream about the future for our daughter. All our life has been destroyed by Russia,” says Ihor Lantukh, professor of psychology, economics and history at National University of Kharkiv. “Now, we are looking for opportunities to survive and raise a baby, dreaming about one thing: peace in Ukraine and the day we will be able to come back home.”

Lantukh’s expertise is in entrepreneurship after the abolishment of serfdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. While at Purdue, he plans to restart his academic pursuits, investigating the psychological aspects as well as historical parallels to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Joining him in America will be his wife and their infant daughter.

The story of Gordiienko coming to a Big Ten university in America’s Heartland from the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy has several layers:

* Purdue alumna Katerina Tsetsura, with strong personal and academic ties to Ukraine who heard about Purdue’s plan to offer opportunities for the Eastern European country’s scholars to help them restart their studies.

* A connection to her Ukrainian colleague, professor Daria Orlova at the Mohyla School of Journalism, about what this initiative would mean for a scholar if the funding, logistics and academic contacts could be secured to assist them in coming to Purdue for up to 12 months.

* And deep Boilermaker roots leveraged in reconnecting Tsetsura with her professors and former colleagues from her doctoral studies days, Stacey Connaughton and Howard Sypher in the College of Liberal Arts’ Brian Lamb School of Communications, to close this fortuitous loop and secure a spot for Gordiienko in Purdue’s Ukrainian scholars program.

“This initiative is yet another testament to Purdue’s impact around the world,” says Tsetsura, the Gaylord Family Professor of Public Relations and Strategic Communication at the University of Oklahoma. She first heard on the local news about Purdue’s effort, which was launched on March 25 for providing up to 20 Ukrainian scholars academic refuge from the war.

“I’m a Boilermaker and always will be a Boilermaker,” says Tsetsura, explaining why she felt compelled to use her contacts in Ukraine on behalf of her alma mater.

“Since the war started, I’ve been completely in shock as I’m sure everybody has been,” she adds. “Who could have imagined something like that was possible? So, anything that we can do to help, I think we must, we must, do.”

Tsetsura, who has a Russian and Ukrainian heritage, still has relatives in Kyiv and Kharkiv who have been hiding in basements and bomb shelters to escape the destruction of the war. “Everybody after February 24, when the invasion started, who is a free human being and really cherishes freedom is Ukrainian,” she says. “There’s a value right now to say I am Ukrainian — no matter where you really come from — because that’s what freedom means now.”

When Russia launched its unprovoked attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, Gordiienko says National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was forced to close, curtailing her doctoral studies at the Mohyla School of Journalism until late March when two of her courses moved online.

With Kyiv under heavy attack those first few weeks, Gordiienko and her husband were forced from the capital city and fled to Chernivtsi in southwestern Ukraine. Even though they have been back in Kyiv since early April, they’re frequently reminded of the dangers of war.

“That feeling of constant anticipation of a missile strike became real on June 5 when our neighborhood was actually attacked,” Gordiienko says. “Missiles landed less than a kilometer away from our apartment building. It happened around six in the morning, and we were all home.”

And the ongoing instability and fear has made it all the more difficult to focus on her studies and how to resume her doctoral program.

“Step by step, our doctoral program restarted classes online,” Gordiienko says. “Yet it also became clear that studying in Ukraine would be really difficult. And because of the war now, I won’t be able to get the opportunities I was counting on. So, I started looking into different programs. But to get all the documents completed has been very difficult when you are under air raids and sirens and you’re not feeling very safe and very effective.”

After a promising opportunity to resume her studies in Munich fell through, a connection surfaced with Purdue through Orlova, her longtime colleague and head of the PhD program at Mohyla, who was well-acquainted with Tsetsura at the University of Oklahoma.

Gordiienko was familiar with Purdue through the university’s highly regarded Online Writing Lab (OWL), which was recommended by a professor as a resource for a doctoral class to improve English academic writing skills. 

“I remembered the logo of Purdue very clearly, and when I opened the link, I said, ‘Oh, I know this university’ and thought this would be a very good place to study, to get new experiences,” Gordiienko says. “And the more I read about Purdue, the more impressed I got.”

At Purdue, Gordiienko will resume her studies, researching news consumption in society and the visual portrayal of the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises in Ukraine. She also is examining Telegram, the global instant messaging application that is now a vital and ubiquitous tool in war-torn Ukraine to keep citizens current about air raid hotspots and bombing danger zones.

Response to a ‘shared commitment to humanity’

Connaughton, director of the Purdue Policy Research Institute and the Purdue Peace Project who is co-hosting Gordiienko, says she believes Purdue has a responsibility to care for one another during times of duress, particularly in response to a conflict like what’s happening to Ukraine.

“I believe that really strongly,” she says. “This certainly aligns with our mission as a leading global university. We conduct research that makes a difference. We do transformative learning that has tremendous impact. During extreme crises like this, we are all hailed to continue that shared commitment to humanity.”

Providing refuge to academic colleagues aligns perfectly if you look at the history of Purdue, Sypher says, with the university’s storied academic and engagement traditions in agriculture, engineering as well as its contributions to the sciences, liberal arts and communications fields.

“Short term, we’re creating this strong relationship between Purdue and our Ukrainian colleagues,” says Sypher, founding head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication and co-host for Gordiienko during her time here.

“These individuals also are eventually going to return and rebuild their country in some way, shape or form. And that’s especially critical for people who are journalists, who are courageous enough to stay but also courageous enough to continue to participate and to support a democratic way of life in Ukraine. A democracy and a free press go hand in hand as we know in our country.”

Additionally, Connaughton and Sypher are excited about the contributions Gordiienko can make, working across Purdue’s many disciplines and engaging with faculty and graduate and undergraduate students. They also are excited about the role the Purdue Policy Research Institute can play in creating a network, linking these scholars with other U.S. universities.

“Tanya was really excited when she found out the kind of work the Purdue Policy Research Institute does, how we’re structured with faculty affiliates from all the different disciplines and learning as much as she possibly could,” Connaughton says. “Her face just lit up and I know she’s really excited about the potential for engaging with Purdue’s broad academic environment.”

Gordiienko worked as a journalist and with the Media Development Foundation, a non-governmental organization in Ukraine, before deciding to pursue a PhD in that field. She says coming to America will not be easy personally, however. Her husband is not allowed to leave the country because of the war-prompted travel ban.

“We discussed what it would mean if I were accepted into a doctoral scholars program overseas — that I would be away for a year, and we’ve never been separated for such a long term,” Gordiienko says.

Still, she understands the important role her husband is playing as a photojournalist during the ongoing war and why he would need to remain in Ukraine at this time. “People who are working in critical infrastructure are not being drafted for the Ukrainian army — journalists are considered part of the critical infrastructure,” Gordiienko says, “because it’s not only a war on the front lines but it’s also an informational war. So, journalists are crucial in that regard.”

Borenko: Beginning of a lasting academic relationship

Yaryna Borenko gained safe passage to Poland, the first stop on her way to Purdue and leaving behind, for now, the devastation to her home city of Kyiv. Her family and those close to her, she says, are safe. Thankfully. And some of her friends and colleagues have joined the Ukraine military in the battle against Russia, the second conflict between the two countries since 2014.

“It’s the second time. You know what to expect but you understand many people will not come back,” says Borenko, who studies human rights and citizenships.

Borenko, who also serves as a trainer and advisor for the Skills Lab at the Women’s League of Donechchyna in Mariupol, arrived at Purdue on June 16. Christopher Yeomans, a professor and head of Purdue’s Department of Philosophy, will serve as Borenko’s host and also says she will be welcomed by its Human Rights Program, which Yeomans co-directs.

Yeomans says he is eager to see the impact the Ukrainian scholars will have on the entire campus, and the relationships that will be formed during and after the war ends.

“We’re not a military organization. We don’t have weapons we can give,” he says.
“Everybody at Purdue felt like this was a historical injustice that demanded a response and a response appropriate to the kind of institution we are. We are going to get an influx of scholars we normally wouldn’t see. Those connections are going to be really interesting going forward once the war ends and Ukraine starts to engage in some reconstruction.”

pt-pavlishchuk-ukrainian-scholar Purdue Ukrainian scholar Anna Pavlishchuk, a chemistry professor at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, studies new metallic complexes and their magnetic functionality, an area vital for developing contrasting agents for MRIs and other imaging technologies. Since Russia invaded her country, she says Kyiv has never looked as empty as it does now. (Photo provided) Download image

Pavlishchuk: Hopeful to resume research efforts

A chemistry faculty member at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv before the war, Anna Pavlishchuk plans to continue her research at Purdue, examining new metallic complexes and their magnetic functionality. This focus is vital for developing contrasting agents for MRIs and other imaging technologies.

Since Russia invaded her country, she says Kyiv has never looked as empty as it does now — even at the height of shutdowns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Though her university’s buildings remain closed, classes restarted in early April despite the war after they had first moved online in February because of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Pavlishchuk stays in close contact with her students, marveling at how they have remained engaged in their courses, and even eager for homework, to keep a semblance of normalcy amid the horror of the war on their lives. Thankfully, all her students and their families have survived from three months of war in their country.

“A surprise for me was that when I asked my students if they were willing to have homework, they all told me, ‘Yes,’ she says. “I don’t remember them being that glad about having homework before the war. I think education and communication with students is one of the ways now to release stress both for faculty members and students.”

Pavlishchuk, however, has been unable to conduct her research since the war began and the university was forced to close its buildings. Much of her funding, obtained from the National Research Foundation of Ukraine, will likely be deferred for defense and rebuilding purposes, so this pause will likely continue for months, if not years.

Despite the heart-breaking circumstances that are bringing Pavlishchuk to America, she is excited about the opportunity to resume her research from Purdue while continuing to support her students in Kyiv. “One of the most wonderful things (during this time) is how people are helping and supporting each other,” she says. 

Purdue Ukrainian Scholars Program at a glance

The initiative is designed to directly help those faculty members and scholars in Ukraine whose academic pursuits have been derailed by the conflict. But the effort also will benefit Purdue students, the broader academic community and Greater Lafayette, says Mike Brzezinski, Purdue’s dean of international programs.

While at Purdue, Ukrainian visiting scholars will either engage in their own research or support research conducted by Purdue faculty members. Additionally, Ukrainian students enrolled in doctoral programs who are at the dissertation research stage of their degree program are welcomed.

The goal is to accommodate the visiting scholars and their dependents (spouse and/or children), Brzezinski says.

Each visiting scholar has been assigned a tenure-track faculty sponsor within their academic area who would serve as a mentor and advisor. Visiting scholars will hold J-1 visa status, but they are not eligible to enroll in any degree-granting program.

The intended program length is one calendar year, but an extension may be possible depending on the circumstances in Ukraine. 

Visiting scholars will receive a monthly stipend, plus financial assistance for dependents (spouse or children under age 21). Purdue is covering visa expenses, roundtrip transportation costs and health insurance.

In total, inquiries came from nearly 50 scholars expressing a desire to be a part of Purdue’s Ukrainian program, Brzezinski says.

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, pfiorini@purdue.edu, 765-430-6189; Katie Donworth, kdonwort@purdue.edu

Source: Mike Brzezinski, mbrzezinski@purdue.edu, 765-494-9399

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