Building bridges to Ukraine through language, art, and community

In a brand new course that ran this Impartial Actions Interval (IAP), MIT college students studied Ukrainian language and tradition and heard from Ukrainian students, artists, and activists concerning the nation and the continued wrestle towards the devastating Russian invasion.

As Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Maria Khotimsky, senior lecturer in Russian in MIT World Languages, recollects seeing great pupil and college motion round MIT. Khotimsky obtained to know MIT’s Ukrainian college students by rallies, occasions, and volunteer efforts they organized. Concurrently, she says, there was a powerful push to jump-start MISTI ‘s MIT-Ukraine program.

“My largest inspiration was the Ukrainian college students I’ve met,” says Khotimsky. “Speaking with the scholars, they requested why we don’t have Ukrainian [courses], and my speedy response was that we might love to supply one thing.”

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Khotimsky labored with Elizabeth Wooden, MIT professor of historical past, to information the course from idea to actuality, culminating with its inaugural run over the previous few weeks. The course catalog planning course of is a painstaking one; it could actually take between one and two years to get a brand new course operating throughout the semester. As a substitute, Wooden and Khotimsky aimed for IAP — a interval when it’s simpler to get a pilot course operating.

One of many many explanation why it’s vital to convey this course to MIT, says Khotimsky, is “clearly, is to indicate help and solidarity to the Ukrainian neighborhood right here at MIT and to supply our college students a possibility to be taught, in addition to to help the rising efforts of MISTI Ukraine and different collaborations throughout many departments in help of Ukrainian students and struggle aid.”

Spearheading this new course is Iryna Kovalchuk, a Slavic linguist and cultural teacher who was born in jap Ukraine and now teaches at Harvard College. Kovalchuk was invited by MIT World Languages to show this course particularly, each due to her language scholarship and due to her deep ties to artist communities after working for years as a cultural occasions supervisor. From each fields of experience, Kovalchuk designed the course.

“My objective was, first, to indicate essentially the most fascinating components of Ukrainian tradition and historical past,” she displays, “and, second, the info which are vital now to grasp the struggle, the causes of the struggle, and to uncover — possibly small issues — however that are essential for college students’ higher comprehension.”

In contrast to different IAP language programs, that are usually compressed to supply an intensive language introduction and permit college students to transition into the spring semester, Khotimsky and Kovalchuk envisioned this course otherwise. As a substitute of a language crash course, this new class would focus each on Ukrainian language and tradition. College students have interaction with the customary introductory language instruments however are additionally launched to members of the Ukrainian neighborhood round MIT, Boston, and the New England space, giving college students the instruments to proceed to interact with and help the Ukrainian folks into the longer term. 

“After I began eager about the language a part of the syllabus,” Kovalchuk mentioned, “I believed that college students might want to know how one can react to the commonest communicative conditions, type easy statements in writing, and they should know how one can learn in Cyrillic (understanding the primary thought of the textual content and essential particulars). Principally, I needed to present them some helpful instruments to make use of sooner or later when the course is over.”  

College students took the MBTA Crimson Line twice: to participate in a dialog with Ambassador (ret.) Marie Yovanovitch (who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in 2016-19) and to to go to Harvard’s Ukrainian Analysis Institute, the place they realized about assets to review Ukraine, alternatives to participate in conferences, seminars, and talks concerning the struggle in addition to the place to seek for literature, and archival supplies from the Widener Library collections. Artist Alona Popova, a consultant of the Ukrainian Cultural Middle of New England, visited the category to show about pysanky, the Ukrainian artwork of portray layered, intricate designs on the fragile floor of eggs. Popova additionally taught the scholars vytynanka, the equally delicate Ukrainian artwork of chopping paper to create stunning designs.

“I knew from the start that I didn’t need this course to be about struggle or wars and wrestle solely — even throughout the struggle,” Kovalchuk displays. “I needed this class to be about life, about Ukrainians’ will to be free on their land, with their language and their big artistic potential.” 

College students spoke with social linguist Nadiya Kiss, who walked them by analyses of language activism in Ukraine as language ideology. Scholar Joanna Fomina spoke to the category from Warsaw on the state of affairs of Ukrainian refugees in Poland in addition to outlining public, political, and coverage responses. Throughout one of many last courses, Olena Tsar, singer and bandura participant, demonstrated how one can play the standard Ukrainian instrument and even walked college students by taking part in “Shchedryk” — a conventional Ukrainian New Yr’s music that was composed by Ukrainian composer and trainer Mykola Leontovych and was later tailored to the English “Carol of the Bells.” On the final day of courses, college students loved a Ukrainian dance workshop taught by Anita Dey Barsukova, chief of MIT Ukrainian Folks Dance Ensemble and present graduate pupil on the Division of Mechanical Engineering.

In a single highly effective and shifting go to, MIT sophomore Sasha Horokh described their work on Mriya, a student-run nonprofit in Boston that has delivered greater than $50,000 of humanitarian and medical support provides to Ukraine by way of fundraising in 2022. Horokh spent final summer season and most of IAP 2023 of their native Ukraine, delivering provides and rescuing pets. They gave a harrowing imaginative and prescient of the struggle’s entrance strains and their household, pals, and lecturers who’re preventing there.

From the primary day of sophistication, Kovalchuk was impressed with the classroom power, and the eagerness of the scholars to interact with and embrace new materials. “I used to be amazed from the start how a lot want for information I may see within the college students’ eyes. I perceive that these college students are among the many greatest on the planet, however they’re nonetheless humble and this helps them to get extra from courses.”

Khalid Ajran, an MIT sophomore finding out math and pc science who’s initially from Saudi Arabia, was delighted to find the similarities between Ukrainian and his native Arabic. Ajran was drawn to the category by his love of language studying, although he “didn’t have any deep background regarding Ukraine,” however found each linguistic and technological bridges, tying into his broader research in pc science.

Within the class’s last assembly, one pupil commented that their expertise within the course had given Ukraine a “face”: a way of the folks, humanity, and tradition behind the headlines. And, as Kovalchuk notes, it’s simpler to attach and lend support with that contextual information and concrete sense of place.  

The IAP college students are organizing a fundraising drive — that includes socks they taught themselves how one can sew in an effort to enhance with Ukrainian flags — timed across the Feb. 24 anniversary of the Russian invasion. Utilizing the instruments from this course, they now have connections to native Ukrainian support teams and communities, in addition to the MIT-Ukraine program.

“MIT has already launched a number of applications/initiatives to cooperate with Ukrainian researchers, to help Ukrainians,” says Kovalchuk. “I believe even the smallest language and cultural background is required in an effort to talk correctly with companions from Ukraine and in future — to go to Ukraine, or additional, to participate within the strategy of rebuilding it.” 


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