Scholars from Ukraine find refuge in Dartmouth

Veronika Yadukha was vacationing with her family in the Carpathian Mountains on February 24 when she was woken up by an early morning call from a friend in Kyiv telling her that the Russians had started bombing Ukraine.

Soon after, the small wooden house where Yadukha lived began to shake from the vibrations of shelling at an airport 60 miles away.

“I was scared because we were in the mountains, which should be a safe place,” says Yadukha, art curator and translator. At that moment, she realized that no place in Ukraine would be safe “until the end, until our victory.”

Instead of returning to Kyiv, Yadukha and her four-year-old son fled to an air raid shelter in western Ukraine. “All I could think about was my child and his safety,” she says.

Lada Kolomiyets, a leading translation scholar in Ukraine, did not want to leave her home in Kyiv. But at the end of February, at the urging of her husband, she agreed. Her husband accompanied Kolomiyets and their then 12-year-old twin sons to western Ukraine. She and the boys later crossed the border to Hungary on foot, where they spent a week at an animal shelter.

“It was very strange for me because I’m a professor, and the mere thought of being a refugee made me feel like I was going insane,” says Kolomiyets, a professor at the Institute for Theory and Practice of Translation from English Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and chairman of this department from 2010 to 2017.

Eventually, both women accepted an offer from a friend – Yadukha in Germany, Kolomiyets in Sweden. In the coming months, both made their way to Dartmouth, where Kolomiyets Harris is a visiting professor in the Comparative Literature program and Yadukha is pursuing a Masters in Comparative Literature. And while adjusting to life thousands of miles from home, they continue their efforts to protect and promote understanding of Ukrainian culture.

A wider lens

Kolomiyets and Yadukha are among a handful of Ukrainian academics who have recently come to Dartmouth, some with extended application deadlines because of the war, says Yuliya Komska, associate professor of German studies.

Also, several new scholarships and fellowships have been created to support Ukrainian academics.

The presence of scholars here adds an important dimension to discussions about the region, says Komska, who works alongside assistant professor of Russian Ainsley Morse and associate professor of Russian Victoria Somoff with director of the Leslie Center for the Humanities Rebecca Biron, dean has the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies Jon Kull ’88, Chair of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program Donald Pease, Director of the Harris German Distinguished Visiting Professorship Program Viktor Witkowski and others to help some of the academics come along to Dartmouth.

Through their efforts and related work across campus, they have been able to build the largest Ukrainian academic community in the state of New Hampshire, says Komska.

Harris visited Professor Lada Kolomiyets in Dartmouth last month. Kolomiyets, a leading translation scholar in Ukraine, is a professor at the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Ukraine is often only seen through the lens of various conflicts, says Komska, who is also head of the comparative studies program. One way to change that is to bring in people who “can speak to Ukraine as a vital and vibrant country and culture.”

Last week Kolomiyets spoke at Voices of Ukraine, an eight-part virtual series introducing Ukrainian writers and scholars. The events, which will last through February, were organized by staff and faculty from the Russian Department, the Comparative Literature Program and the Leslie Center for the Humanities, which also sponsors the series. The research fellows for the series are Daryna Gladun and Karina Madzari, both Guarini ’27. Upcoming speakers include Leslie Center Fellow Hanna Leliv.

Komska says several professors and administrators have asked her to pair her with Ukrainian scholars to speak in their classes, and she hopes more requests will follow.

And as students and faculty settle in, “random offers of help and home-cooked meals” would be greatly appreciated, she says. “I think the bigger the support network, the better.”

Ukrainian muses

This fall Kolomiyets teaches “Topics in the History of Translation and Censorship: Ukraine in Western European National Contexts” at the Institute for Russian and Comparative Literature. The course focuses on the country “not just at war, but beyond war” and examines the “light and dark” aspects of translation, she says.

Translation can serve to build a nation and strengthen a country’s language and culture, and many writers and translators devote their lives to this purpose, says Kolomiyets, who is also a literary scholar. On the other hand, she notes, translations can also be a vehicle for “malicious censorship.”

During her time in Sweden, friends and colleagues sent Kolomiyets announcements about a variety of scholarships, fellowships, and teaching opportunities.

She applied to three institutions and was accepted there, which made her a difficult decision, says Kolomiyets. Coming to Dartmouth “was a very good choice because I enjoy teaching and have found motivated, interested students here.”

Dartmouth’s small community of Ukrainian students and their supporters has been active on campus since the invasion, organizing a rally to protest the invasion, public speaking engagements and fundraisers to help Ukrainian refugees and donated first aid kits and other medical supplies to the to bring front. In May, the newly formed Ukrainian student union created a heartbreaking installation on the Green with toys commemorating the children killed in the Russian invasion.

This semester, Kolomiyets plans to start a club that will translate contemporary Ukrainian literature into English, with a focus on the work of the past six months.

“It’s very important to show English speakers that the arts in Ukraine are not silent,” she says. In fact, since February 24, art has been enriched “with very high-quality texts”.

The club’s motto? “The Ukrainian muses are not silent.”

Importantly, Kolomiyets says, the voices of women — including poets Halyna Kruk, Natalka Marynchak, Inna Horbach, Svitlana Didukh-Romanenko, and many others — have been “particularly powerful during these months of existential war,” and she thinks it’s important to bring their voices in messages to an English-speaking audience.

“The ability to be who we are”

Yadukha is a member of VERBatsiya, a collaborative translation group with a long history of translating Beat Generation poetry into Ukrainian. She specializes in inter-semiotic translation, translating one type of artwork into another.

Veronika Yadukha, Guarini ’23, shown at work at Dartmouth Ceramics Studio last month, is an art curator specializing in intersemiotic translation, transferring one type of artwork into another. (Photo by Katie Lenhart)

As part of her studies in Comparative Literature she will translate the book by the poet Richard Brautigan All guarded by machines of loving grace in a row of ceramic tea bowls. The bowls – a nod to Zen Buddhism’s influence on the poet – will reflect the meaning and emotional qualities of the poetry. And she continues to present Ukrainian culture on the international stage.

Yadukha is the art curator of the annual Ukrainian literature and translation festival TRANSLATORIUM. Last year, one of her projects – a musical composition based on a novel by Ukrainian writer Sophia Andrukhovych – was performed on the opening night of the event.

The novel, Amadoka, takes its name from a lake thought to have been in what is now central western Ukraine, says Yadukha. It was believed to be the largest lake in Europe, but in the Middle Ages it suddenly disappeared from maps and now “no one can say for sure if it existed”.

Like the book, the musical production is a metaphor for lost memories and explores some of the most traumatic periods in Ukrainian history – the Stalinist repression of the Ukrainian intelligentsia, World War II and the Revolution of Dignity and subsequent Russian invasion in 2014, up until the recent one escalation into full-blown war, says Yadukha. And like the novel, he looks at how each of the events continues to “affect all generations of Ukrainians.”

The 2022 festival was canceled due to the war. But Yadukha and her collaborators accepted an invitation to present the project, revised for a German audience, at translationale berlin, a literary translation festival held in the capital last month.

“Our culture has been deliberately damaged several times. People have suffered a lot and are suffering now, and it’s all about identity, the ability to be who we are,” says Yadukha.

“It is very important to use all the opportunities we have to talk about Ukraine, Ukrainian culture and art abroad.”

About Stephanie McGehee

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