Prior to attending the summer programs at HURI, I traveled to Dnipropetrovsk and was struck by the influence of Russian culture on this major city in Eastern Ukraine. Downtown, I primarily heard spoken Russian. Our neighbors spoke surzhyk and their political views were seemingly formed by news broadcasts from Russian state-run media. Even the city itself was named for a man who was complicit in the Ukrainian Holodomor. However, as we traveled away from the city to live with relatives in the village of Mykolaevna, I observed aspects of a more purely Ukrainian culture. At dawn I awoke to join our 70-year-old grandfather (a man who rose to work before dawn, as I still slept, and continued to work until long after dark) in the necessary chores of the day. I spoke with our grandfather about Ukrainian history and literature. He stressed that Ukraine had always been European in its orientation, with a democratic history that rejected the autocracy of Russia.
At the end of the work day, I always went for a walk. Near our property there was an incredible field of sunflowers, which stood in a sort of attentive unison before the setting sun. The image was beautiful and vibrant and bright, and yet it also seemed to convey a certain sense of sorrow. This image became for me symbolic of a Ukrainian cultural identity, which despite being for so long characterized by only its most visibly salient qualities (hopka, vyshyvanka, etc.), had so much more substance to offer the world.
My exposure to Ukrainian culture influenced my decision to apply to the summer program at HURI. As I began the program, I had no idea which aspects of Ukrainian studies I wanted to focus on in my own studies and I was not sure what to expect. But what initially struck me during my first summer at HURI was the sense of community that I felt. Our program activities were structured in such a way that the Ukrainian and American students were frequently together outside of class, attending lectures by renowned Ukrainian scholars, practicing Ukrainian language together at meals, and travelling together on various cultural excursions.
When I arrived at HURI, I felt welcomed, and this feeling carried over into my courses. I enrolled in Dr. Bilenky's class, a cultural and historical survey of Ukraine which covered three centuries. I was drawn to the Revolutionary period of 1917-1920, and by the end of the term I developed an appreciation for the cultural and literary significance of the era. Dr. Bilenky took a personal interest in my academic studies and we met frequently to discuss my ideas and questions concerning my thesis.
In my second summer at HURI, I took Dr. Dibrova's Ukrainian language class, the coolest language class that I have ever taken. Dr. Dibrova is definitely one of my favorite professors. We studied language through the lens of Ukrainian culture, which provided a necessary context to appreciate better the richness of Ukrainian language. On Fridays, Dr. Dibrova bought us all coffee and spent time hanging out with us during the breaks. We all went to restaurants together, to the art museum. Dr. Dibrova was always willing to meet with me to discuss my academic interests. And it was Dr. Dibrova who encouraged my interests in Ukrainian and Russian Revolutionary literatures.
Outside of class, we attended lectures by authorities in the field of Ukrainian studies. Dr. Plokhii introduced his then-newest book, The Last Empire. I bought an extra copy of the book for my father, to whom Dr. Plokhii graciously wrote a note on the inside cover. When I claimed that I was interested in applying to the history PhD program at Harvard, Dr. Plokhii met with me for an hour to explain the admissions process and to offer assistance with my academic research interests. I attended Dr. Grabowicz’s lectures on Ukrainian literature and discussed with him my own literary interests. Since that time, his scholarship—particularly his concept of symbolic autobiography in the works of Khvylovy—has figured prominently in my own academic research. Dr. Flier was extremely kind to me and met with me during the summer break to discuss a course of study in an appropriate PhD program.
In addition to the supportive atmosphere, I was very excited to learn about the opportunities for scholarship at HURI, which are unparalleled anywhere else in the country. In addition to the Widener Library, the size of which rivals the Boston Public Library in terms of numbers of volumes, the Lamont, Pusey, and HURI libraries are repositories of historical, literary, archival, and cartographic materials. I was excited by the opportunity to make use of these resources which were available to HUSI students, including a huge number of Ukrainian-language periodicals. For my own research this was extremely useful, as I had access to, among many other things, the first issue of Khvylovy’s literary journal, Vaplite.
The sheer size of the Widener Library is intimidating, and conducting research there can seem daunting, so the Institute held a course on conducting research for the students, which was led by Mr. Truslow, the librarian for the Davis Center collection and for the Fung Library. In the class, we were introduced to various methods for conducting research in the libraries and searching online databases, which proved indispensable for my own academic endeavors. My experiences at HURI have made a significant impact on the course of my academic career, and the friends that I’ve made over two summers in the program have enriched my appreciation for Ukrainian studies. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to conduct a course of study which I am passionate about and in an environment that was supportive of my academic goals and interests. For those who are interested in Ukrainian studies, the HURI summer program offers a unique experience which is both academically challenging and intellectually rewarding.