The Slavic Department grappling with Russia’s war on Ukraine

In the midst of Russia’s war against Ukraine, administrators, staff, and students in Yale’s Department of Slavic Languages ​​and Literatures grapple with learning and teaching Russianphonic culture.

Staff reporter

Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer

The Russian invasion of Ukraine forced Yale’s Department of Slavic Languages ​​and Literatures to its feet.

Class schedules have been updated, records have been lost and the department as a whole has been thrust into the spotlight as the dispute drags into the new school year.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has had enormous personal and professional consequences for all of us in the department,” department chair Edyta Bojanowska wrote in an email to The News. “Many of us were inundated with emails asking for help and served as clearinghouses directing scholars, artists and students to various resources.”

When the war began In the winter of 2022, faculty across the Department knew they had to respond with clarity and strength. The Department held town halls, called for the end of the conflict and offered a list of ways to help from history professor Timothy Snyder’s understack. As the conflict continues, the Department continues to adjust its programming in response.

In the spring, the Department held a city ​​hall to discuss the impact of the war on members of the Yale community, including those residing in Russia and Ukraine. In particular, the Department has lost access to many of its archives housed in Russia, which affects the thesis plans of its graduate students.

The continuation of the conflict through the summer and fall presented further problems for the Department, including the difficult decision to hold its St. Petersburg summer program entirely on the New Haven campus.

Director of study abroad Kelly McLaughlin told the news that after the US State Department issued a ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory for Russia, the study abroad department immediately changed its Russian language program to a national one. The Notice not to travel to Russia is still in place.

A statement made by the study abroad office last spring announced that students would not be able to transfer their applications to another Yale summer session program abroad. The Russian Summer Study Abroad program, which was canceled last year, is moving to the Georgian Black Sea coast, where students will instead immerse themselves in Georgian culture and learn the basics of the language.

The summer ended, but the conflict – and its complications for the Department – did not occur.

The Department is offering 44 courses this fall, 26 in the Russian curriculum and three in Ukrainian. Students and faculty have faced additional stressors in teaching and learning regular subject matter as the invasion looms in the background.

Bojanowska, however, noted that the Department did not “have to scramble to respond to this crisis unprepared.”

Since its inception, the Department has been careful to cover empire and colonialism in Russian and Soviet culture, as well as emphasizing Russian-speaking cultures rather than a monomaniacal focus on Russia alone. Students learn to critique and investigate famous Russian artworks, rather than simply accepting their nationalistic nature, Bojanowska explained.

“We cultivate a transnational approach in both our research and our teaching,” Bojanowska said. “Again, this is not something we started doing in the spring of 2022. We embraced this vision a long time ago, which is why when war broke out, we were ready for the challenges. intellectuals and ethics of the historical moment.”

Nonetheless, Bojanowska told the News that the Department had to modulate part of its program in response to the conflict. She pointed out that professors in the department strive to decenter their approaches to the study of the region and to “dislodge Russia from its hegemonic position in the epistemologies of our field”.

The Department already offers “Russia between empire and nation”, a course on Russian and Soviet imperialism. This spring, the class will change from a seminar to a lecture in anticipation of increased student demand.

Bojanowska added that the department is trying to focus more on Ukrainian history and protest culture. She noted that a basic Russian grammar lesson incorporated “the heavy political implications behind two different Russian prepositions used to say ‘in Ukraine’…showing how each is associated with different political claims on [its] status.”

Russian culture classes in English have also been deeply affected by the conflict. Bojanowska teaches a lecture course titled “Tolstoy’s War and Peace”, a popular offering within the department and Yale College’s largest literature course, with more than 100 students.

This year, Bojanowska explained that she has centered her lectures on the “direct links between the novel and what is in the news”, using the text to consider current sociopolitical issues.

Bojanowska insisted that the Department’s solution to the conflict was not to “cancel” Russian culture,” but rather to reorient and adapt it to fit today’s world. She added that she hopes more students, not fewer, will now try to understand Russian culture and history.

I can’t think of any better immunization against Kremlin propaganda: knowing that some supposedly inviolable ‘truths’ may in fact be culturally constructed myths,” Bojanowska said.

Bojanowska admitted, however, that the Department still sees the possibility of going further in resolving the conflict. The Department is currently looking for a specialist in non-Russian Eastern European languages ​​and cultures and is trying to set up in-person teaching of the Ukrainian language. at University.

Professors in other departments are also finding ways to respond to the conflict.

“I personally decided to create a new general study of Ukrainian history, HIST 247, which is an open course,” Professor Snyder told the News.

Snyder noted that the first lecture has already garnered more than 400,000 views and that the course is only the second survey of Ukrainian history taught in the United States.

The Department of Slavic Languages ​​and Literatures is located in the Humanities Quadrangle at 320 York Street.


Miranda Wollen covers the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences for the News; she also writes very silly plays for the WKND. She is a sophomore at Silliman College double majoring in American and Classical Studies.

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