Solidarity with Ukraine

On 3–5 February 2022, scholars from sixteen countries around the world – 179 participants in all – gathered online for a Ukrainian Studies conference marking the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence. Since 24 February, we have followed with grief and horror the unfolding catastrophe in Ukraine after the Russian Federation’s unprovoked and illegal invasion.

The members of the Conference Organising Committee wish to add their voices to the statement issued on 28 February by the Committee of the Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand concerning the invasion of Ukraine by forces of the Russian Federation:

The Committee of the Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand condemns the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by forces of the Russian Federation – an act that breaches international law and the norms of international relations, kills and maims thousands of soldiers and civilians, traumatises Ukrainian society and undermines the foundations of the laws-based international order.

We are in solidarity with our fellow scholars, their families and all residents of Ukraine who today are under threat. We wish them steadfastness, their defenders – success, the country’s leaders – wisdom and principled action, and the Ukrainian nation a just peace.

We call on our members and friends of our Association, as far as they are able, to support humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. We draw the attention of our members and friends in Australia to the Ukraine Crisis Appeal, established by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations.


We share the summaries and videos of the three keynote addresses to the conference below.

Professor Mark Edele (University of Melbourne), ‘Soviet History with Ukraine Left In: What Difference did Independence Make to the Writing of Soviet History?’

Before 1991, the history of the Soviet Union was routinely told as the history of ‘Russia.’ This tendency made some sense while the Soviet Union was in existence: the country was geographically largely continuous with the old Romanov empire, the Russians were the largest and most influential ethnic group, Moscow was its capital, Russia its lingua franca, and, ever since the 1930s, Russian history had become part of the legitimising narratives stabilising the regime. With the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, the deficiencies of this narratives became obvious. A growing literature began to replace the Russo-centric story with a bundle of more or less connected national histories of the fifteen successor states. We now have a library of such studies, many of very high quality. But what of the Soviet Union itself? How do these new national histories recalibrate the overall trajectory of the Soviet experience? This lecture addresses these questions through the case study of Ukraine. How does telling Soviet history from a Ukrainian perspective change the chronology, the main actors, and the plotline? What impact did the opening of Ukraine’s archives have on the writing of Soviet history? What parts of the old story remain the same and what new vistas are opened up? The answers, as we shall see, are complex and tentative. The work on integrating Ukraine’s history and Ukraine’s archives into the larger history of the Soviet empire is only at its beginning.



Professor Natalia Khanenko-Friesen (University of Alberta), ‘Personal Testimony, Ego-Documents and Democratization of History’

The collapse of socialism in the early 1990s in Europe caused former socialist societies, long imagined as homogeneous and stable, to confront various external and internal pluralisation processes. Members of these countries witnessed and participated in the growing differentiation of their societies along economic, ethnic, cultural, political and social stratification lines. This multifaceted social differentiation was accompanied by the no less profound process of pluralisation of history and historical narratives, amidst the growing recognition that former socialist societies had more than one ‘past’. In rediscovering the complexity of national histories, personal testimonies and ego-documents have played an increasingly significant role altogether contributing to the ongoing democratisation of history across all former socialist countries, including Ukraine. Many unknown voices from the past and from ‘below’ continue to enter authoritative historical debates in Ukraine today, all collectively contributing to history’s growing multivocality. How do personal accounts – collected in oral history projects, found in personal letters and memoirs, and rediscovered in former communist archives – help historians craft their perspectives on Ukraine’s past and present? How do these accounts sustain official and alternative historiographies? At what point personal accounts become ‘testimonies’ and what do they testify? What is the future of personal testimony in historical research in an increasingly digitised world and in Ukraine in particular? An oral historian and cultural anthropologist, in this presentation I revisit the burgeoning field of ego-document creation and preservation in Ukraine and examine its impact on the production of new historical narratives. Importantly, I argue that personal testimonies of the past have been effectively used to validate historical accounts, oftentimes transforming witnesses of history into history’s forgotten agents.



Professor Ola Hnatiuk (University of Warsaw and Kyiv-Mohyla Academy), ‘The “Archival Revolution” and Rethinking Ukrainian 20th-Century History’

This presentation focuses on the opening of Ukrainian archives and traces its effects on new interpretations of Ukrainian historiography. It also briefly consider reinterpretations of Ukrainian history proposed by historians based outside Ukraine.

In the early 1990s, as Ukraine regained independence, it also opened its archives. During that first decade, the opening up proceeded slowly, by no means resembling a ‘revolution’. In practice, access to the archives still smacked of Soviet era restrictions, so at best we could refer to it as an evolution. In addition, new high service fees and non-transparent rules further limited citizens’ access to archival records. Historians working on the twentieth century commonly believed that the most important archival resources were located in Moscow, where many previously unavailable materials were indeed found. Based on those findings, as well as on access to historical materials available in diaspora collections, existing historical judgments were gradually reevaluated, prompting a reorientation of Ukrainian historiography.

In a parallel development, the 1990s marked a gradual departure from the Soviet interpretive frameworks. Those perspectives were replaced with interpretations developed by émigré historians active in the post-war decades. Fresher approaches, resulting from the use of new methodologies such as postcolonial studies or oral history, certainly added to the multitude of perspectives, yet they were only minimally based on archival research.

By the mid 2000s, significant changes in legal regulations of access to the archives took place, most importantly allowing for the opening of the SBU archives. However, in 2010, as Ukrainian politics pivoted back, restrictions to certain collections returned. Even so, between 2007 and 2010 historians managed to put into circulation many documents that enabled a radical break with Soviet historiographical models. These approaches were not fundamentally new, but rather rooted in previous research by émigré historians. Two examples are studies of the Ukrainian underground and – to a much greater extent – of the Holodomor.

In the last few years, namely 2015–2021, Ukrainian archival collections have become more accessible than ever, thanks to new laws expanding access to public information. Historians can now retrieve materials even from collections related to the Ministry of the Interior or the Counterintelligence Service. Since archives in Russia remain fully restricted, Ukrainian collections have become a vital resource for historians from all over the world. To what extent did the availability of previously restricted or top secret collections change our interpretive frameworks? It seems that – with a few exceptions – we cannot see the forest for the trees. By and large, we are still not able to contextualise events more broadly. Scholars in Ukraine have yet to embrace new trends in world historiography – entangled history or global history. The work of Serhii Plokhy (Yalta; Chornobyl) and Timothy Snyder (Bloodlands; Black Earth) demonstrates how effectively archival research pairs up with attempts to place specific historical events in a broad context.


Speaker bios

Mark Edele is a historian of the Soviet Union and its successor states. He is the inaugural Hansen Professor in History at the University of Melbourne, as well as a Deputy Associate Dean. He was trained as a historian at the Universities of Erlangen, Tübingen, Moscow and Chicago. His publications include Soviet Veterans of the Second World War (2008), Stalinist Society (2011), Stalin’s Defectors (2017), Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union (with Atina Grossmann and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 2017), The Soviet Union. A Short History (2019), Debates on Stalinism (2020); and, with Martin Crotty and Neil Diamant, The Politics of Veteran Benefits in the Twentieth Century. A Comparative History (2020). His latest book, entitled Stalinism at War. The Soviet Union in World War II, was published in 2021. He is a Chief Investigator on ARC Discovery Grant DP200101728, KGB Empire: State Security Archives in the former Eastern Bloc (December 2020–December 2023), which draws substantially on Ukraine’s SBU archive; and ARC DP200101777, Aftermaths of War: Violence, Trauma, Displacement, 1815–1950 (June 2020–June 2024). He teaches the histories of the Soviet Union, of the Second World War, and of dictatorship and democracy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Natalia Khanenko-Friesen is the director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies and Huculak Chair in Ukrainian Culture and Ethnography, Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, both in the Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta. Her research interests include oral history, post-socialism in Europe and Ukraine, diasporic identities, labor migration, and Ukrainian Canadian culture. She authored two monographs, Ukrainian Otherlands: Diaspora, Homeland and Folk Imagination in the 20th Century (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015) and Inshyi svit abo etnichnist ‘u diї: kanads’ka ukraїns’kist’ kintsia 20 stolittia (The Other World, or Ethnicity in Action: Canadian Ukrainianness at the End of the 20th Century) (Smoloskyp Press, 2011) and co-edited three collections, including Orality and Literacy: Reflections Across Disciplines (University of Toronto Press, 2011) and Reclaiming the Personal: Oral History in Post-Socialist Europe (University of Toronto Press, 2015). Dr. Khanenko-Friesen is the founding editor of the Canadian Engaged Scholar Journal: Community-Engaged Research, Teaching and Learning. Her current book project has the working title Decollectivized: The Last Generation of Soviet Farmers Speak Out.

Ola Hnatiuk is a Polish and Ukrainian scholar, professor at the University of Warsaw and Kyiv Mohyla Academy, translator, diplomat and civic activist. She is Vice-president of Ukrainian PEN centre. Her scholarly work has been located in the borderlands between the disciplines of history, the history of ideas, philology, literary studies, cultural studies, and the sociology of culture. She has been editor-in-chief since 2017 of the project Ukraine. Europe 1921–1939, the aim of which is to publish little-known documents that counteract falsifications of history, which are still prevalent in eastern Europe.

Her main publications include Courage and Fear (Academic Study Press and Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, Cambridge, Mass. 2020), a study of Lviv/Lwów under Soviet and Nazi occupation, 1939–1945 [English translation of Odwaga i strach, published in 2015; Ukrainian translation – Kyiv 2015], Pożegnanie z imperium. Ukraińskie dyskusje o tożsamości (Farewell to Empire. Ukrainian Debates on Identity) (Warsaw, 2003) (Ukrainian translation: Прощання з імперією. Українські дискусії про ідентичність, 2005).

She has won many prizes including Pruszyński Prize of the Polish PEN Club (Poland, 2018). For services to the Humanities and Literature, Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland, 2012). For public service, in particular contributions to Polish-Ukrainian dialogue, Antonovych Prize for scholarly achievements and public activity (USA, 2010), and the Jerzy Giedroyć Scholar Prize (Poland, 2004) for Pożegnanie z imperium.

Conference Organising Committee

Alessandro Achilli (University of Cagliari, Italy; Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand), chair
Becky Clifton (The University of Melbourne)
Julie Fedor (The University of Melbourne)
Felicity Hodgson (The University of Melbourne)
Yana Ostapenko (Monash University, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria)
Marko Pavlyshyn (Monash University)
Andrew Radion (Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand)
Olha Shmihelska (Ukrainian Studies Association of Australia and New Zealand)
Dmytro Yesypenko (University of Alberta)



Feature image: Courtesy Lesia Rudewych, Association of Ukrainians in Victoria.