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IU has maintained resilient partnership with Ukraine since founding of democracy

IU’s most recent exchange began almost four years ago. Every other Wednesday, academics from IU and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, in Ukraine’s capital city, have long conversations on Zoom. 

(Russell Valentino)

As the catastrophic war in Ukraine enters its second month, the world continues to suffer effects of Russia’s invasion. Some effects hit close to home.

Indiana University has specific and intimate ties with Ukraine. Chair of the Slavic department Russell Valentino noted the connection between IU and Ukraine dates to when the country was still a Soviet republic in the early 1990s.

“IU’s connections to the Soviet Union are actually quite longstanding and deep. There were many, many exchanges,” Valentino said. “In fact, the Russian and East European Institute and the Slavic department had many exchange students going back and forth.” 

IU’s most recent exchange began almost four years ago. Every other Wednesday, academics from IU and the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, in Ukraine’s capital city, have long conversations on Zoom. 

This is because in 2018, the U.S. State Department awarded IU a grant of just under $1 million to implement academic programs at the university, which is known as NaUKMA. IU contributed an additional $360,000 to the project.

As co-principal investigator of the project, Valentino traveled to Ukraine at the time to get the initiative off the ground and spoke with a public affairs official who explained his country’s goal for the partnership.  

“They were really hoping that this effort would help the Ukrainians to tell their own story,” Valentino said. “As [they] put it, Russia is telling Ukraine’s story everywhere in the world.” 

Valentino was the associate dean for diversity and inclusion and international affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences when the project was created. The co-principal investigator was journalism professor Betsi Grabe, who was associate dean of the Media School.

The four-year project was designed to create three academic programs: a Master of Public Administration track, an in-service certificate for working professionals, and an undergraduate-level certificate. The focus was to professionalize communication specialists in Ukraine.

Grabe noted IU faculty helped work through all the syllabi for establishing these graduate and undergraduate programs. 

IU's connection with Ukraine runs deep into the foundation of Ukrainian democracy and with the country’s legislative reform to this day. IU received a $4.9 million grant in 2003, called the Parliamentary Development Project for Ukraine (PDP), through which School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty members aided in drafting Ukraine's constitution. The project came from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

SPEA is now the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Professor Robert Kravchuk, an expert in public administration and political economy in Ukraine, noted the value of the longstanding connection between IU and Ukraine. Kravchuk said providing opportunities for people to experience life in other countries through these academic links strengthen democratic ties between nations.  

“They get to know each other and so they're much, much more comfortable with one,” Kravchuk said. “They implore their leaders, ‘We want to deal fairly with those people. We've met them. They're just like us.’ That's really important at every level of society.” 

IU offers courses on Eastern European history and instruction in Ukrainian language and culture, and it has a significant holding of Ukrainian literature, history, and art in its many libraries.

Grabe called the four-year partnership with NaUKMA remarkable and said she was proud of the work both universities have done to continue the projects. She said she hoped IU could continue to foster the partnership through these challenging times.

“There are a lot of very brave and dedicated people [in Ukraine]. We can learn so much from them,” Grabe said. “I must say, over the years that we've worked with Ukrainian colleagues, we've learned more from them than they have learned from us.” 

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