Volodymyr Kravchenko | Introduction | Ukrainian studies in Canada: 
Searching for new ways

Volodymyr Kravchenko,

Director of CIUS



VOLODYMYR KRAVCHENKO is a professor in the Department of History and Classics and director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta (since 2012). His recent works include: “Ukraine: History confronts geography,” in The EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: Migration, Borders and Regional Stability (2016); “Ukrainian historical writing in North America during the Cold War,” in East and Central European History Writing in Exile 1939–1989 (2015); “Ukraine faces its Soviet past: History vs. policy vs. memory,” in Mass Dictatorship and Memory as Ever-Present Past (2014); and the monograph Ukraïna, imperiia, Rosiia: Vybrani statti z modernoï istoriï ta istoriohrafiï (Ukraine, Empire, Russia: Selected Articles from Modern History and Historiography; 2011).

Marking the fortieth anniversary of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies in 2016 presented us with the opportunity to discuss the current state and future prospects of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies in Canada. The political, social, institutional, and financial contexts of these fields of knowledge are as important as their texts (i.e., narratives, paradigms, concepts, interpretations, etc.). Hence we selected the title of the conference, “Texts and Contexts,” with a view to bringing together not only world-renowned experts in the fields but also community activists, donors, and politicians. We tried to approach the issue of Ukrainian studies from different geographical perspectives, including North America, Canada, Ukraine, and Europe. At the same time, our goal was to create a space for interdisciplinary dialogue among specialists in the humanities and social sciences, including historians, philologists, and political scientists.

Our intention was to represent various generations of specialists and community activists. Unsurprisingly, the debates were dominated by the generation of scholars who promoted Ukrainian studies in Canada to the highest level in the West at the end of the 20th century. This generation had been formed during the 1960s, and its representatives are today themselves in their sixties, if not seventies, yet remain active in both their professional careers and their community participation. On the one hand, the absence of historical distance between the past and the present affected the course and nature of the corresponding discussions. Reading between the lines, the careful reader will easily detect traces of old debates and personal interactions between some of the scholars, even biased or self-promoting presentations. On the other hand, the personal and professional experiences of the conference participants permitted them to address a broad spectrum of issues connected to both the texts and contexts of modern Ukrainian studies in North America and Europe.

Before the conference, participants were sent a list of questions crafted to focus their attention on issues that were, to our mind, the most important: Who needs Ukrainian studies in Canada? What challenges are they facing? What is their future? The conference was structured accordingly, to enable an overview of the history of Ukrainian studies in Canada and the United States during the last forty years, and an examination of the current state and future prospects of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies. We further aimed to highlight issues surrounding the teaching of such courses at Canadian universities and, finally, to evaluate the interrelationships between the academic milieu and the Ukrainian community as well as the Canadian political establishment. In what follows, I will try to contextualize, summarize, and assess the debates, following the structure of the conference.


The nature and directions of the conference discussions published in this volume will be better understood in a historical perspective. Given that none of the participants limited their presentations to a solely historical framework, with the reader’s indulgence I will briefly describe my own view of this perspective.[1]

Ukrainian studies have generally traced the muddling way of modern Ukraine’s nation-state building during the last one hundred years or so. The interaction of religious, regional, cultural, and political factors in this process has been complicated by Ukraine’s “fatal geography,” and also by specificities relating to its Byzantine-Rus’ historical legacy. Until recent times, Ukrainians never had even a semblance of their own proper nation-state. Divided by historical circumstance as well as by geopolitics, various subgroups of the Ukrainian ethnos operated under the frameworks of different national discourses: Russian, Soviet, Polish, Austrian, Canadian, and others. Thus, a variety of local and diaspora Ukrainian identities emerged—often hybrid ones.

The concepts of nation and national territory of modern Ukraine have fluctuated, depending on changing political and socio-cultural contexts. One hundred years ago, when Ukrainian statehood was established with its seat in Kyiv, two intersecting visions of Ukrainian national identity emerged, one ethnocultural and the other territorial-political. Correspondingly, in the ethnocultural case of national identity, its content was determined by the classical humanities disciplines: language, folklore, history. In the territorial-political case, it was based primarily on the social sciences, including, e.g., political science, economics, and sociology. Essentially, the different content populating the definition of “Ukrainian studies” depends on the context; meanwhile, there are no guidelines for its proper application.

In Canada, the Ukrainian nation-building process acquired its own specificity. The Ukrainian community here falls into two main components: that formed in Canada between 1891 and 1947, and the émigrés of the post–World War II wave of immigration. The differences between the political and cultural priorities of these two groups, as well as their visions for the future, were not catastrophic for the community overall, especially during the Cold War, but they were nonetheless significant. They were also exacerbated by the decentralization of political, cultural, and educational life in Canada—above all by the regional distinction between the west, which was historically dominated by older-generation Ukrainian Canadians, and the east, where the new Ukrainian immigrants were mostly based. While these nuances have not always been understood in Ukraine, nevertheless they affected the emergence of differing visions regarding Ukrainian studies in Canada. Quite naturally, the most representative among these visions were Ukrainian-Canadian studies and Ukraine-oriented studies.

For the Ukrainian-Canadian community, which had been established and institutionalized for several generations already, the most important objective was to assert its presence and facilitate successful integration into Canadian society. The collective identity of this community was largely formed during their decades already in Canada, with Ukrainian regional, political, and religious features melded with local Anglo-Saxon symbols and values. The result was a situation of cultural marginality, on the one hand, and a sort of hybrid or “not-belonging” identity,[2] on the other. This kind of collective identity of the Ukrainians in Canada dovetailed rather smoothly with (and in fact has probably contributed to) the overarching Canadian identity, which is still in search of its defining formula. Occasionally the Ukrainian-Canadian identity displays an ardent Canadian nationalism; this is particularly evident in the speeches of Manoly Lupul (see the exchange between him and Professor Magocsi on p. 35–36). There is no doubt that for Ukrainian Canadians born in Canada, their past and future are tied to this country, not Ukraine.

From that point of view, the postwar Ukrainian immigrants in Canada differ substantially from the earlier Ukrainian Canadians. The former, as a rule, maintained a strong Ukrainian ethnocultural identity. It was Ukraine, not Canada, that remained in the centre of the world view of these immigrants and motivated their many activities. For the postwar immigrants, the most important objectives were to preserve the achievements and accomplishments of the modern Ukrainian national movement, as well as to represent to the world the “authentic Ukraine” that they “took with them”[3] when fleeing their native land. They vigorously opposed the Communist regime in the USSR and strove to influence Canadian foreign policy in that direction. It was they who established the field of academic Ukrainian studies in Canada and did their best to legitimize it in the Western academic milieu.

The Canadian government chiefly aimed to integrate the Ukrainian immigrants successfully into Canadian society. Along the way, from time to time Canadian politicians tried to exploit the resources of the Ukrainian community for some concrete goal. The government facilitated the institutional structuring of the Ukrainian community in the creation in 1940 of an umbrella civic body—the Ukrainian Canadian Committee.[4] Canada’s new multiculturalism policy created political conditions for maintaining, and even developing, the ethnocultural identity of the Ukrainian-Canadian community during the political crisis around Quebec at the beginning of the 1970s. For its part, the Ukrainian community played a prominent role in providing input regarding Canadian government policy toward Ukraine, and Ukrainian Canadians occupied important positions in the Canadian federal government. It could be said that the Canadian political and academic elite at the time tended to regard Ukraine, and the field of Ukrainian studies, through the eyes of the Ukrainian-Canadian community.

I believe that the aforesaid permits us to better understand some of the nuances in the history of Ukrainian studies in Canada. To illustrate, the conference participants particularly emphasized their influence on Western academia. Bishop Borys (Gudziak) recounts:[5]

The standards in Ukrainian studies were high, and the vision was broad. From the Huns to Byzantium, from literature to numismatics, from demographic studies to minute linguistic detail…in many of our places of study and research, people in Ukrainian studies set standards for other scholars in the number of languages they knew, and the number of points of view they could understand, and in the hard work they had to put in to overcome the biases (17).

Mark Von Hagen notes that “Ukraine has been…the most important factor in what we now call the ‘imperial turn’ in Russian and East European history. Ukraine’s example has forced Russian historians above all (the most important audience for some of us) and Polish historians to rethink a lot of their own history” (53). I would also add to this list the phenomenon of modern nationalities studies, whose early development can be credited in significant measure to Ivan Lysiak Rudnytsky, John Armstrong, and Stepan Horak. Overall, the conference presentations on the history of Ukrainian studies are of a remarkably personal nature, and the discussion often focuses on current issues in the state of this field.

Ukrainian studies

Considering the positive growth dynamic of Ukrainian studies during the past four decades—not to mention the attention paid to Ukraine by Western mass media during the last 15–20 years—it is somewhat surprising to hear, according to Paul Robert Magocsi, that even today “Ukraine does remain a little-known or misunderstood country in today’s world,” and that still a “distorted view of Ukraine…seems to dominate public awareness in many parts of Europe and North America” (25). The reasons for this must be sought first of all in the situation that Ukrainian studies are currently going through a new stage of reorganization and reconceptualization that has resulted from political, generational, and intellectual changes as well as evolving academic priorities.

The context in which these changes are occurring is greatly affected by the general crisis in the humanities in the global scholarly milieu. Mark Von Hagen speaks of “the decline of funding for the humanities, both in the West and in Ukraine, and together with the humanities, area-studies centres that focus on international relations and foreign cultures and societies.The humanities are being made less and less attractive, as is the teaching profession in general, all the way down to the primary school level” (54). This point of view is shared especially by Rory Finnin and Bohdan Kordan. Kordan says, “It is not just the field of Ukrainian studies that has suffered but, with few exceptions, the entire humanities and social sciences as well” (106). Most of the conference participants appear to agree with this assessment.

Since 1991, the entire system of production, dissemination, and application of scholarly knowledge about the former socialist world that was set up during the Cold War years continues to undergo profound institutional and disciplinary reorganization. Primarily this has affected Slavic studies, East European studies, Sovietology or Soviet studies, and also area studies—all these have traditionally included Ukrainian studies. Although the discussions of the conference participants testify that there is no alternative to an interdisciplinary approach to Ukrainian studies, significant problems with interdisciplinary dialogue within Ukrainian studies themselves are also evident.

Apparently Taras Kuzio is the only discussant who still believes that “Ukrainian studies did not become broader and more inclusive after 1991, nor did it bring in political science” (34). Mark Von Hagen objects, noting that “it is not that we have abandoned political sciencepolitical science has abandoned us.” He also suggests that this problem emerges from a so-called “Las Vegas complex”—namely, the tendency of social and political sciences in the US to self-isolate with respect to “what happens in Ukraine stays in Ukraine”—and concludes, “It is going to take a reconstruction of political science before they can come back to us” (39).

Dominique Arel, a political scientist himself, disagrees with both colleagues, pointing out that “political scientists are in fact a very important component of the area studies discipline that we call Ukrainian studies” (105) and citing the example of the Danyliw Seminar at the University of Ottawa, where political scientists comprise about one-third of the presenters. However, he is convinced that Ukrainian studies today include not only political scientists but also sociologists and anthropologists. Apropos, the latter are less influenced by political affairs than professional political scientists are.

It could be said that the traditional conceptions of the disciplines that encompass Ukrainian studies are changing. Certainly these disciplines have been significantly influenced by cultural studies. Thus, the philologist Taras Koznarsky quite justifiably asserts, “Ukrainian culture and literature are capable of providing access and insight into the most relevant, complex, and powerful human experiences, and we should display them with the best, without apologies or reservations” (112).

The decline in classic humanities subjects is directly connected to the crisis in the classic university model, which itself is founded upon the principle of academic autonomy. This problem is mentioned by Borys Gudziak, Rory Finnin, Frank Sysyn, Roman Petryshyn, and Manoly Lupul. The latter comments that the freedom characterizing university life in Canada forty years ago “does not exist now; instead there is too much worry about simply picking up the money” (40). The accelerating bureaucratization of the university system throughout the world, and in Canada in particular, is damaging the humanities and diluting the values of professional ethics.

At the same time, the centralization and unification of the university environment virtually hands it over to incompetent administrators, further reducing the already low competitiveness of Canadian universities in liberal arts education compared to US and European universities. Notably, in addressing the issue of academic autonomy, Frank Sysyn finds a positive example of it being upheld not in Canada or the US but in Britain: “They have an academic spine in Cambridge to defend academic traditions, not to go along with whatever the last bureaucracy or dean says” (68).

Given their traditionally small size and enrolment, Ukrainian courses are the first to be sacrificed in the process of deterioration of university humanities and are on a disappearing trend—as discussed in particular by Manoly Lupul, Myroslav Shkandrij, and Alla Nedashkivska. Paul Robert Magocsi calls on us to be realists and admit that “Ukraine is never likely to attract a level of interest among North American university students that would sustain the several existing Ukrainian research institutes, endowed professorships, and departments that offer courses in Ukrainian-related subjects” (25). However, his own example demonstrates that on a nationwide level, teaching Ukrainian studies courses at Canadian universities is hardly a uniform scenario.

According to Professor Magocsi, the Ukrainian history course at the University of Toronto is flourishing, attracting a significant number of students per year. Dominique Arel, Serhy Yekelchyk, and David Marples also present a rather optimistic picture when describing their respective teaching experiences. Bohdan Kordan offers an interesting observation about “those who were still committed to a traditional language and literature model and were prepared to fight a losing battle against senior administration in its defense” (107). Unfortunately the question of traditionalists versus innovators in the field of Ukrainian studies is not taken up by other conference participants.

As we know, the events of 2014 in Ukraine, and the repercussions abroad, had a significant effect on Western academia, splitting it into pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian political camps. The polemics between them very often crossed the boundaries of academic discourse. Understandably, the topic of Ukrainian-Russian relations is not ignored in these proceedings either. Mark Von Hagen speaks of the necessity for scholars to “counter” and “dismantle” the Russian imperial narrative (64), while David Marples agrees that “there are so many scholars today who have supported, by and large, the Russian version of why Russia is waging war in Ukraine” (65), and tells us not to demonize and not to exaggerate Putin’s influence on the academic environment.

The problem of Ukrainian-Russian relations is contextualized in the frameworks of the civilizational paradigm and comparative approach. The ideas of Samuel Huntington, despite being criticized or perhaps because of it, remain relevant in academia, especially in light of recent events in Europe and the US. Not surprisingly, Huntington’s name is raised alongside that of the current POTUS. The discussion around the civilizational paradigm, touched on by Rory Finnin and David Marples, demonstrates that national identity is still very much an issue in Ukraine. Professor Marples also discusses the significance of historical legacy, primarily concerning the Second World War, and regional dimensions of Ukrainian studies. Mark Von Hagen puts forward an interesting thought that the Israeli model of a militarized democracy could be applicable to Ukraine in its relations with Russia.

Some inspiring ideas on the prospects for the future development of Ukrainian studies are fervently expressed by Yaroslav Hrytsak. His position is clearly different from that of most of his colleagues:

We are still dealing with identity, with language…but they do not explain what is really going on in Ukraine.We are still very much stuck in the old agenda.But I would say that there are much more important things to discuss.You have to come up with a set of ideas, suggestions to help this country fight the historical legacy (not with historical memory per se).Ukrainian scholars have a unique opportunity to formulate a new agenda for Ukrainian studies (67).

It is interesting that Hrytsak’s pragmatic approach to Ukrainian studies resonates with Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak’s vision of Ukrainian society—“basicallya quintessentially bourgeois society that really wants a good, decent life, and forcing people to come to a decision of what Weltanschauung, or world view, they all have to accept is generally not top on people’s agenda” (79).

Ukrainian-Canadian studies

The panel devoted to Ukrainian-Canadian studies is distinctive for its reflections on the professional identity of this sub-discipline. The definition of the term Ukrainian-Canadian studies contains the same element of ambivalence as in Ukrainian studies. Natalia Khanenko-Friesen considers the difference between the two:

We can speak about Ukrainian studies or the Ukrainian legacy, culture, history in Canada, and that is often the pursuit of so many of us. But we can also think of the Ukrainian-Canadian legacy in broader terms and operate with the adjective “Ukrainian-Canadian” through the hyphen, [as applied to] Ukrainian-Canadian ethnicity, culture, heritage, history, and society (76).

If one continues along these lines, then certainly the virtual space of Ukrainian-Canadian studies could include scholarship carried out in Ukraine, in Poland, or eventually any country in the world.

The necessity of differentiating more clearly between “Ukrainian” and “Ukrainian-Canadian” studies is also mulled over by other conference participants. For example, for Dominique Arel “these are two different worlds that intersect at some level, but not always, as they are two different experiences” (121). Lubomyr Luciuk goes even further and emphasizes that between representatives of Ukrainian and Ukrainian-Canadian studies there is “very little coordination or co-operation, and in fact, sometimes there has been a barely concealed hostility” (83). Andrij Makuch seeks a compromise by saying that “one cannot really divorce Ukrainian-Canadian studies from Ukrainian studies. If you are dealing with Ukrainian-Canadian studies, you really do have to know about developments in Ukraine, because there is an interplay between them” (86).

If Ukrainian-Canadian studies are part of Ukrainian studies from the Ukrainian perspective, then from the Canadian perspective they belong in the territory of Canadian studies—although, as Natalia Khanenko-Friesen notes, they are on the margins of both. On the one hand, this kind of disciplinary ambivalence in Ukrainian-Canadian studies corresponds to the hybrid nature of Ukrainian-Canadian identity. Professor Luciuk’s declaration is characteristic in this regard: “I am not a Ukrainian-Canadian studies specialist, and I am not a Ukrainianist; I am somewhere in-between” (80). On the other hand, Ukrainian-Canadian studies show much stronger links to the community than do Ukraine-oriented studies. For Professor Khanenko-Friesen, “this field, Ukrainian-Canadian studies, is an excellent example of what scholars nowadays call community-engaged scholarship…with a mandate to pursue scholarship and research in partnership and collaboration with communities” (77).

If we agree with the aforesaid, then the question of critical distance between the subject and object of research in Ukrainian-Canadian studies becomes one of principle. Namely, in the proceedings, the comments on this subject are mostly given by members of that very Ukrainian-Canadian community itself who are attending the conference. Regardless, some of the observations made by conference participants deserve a closer look. For example, Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak notes: “What always struck me was the similarity between the Ukrainian diaspora organizations and the way Ukraine functions. Just multiply the Ukrainian diaspora organizations by a few million, and you have Ukraine” (45). Overall, it must be admitted that on Ukrainian-Canadian issues the conference brought up more questions than it answered.

Who, in fact, makes up the Ukrainian-Canadian community? Are they ethnic Ukrainians only, or also others (as raised by Paul Robert Magocsi) who emigrated from the territory of contemporary Ukraine? The Ukrainian-Canadian community in general remains distant from the “fourth wave” of Ukrainian (post-Soviet) immigrants, which in numeric terms is already nearly equal to the post–World War II “third wave.” What are the factors at play in the mutual alienation of different components of the Ukrainian community in Canada? Which of them qualify under the definition of “diaspora”? Finally, to what extent are “open society” values and norms cultivated in Ukrainian-Canadian organizations? Are they able to cope with the controversial historical legacies of Communism, integral nationalism, or anti-Semitism? What can be done about deeply rooted traditionalism, mythological thinking, siege mentality, parochialism, and nepotism? Other questions could be added to this list, but another conference would have to be specially called to seek the answers.

Town and gown

What kind of dialogue is there between the community and academia? What is “the vision that the Ukrainian diaspora had developed for Ukrainian studies” (Serhii Plokhii, 20)? On the community side, Manoly Lupul pursued its formation with great verve: “As a group, academics in Ukrainian studies are not practitioners like the others. Theirs is a very special constituency.…At the base of the special constituency for academics in Ukrainian studies is of course the Ukrainian community” (23). Essentially Dr. Lupul adheres to a traditional view of the special mission of the intelligentsia and its service to the community. This idea appears to be shared by some of the other conference participants.

In one of the discussions, Jars Balan quotes UCC President Paul Grod saying that that he [Grod] came to this conference with an idea of getting “all our institutes, all our academic bodies, as members of the UCC” (98). Mr. Grod subsequently moderated his position somewhat, and declared only that he supports the proposal to create an “academic advisory council” of Ukrainian studies scholars under the UCC (148). I remember well our conversations on this issue six months before the conference, and give Mr. Grod credit for his political flexibility. However, looking at the management level of the UCC, it still appears that there is practically no representation from the academic community. Therefore it is not clear to what extent the UCC’s policies on Ukraine are based on information from experts. In this respect, the UCC appears to be following the example of the federal government.

Canada might be considered by many to be an emerging global power, especially in light of its growing relations with European countries, on the one hand, and the increasing isolationism of US foreign policy, on the other. Again, however, it is hard to guess to what extent the new trends in Canada’s foreign policy are based on the opinions of experts. Former Canadian ambassador Derek Fraser informs the audience about “regional strategic centres at various Canadian universities,” then avows that “what is required is a certain degree of dialogue between centres of area studies at various universities in Canada and the Canadian government” (38). From what was said at the conference, it could be concluded that the expert opinions of Ukrainianists have little influence on Canada’s political players, with the government continuing to based its policy decisions on the recommendations of the Ukrainian community rather than on academia.

Roman Petryshyn presents a proposal to further develop endowments and agencies to support Ukrainian studies. He argues for the necessary creation of new administrative structures that would engage in coordination and centralization in the field of Ukrainian studies. It appears that these ideas are based on concepts that existed at the time when the CIUS was founded. The founders imagined it in the role of an overall national coordinating centre for Ukrainian studies, but today it can be stated that the concept was utopian. One obtains the impression that the Ukrainian community proposes to respond to increasing pressure from the university bureaucracy by increasing its own control over academia. Thus, academia is stuck between the metaphoric Scylla and Charybdis, essentially verifying the deterioration of the principle of academic autonomy.

Lubomyr Luciuk reacts to this situation with rhetorical questions: “Are we here to please the hromada? Are we here for the community?…Or are we, as academics, possessed of the academic freedom to study whatever we want?” (83). The answers to these questions can vary, of course, especially when one considers the dual nature of the humanities between science and art. The response of each successive generation of intellectuals probably varies depending on the context. The explosive development of social media only exacerbates the problematic relations between “town and gown.” The conference participants are unanimous in supporting the necessity of paying more attention to social media. But if in this chorus, for example, Paul Robert Magocsi is more reminiscent of the classic academic scholar in his ivory tower, then Yaroslav Hrytsak sooner evokes the classic dichotomy of “citizen poet” (more citizen than poet), calling for transparency at the expense of academic integrity. Understandably, in this case not only generational differences but also the specific socio-political situation with the “Ukrainian question” predicates different concepts about the role of scholars in society.

What is the vision of Ukraine as seen from the Ukrainian-Canadian perspective? The image of a captive nation heroically struggling for centuries for its independence is classic for a multitude of nationalisms. In the case of Ukraine, it was shared by all waves of Ukrainian émigrés. Again, understandably, during the years of the Cold War it was the ethno-cultural concept of the Ukrainian nation that prevailed over the territorial-political one—to such an extent that it was espoused not only by the “third-wave” Ukrainian immigrants but also by the Ukrainian Canadians, who were conscious of the need to preserve their own identity. Thus, in contrast to the former contingent, whose loyalties were Ukraine-oriented, in the latter community they had to contend from time to time with a question of priority: what was more important, Canada or Ukraine?

After the collapse of the USSR and emergence of an independent Ukraine, the priority issue concerning community policy on Ukrainian studies came to the fore with renewed urgency. Energies expended on Ukraine were eroded and gave way to disappointment, while increased threats were felt vis-à-vis the Ukrainian-Canadian community as a result of assimilation processes and federal government changes to Canadian identity policy. These problems were not specifically discussed during the conference, but traces of exchanges on relevant topics can be found in presentations on establishing foundations and endowments (Olga Kuplowska, David Marples) and on institutional Ukrainian studies networks that have resulted from such initiatives in Canada and the US (Nadia Jacyk).

It is no accident that when Paul Robert Magocsi concludes that “at an organizational level, our field has not only reached its realistic limits but has gone beyond them” (25). The practice of creating a broad network of small institutions and Ukrainian studies programs which inevitably must struggle to maintain their existence—and compete among themselves—was roundly criticized by the Ukrainian Canadian businessman and philanthropist Peter Jacyk forty years ago, but little has changed since then. The money that has been spent by Ukrainian donors on small programs would all together have been more than enough to establish a full-fledged university, like the U of A’s Campus Saint-Jean or the Canadian Mennonite University. In Winnipeg such a project came close to implementation, but the plans remained unfulfilled. The same can be said about Ukraine, since the community’s dealings with Ukrainian studies there are sometimes governed by the personal ambitions of local leaders, as well as by the purchasing power of the Canadian dollar over the Ukrainian hryvnia, rather than by academic priorities.

In lieu of conclusions

In sum, did the conference provide answers to the questions posed by the organizers? Perhaps these published proceedings will generate contradictory perspectives, somewhat like the “glass half-full, glass half-empty” scenario. Some will say that Ukrainian studies are in a cyclical downturn, waiting for new people, new ideas, and new funding. Others may interpret this conference as a farewell to the generation that established Ukrainian studies in Canada in its current incarnation. Still others will realize that they have in their hands a primary source for a first-class history of Ukrainian studies in the West during the last forty years. In my opinion, the conference proceedings reflect the true state of the field of Ukrainian studies in Canada. Even the absence of certain people and the tacit treatment of certain problems provide food for thought. For these reasons we decided to publish the conference proceedings in the form of transcripts, which convey the lively atmosphere of the presentations and discussions.

The proceedings show that Ukrainian studies in Canada can look forward to at least the near future, but indeed the field is greatly dependent on the Canadian and international contexts. On the one hand, in the past four decades the field of Ukrainian studies has amassed solid institutional, intellectual, and financial capital where there was none before. On the other hand, this capital sometimes looks quite inert and tends to stagnate. On the one hand, recent events in Ukraine and their consequences have created a favourable political climate for the development of Ukrainian studies. On the other hand, negative developments on university campuses are nullifying any progress. The biggest threat to Ukrainian studies, to my mind, is not insufficient funds (there is never enough money) or even comparatively low enrolment (it was never really high) but the overall deterioration in the professional academic standards of university education.

In Ukrainian studies there is no lack of innovative thinkers or fresh ideas. They try to persuade us regarding the significant advantages of new centres and programs over institutions, such as CIUS, that were formed during a completely different period and have difficulty changing their structure and academic priorities. New scholarly projects very often take place not thanks to but in spite of the dominant policy trends of stakeholders in this field—that is, politicians, mainstream academia, and the community. Referencing the conference title, we could say that the academic Ukrainian text has a good dynamic and development prospects, while its political, institutional, and socio-cultural context leaves something to be desired.

In the West, at an individual level Ukrainianists are wholly prepared to meet challenges such as new paradigms, social media, and interdisciplinarity. However, our organizations have perennially lacked the broad consolidation required to jointly defend our professional rights and corporate interests. As Paul Robert Magocsi remarked, “Consolidation, even retrenchment—not expansion—would seem to be the appropriate approach for Ukrainian studies in North America” (25). But the potential basis for such a consolidation appears illusory. The International Association for Ukrainian Studies—established, as we know, at the time of the USSR’s collapse—is today “more dead than alive…hopeless,” according to Yaroslav Hrytsak (68). The Canadian Association for Ukrainian Studies (CAUS),[6] officially constituted in 2002, was largely ignored during the conference. One can hardly wonder that proposals to create new structures like consortiums, an institute of institutes, or a “community of communities” are met with skepticism.

The future prospects of Ukrainian studies in Canada depend to a large degree on their flexibility and openness to intellectual innovation, and also on their capability to expand their intellectual horizons—“to focus on where Ukraine can shed light on some other issues…to develop courses other than courses on Ukraine, but with Ukraine…” (Marta Bohachevsky-Chomiak, 46), to apply “a global-minded approach to teaching about Ukraine” (Serhy Yekelchyk, 57), and to “integrate Ukrainian studies into the Humanities” (David Marples, 60). Of course, one cannot deny the necessity of maintaining continuity with the legacy projects that put Canada on the map of global Ukrainian and East European studies. However, in the future the influence of Ukrainian-Canadian studies (as part of Canadian studies), as well as Ukrainian diaspora studies (as part of global diaspora studies), on Ukrainian studies in general could be more pronounced.

Finally, whether we like it or not, Ukrainian studies in Canada will continue to be seen as the domain of the Ukrainian community—at least in the eyes of the local political and academic establishment. This means that Ukrainian studies are, and will be, at the periphery of the Canadian academic mainstream. One need only recall how few scholars from other disciplines and faculties at the University of Alberta felt it worth their while to come to the conference and participate in the broader debates that went beyond the Ukrainian framework.

Today the centre of gravity of Ukrainian studies is in Ukraine, which since the country’s independence in 1991 has gradually developed its infrastructure, fostered a favourable social milieu, acquired a sensitivity to context, and cultivated a political demand for a national narrative. To be sure, academia in Ukraine still needs funding from the West in order to survive in the post-Soviet reality. However, it no longer beholds Ukrainian studies from the West as a revelation. Today, we must heed the words of Yaroslav Hrytsak: “Ukraine and Ukrainian scholars—I am talking about Ukrainian scholars in Ukraine, definitely—have to start speaking in their own voice” (67).

[1]    See also my article “Ukrainian historical writing in Canada after the Second World War,” published in 2016 in Storia della Storiografia (vol. 69, no.1).

[2]    Skrypuch, M.F. “Am I Ukrainian?” in Unbound: Ukrainian Canadians Writing Home, ed. L. Grekul and L. Ledohowski. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

[3]    This quote references the memoir Z soboiu vzialy Ukraïnu (We Took Ukraine With Us; Kyiv: KVITs, 2007) by the late Peter (Petro) Savaryn, one of the founders of CIUS, who attended, at the age of 90, our 40th anniversary conference. He died in April 2017.

[4]    Renamed the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 1990. The UCC embraced all Ukrainian organizations except pro-Soviet ones.

[5]    Quotes in the Introduction may be taken from the speaker’s main presentation or any discussion. All ellipses are inserted, replacing missed text; the page number is given in parentheses following the end of the quote or quote cluster.

[6]    An autonomous affiliate of the Canadian Association of Slavists (CAS, est. 1954).