Ideas, Memories, Hopes: Great Decisions Lecture

Vitaly Chernetsky. Image courtesy of Great Decisions of Wayne County.
Bernard Bischoff, Contributing Writer

On Feb. 24, 2022, Russia shocked the world as they sent missiles and soldiers to attack and obliterate a people who had once been their peaceful next-door neighbors. Now almost exactly a year later, Ukraine is still at war and the injured and dead keep growing by the day. 

It all seems complex and a world away, but Wooster students have another chance to understand the conflict and hear from experts in the last lecture in the series “Russia’s War Against Ukraine: Causes and Consequences,” offered by Great Decisions of Wayne County, a joint venture between the College and the surrounding community. On Monday, March 6, Vitaly Chernetsky, professor at the University of Kansas and past president of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies, will speak on “Ukrainian Culture and the War Response: Ideas, Memories, Hopes.” The lecture is free, at 7:30 pm, in the Gault Recital Hall in Scheide Music Center. 

The continuing war in Ukraine has shocked everyone who has followed Russia’s incursion, and inspired everyone who has watched President Zelenskyy’s rise from former TV comedian to world figure of power and resistance. But why is Russia still determined to obliterate Ukraine and Ukrainian culture in the face of such heroic resistance? Why have some countries even shown support for Russia, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua? The sponsors of the lecture series hope that these talks will help clarify the situation.

The most recent lecture in the series hosted Michael Bociurkiw, a journalist and writer who spent seven months reporting from on the ground in Ukraine. He spoke about his experience and about how this war has the potential to alter the geopolitical landscape, not just in Europe, but all over the world. 

Matt Mariola, assistant professor of environmental studies and organizer for Great Decisions, spoke more to why they chose this lecture series and how it affects the world. “The lecture series is always about a topic of international importance,” Mariola says, “but we thought Ukraine was a particularly relevant topic even for college students.” Mariola said that they wanted in particular to focus on the humanitarian and refugee angle. Next Tuesday’s lecture is the final one in a series that has sought to shed light on this complex and tragic situation. 

Chernetsky is not only an expert on Ukrainian culture and author of “Mapping Post Communist Cultures: Russia and Ukraine in the Context of Globalization,” the co-winner of the book prize of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies. He is also a witness with first-hand knowledge of Ukrainian culture, being Ukrainian himself. Mariola says, “What makes me most excited about the final talk is that, after having a military expert, followed by a news media expert, now we get a true cultural expert who is steeped in both Russian and Ukrainian cultural heritages. He can speak to the cultural and historical roots of the war, and being Ukrainian himself, can shine a light deeply into the Ukrainian national psyche and how it faces the reality of war while maintaining hope and resilience. He also can quote from Russian and Ukrainian literature and film with ease.”

In an interview with KSHB-TV in Kansas, Chernetsy said of the first days of the invasion, “It was hard to concentrate on work. I could not really do much but try to process, check on friends and loved ones, especially my elderly father who is in Odessa, Ukraine. I still have so many friends who are actively in places that are being bombed.” He also pointed out parallels between Ukrainians’ fight for freedom and American history. “So what Ukrainians are doing, they are at the front line of defending freedom, equality, democracy — all good principles this country stood for when it proclaimed its independence.” 

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