U-M supports Ukrainian scholars at risk

Open doors

Seven at-risk Ukrainian scholars have found a temporary intellectual home in Ann Arbor as they embark on a one-year research visit to U-M. The academics are members of a unique and pioneering program at The Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia (WCEE), which matches them with faculty partners from U-M’s schools and colleges.

“Research has halted in Ukraine and we had to act fast to support a group of scholars during these critical and challenging times of war,” says Geneviève Zubrzycki,  professor of sociology and director of the Weiser Center.

Geneviève Zubrzycki is professor of Sociology at the U-M, where she directs the Weiser Center. Image credit Leisa Thomson

Geneviève Zubrzycki is professor of Sociology at the U-M, where she directs the Weiser Center. (Image: Leisa Thomson.)

The WCEE is providing the fellows with salary, health insurance, and visa costs. WCEE also arranged  travel for fellows and their families, found housing, and coordinated collections of clothes, housewares, and school supplies in the Ann Arbor community.

“The immediate goal of this fellowship is to offer a life-saving and temporary intellectual home so that fellows can carry on their research and build new networks while teaching our faculty and students about the situation in Ukraine,” says Zubrzycki. “We also hope they take what they learn at U-M back to Ukraine to participate in the reconstruction effort.”

Zubrzycki tailored the program’s immediate focus in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In the following Q&A, Zubrzycki offers more details about the program.

This fellowship provides a safe location for displaced Ukrainian scholars and their families. How unique is the program design?

We know of nowhere else that is getting a group of Ukrainian scholars for a full 12-month fellowship. Other institutions may have been hosting one or two scholars.

Our program is also unique in that we match scholars with U-M faculty in fields and disciplines similar to theirs. The intention is to provide a unique intellectual and professional opportunity to develop these scholars’ skills. The ultimate goal is that when they return to Ukraine, they fight for peace and democracy and participate in the rebuilding of civil society and academic institutions.

Will the scholarship offer a few rare commodities to this specific group, such as safety, time, and resources, so they can spend a year in Ann Arbor to grow and advance their academic career?

Yes, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia is specialized in the region and we have a particular interest in political, cultural, and economic affairs. In this situation, there’s obviously a humanitarian component. We’ve been following what is happening in Russia and Ukraine for a long time, but especially closely since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.

The Scholars at Risk Fellows were brought here on the model of our successful professional development fellowship. Fellows are not being left on their own; they’re matched with a faculty mentor, who is responsible for guiding their research, integrating them into their departments, and introducing them to other colleagues.

Fellows’ research areas vary from human rights to European integration, from cyber warfare to the destruction of Ukrainian material heritage. Some study medium and information literacy, what the Holocaust can teach on the dangers of the current war, and the impact of the war on women.

These awards support research visits from September 2022-August 2023. They include round-trip airfare for fellows and dependents, visa support, health insurance, and salary, ranging from $50,000-$60,000.

How was the application process?

We started thinking about a fellowship for Ukrainian scholars in the very first days following the Russian invasion. We quickly set up a call for applications and a review process. We created a simple application, asking for the minimum information candidates could supply on a smartphone. It was important that the information could be typed or even dictated on their phone. We opened a competition for awards from mid-March to mid-April and received 79 applications.

The program is also keeping these at-risk families together. Is being able to bring their children a key benefit of the fellowship?

Definitely. Most Ukrainian men ages 18-59 cannot leave the country. Fellows are leaving their husbands and parents behind, bringing their children with them. It’s a difficult decision, but it ultimately makes a huge difference in those families’ lives.

Fellows’ children are enrolled in Ann Arbor public schools and will be integrated into our community. This program has been a collective effort, and the Ann Arbor community has been supporting the program and offering families everything from clothing, school supplies, and housing items to facilitating physician visits and trauma counseling.

What do you believe are the benefits of this immersion to the U-M and local communities?

That was an important criterion when we selected these scholars. We looked into what they could teach us about the region – about Ukraine in general, Eastern Europe, the impact of the war on their research, their universities, and academic life in Ukraine and the current situation.

Instead of only reading about it, it is essential that our students meet people who are living something that’s happening now – and being impacted by it. So we plan to showcase their experiences and research in a variety of settings.

We also would like the fellows to meet our students to discuss all sorts of issues related to the history and culture of Ukraine, not only the war. Furthermore, these meetings will hopefully improve our communities’ knowledge of advocacy, international relations, and diplomacy.

(Lead image of scholars with WCEE staff is courtesy of the WCEE.)

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