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Adrian Karmazyn 

Ukrainian Studies at Harvard –

Highlights from a 1998 VOA Reporting Assignment


Опис : HURI logo

By Adrian Karmazyn

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University (HURI) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For half a century, the institute has been supporting high-quality scholarly work on Ukrainian history, language and literature – and, inherently, countering Russia-centric narratives about Ukraine.

HURI credits (1) the Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations of America and Harvard professor Omeljan Pritsak as being the initiators of efforts to establish the institute.  Funding for creating the institute largely came from the Ukrainian diaspora and was channeled through what came to be known as the Ukrainian Studies Fund.

I travelled to Harvard in the summer of 1998 as a radio journalist for the Voice of America’s (VOA) Ukrainian Service in order to profile the people and activities of HURI, a subject of particular interest for our audience in Ukraine. What follows are some highlights from my reporting assignment which illustrate the dynamism of Ukrainian studies at Harvard – one of America’s most prestigious universities -- at a time when new opportunities for interactions between the U.S. and Ukrainian academic communities were rapidly expanding and new priorities were being implemented.

In an interview, James Clem, HURI Executive Director, explained that no other U.S. university has an institute devoted to Ukrainian history, language, literature and politics.  And among other accomplishments, HURI-affiliated scholars have conducted important historical research spanning Ukraine’s thousand-year history. But as Mr. Clem said, in recent years, with Ukrainians having achieved independence, much more attention is being focused on contemporary issues:

“During the Soviet period it was very clear what our role was – it was concerned with preserving an independent Ukrainian studies community at a time when opportunities in Soviet Ukraine were very limited.  Now when Ukraine is independent, we are dealing with Ukraine much more directly.”

For example, Clem noted that a big program of exchanges of students and scholars has been launched between Ukraine and Harvard which is tasked with helping Ukrainians get acquainted with Western approaches to humanities and social studies.

The Ukrainian Research Institute also facilitates specialists from both sides gaining access to archives and other scholarly resources in the U.S. and Ukraine.  Besides this, HURI hosts seminars and lectures of experts who influence American foreign policy.  Speaking about plans for the 1998-1999 academic year, James Clem said that HURI, by itself or in cooperation with other scholarly centers at Harvard, expects to hold several Ukrainian-themed conferences:

“We’ll be starting off in November with a conference on Ukrainian-American writers.  We’ll be bringing in writers from across the U.S.  In December, we’ll have the next seminar for military personnel from Ukraine on civilian control of the armed forces. In February, we will have a conference on the topic of [Mykailo] Hrushevsky and state building, with a comparative analysis of the experiences of other countries.  In April, according to plans, there will be a conference about Belarus.  In June – about Ukrainian-Polish relations.”

Having provided funding for the establishment of HURI in 1973, the diaspora continued to be engaged with the activities of the institute. Over the decades, some in the community were not shy about criticizing the Ukrainian studies program at Harvard, saying it pursues issues of secondary importance or research that has more to do with neighboring countries than with Ukraine itself. James Clem acknowledged the diaspora’s passionate feelings about HURI, noting that “this is the only institute of its kind in the United States and it was founded by the Ukrainian-American community; and because it is the only such institution everyone has a personal opinion about our programs.”

Furthermore, said Clem, from the viewpoint of the institute, current standards of scholarship require that Ukrainian studies encompass a wide circle of issues. He also underscored that HURI does not have a monopoly at Harvard regarding Ukrainian studies. For example, the Harvard Institute of International Development and the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) have their own programs dedicated to economics and security, respectively, that focus on Ukraine. [More information about KSG’s Ukraine-related activities will be provided further below.]

Speaking about his roots, James Clem shared that his mother is an immigrant from Ukraine who came to the USA after World War II and he grew up in Miami, Florida, where he participated in a Ukrainian dance group. Clem’s research interests include the topic of Ukrainian political parties and a few years ago he conducted research in Ukraine for his dissertation. 


Since its beginnings, HURI has been hosting a Ukrainian summer program where undergraduate and graduate students can immerse themselves in Ukrainian studies.  During the Cold War with the Iron Curtain limiting travel to and from Ukraine, the program was geared toward American and other Western students.  In the summer of 1998, of the 53 students in attendance, 20 were from Ukraine, clearly demonstrating the new opportunities for U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation.

Ukrainian Summer School director Vera Andrushkiw explained that HURI in summertime is a place to improve your knowledge about Ukraine and the Ukrainian language and to boost your professional credentials. Although there are Ukrainian courses taught at other U.S. colleges, HURI’s summer program is the broadest and most intensive, she said.  From morning until night during the span of eight weeks you are immersed in a curriculum that includes Ukrainian language for business, 20th century Ukrainian literature, Ukrainian social history and Ukrainian politics.  Besides this menu of courses there are other activities – special lectures, drama productions, Ukrainian movies and concerts.  Andrushkiw said it is not odd that students have come to Cambridge from Ukraine, because Harvard offers them something unique:

“Here they experience a somewhat different methodology.  And secondly, they have the opportunity to listen to how Ukrainian history is taught here; how Ukrainian politics is taught in a global context.  And I think this is very important.  And I think the fact that they are communicating with other students -- and last year, which was my first year at Harvard – students were asking me: ‘Why would Americans want to learn the Ukrainian language? Interesting but strange.  What will they do with it?’ But now there really is a genuine interest in various Ukrainian studies subjects; people are traveling to Ukraine to work.”

Students from Ukraine said they probably most appreciate the approach of American lecturers regarding Ukrainian subject matter.  And observing the increasing amount of American curiosity about Ukraine and the business potential there was certainly a pleasure. But an unexpected benefit of the HURI summer program is that it brought together students from different regions of Ukraine, who otherwise would not have had the chance to engage with one another and exchange ideas.

Tetiana Skortsova, a student from Luhansk Pedagogical University said that “in Ukraine we don’t have this kind of opportunity to communicate with representatives of other regions.  This is very interesting for me to talk with these students and to see the differences between eastern and western Ukraine or the capital, because there are differences.”  Differences in educational experiences, for example, she said.

The 20 visiting students were sponsored by the International Renaissance Foundation, Citicorp corporation and the Ukrainian Fraternal Association.


One of the lecturers at the Ukrainian Summer School at Harvard was Paul D’Anieri, a visiting professor of political science from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  In the summer of 1998 he was lecturing on Ukrainian politics at Harvard within the Ukrainian studies program.  He had kind words for the visiting students from Ukraine at HURI:

“I keep on telling them that I’m learning more from them than they are learning from me.  They are excellent students for one thing.  They participate consistently, they are judicious thinkers, and that’s why I’ve learned a lot from them.  I know a lot about political science and Ukraine – but they live there.”

D’Anieri knows a lot about Ukraine because he spent the 1993-1994 academic year in the country.   He specializes in Ukrainian foreign policy and the domestic factors which impact Ukraine’s foreign relations. And the question of internal politics is often discussed during his lectures in Kansas, he said:

“I teach a course on Russian foreign policy, in which we do a pretty big section both on Russia’s relations with Ukraine – but I also separately look at Ukrainian foreign policy.  I have a few students that are interested in these questions. “

Besides this, under his guidance two graduate students in Kansas were writing dissertations about Ukraine.

Paul D’Anieri is an American of Italian heritage.  As a graduate student in political science at Cornell University in the 1980s, he was interested in U.S.-Soviet relations.  In the spring of 1991, he received his Ph.D. and immediately faced some career adaptations. 

“Of course, the Soviet Union collapsed and there were questions for me of what next,” he recalled.   “And pretty immediately to me the interesting thing was how are all these countries going to get along with one another, and I immediately began to study Ukrainian-Russian relations,” he said.

Professor D’Anieri almost exclusively researches Ukrainian issues, especially foreign policy.  He believes that Ukraine’s biggest successes since independence are mostly visible in the international arena.  But he underscores that further achievements in the sphere of foreign policy will depend on conducting internal economic reforms.

It’s also worth mentioning, he said, that Ukraine was able to avoid interethnic conflicts which have engulfed other countries in the region. 

Returning to the question of engagement with the 20 students from Ukraine at Harvard, D’Anieri said that during class time interesting discussions arose about Ukrainization, relations with Russia, and reforms in Ukraine.  Although he personally has reservations regarding the activities of some corporations or American recipes for economic development, D'Anieri says that he was somewhat surprised by the viewpoints of this group of visiting young Ukrainians.  Despite the fact that they have spent time in the West and attended lectures on the economy, some of them are skeptical of foreign investment in Ukraine:

“The one thing I’ve noticed is that there is still a big difference between the standard, sort of American attitudes towards foreign investment and foreign trade and the views of my Ukrainian students.  I’m not saying that they are mistaken, because I myself have certain reservations when it comes to American recommendations regarding the economy.  But these Ukrainian students are much more suspicious about foreign investment and foreign trade than American experts.”


At Harvard, I also met Sarah Sievers, who along with journalist Margarita Hewko, led an oral history project which featured about 100 figures, capturing on videotape and transcribing their reminiscences from the 1991 putsch in Moscow and the Ukrainian declaration of independence.  The list of interviewees included Leonid Kravchuk and Viacheslav Chornovil.

“I think the real strength of this material,” said Ms. Sievers, “is that we have people who were the actors in creating independence for Ukraine. In the video recordings they describe what transpired and our goal is to make this accessible to all who are interested.”

In 1992 Sarah Sievers became a diplomat in the newly opened U.S. embassy in Kyiv and, subsequently, worked in an American organization fostering entrepreneurship in Ukraine.  While there, she met journalist Margarita Hewko from South America.  They became friends and decided to launch a self-funded initiative of gathering recollections. Sievers says that at that time one could not be certain that any Ukrainian entity would focus on this important task:

“There are a lot of difficulties.  It’s no secret that Ukraine is in the middle of an economic transformation, that it’s a very painful one. And that limits what many people with good ideas and initiative can accomplish.”

Other project participants included such prominent journalists as Mykola Veresen, Dmytro Ponomarchuk and Oleksandr Tkachenko.

Sarah Sievers considers General Kostyantyn Morozov, who after the declaration of independence became Ukraine’s minister of defense, one of the most interesting interviewees:

“I particularly like the interview we did with General Morozov and his description of how he came to a decision as far as the orders given on the day of the putsch. His actions were a true example for me.”

The project also included interviews with Polish president Lech Walesa, Lithuanian president Vytautas Landsbergis, U.S. national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and U.S. secretary of state James Baker.

Sievers said that for a time she believed Washington should have been more decisive in terms of supporting Ukraine’s aspirations for independence. But her interviews with high-level Americans made her reconsider the situation more within the context of U.S.-Soviet relations and the then-current global situation:

“I must confess that going into those interviews I was quite convinced that the U.S. policy towards Ukraine, in my opinion, was not satisfactory. But I must admit that I changed my mind after listening to their explanations.”

As Sievers explains, it’s easy to forget how brutal the Soviet system was and it could be expected that the putsch would be accompanied by a new wave of repression and even killings. Most interesting for her was that when the putsch started to fail, there was never an order from Moscow to Kyiv and other capitals of the republics to use force.

In recent years Ms. Sievers has been a researcher at HURI where she’s been working on this memoir project about the restoration of Ukrainian independence. The project received financial support from the Chopivsky Family Foundation’s Yale-Ukraine Initiative and the government of the Netherlands. Sievers had recently been appointed the executive director of the Center for International Development at Harvard, headed by renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs.


Another important part of the work of HURI is bringing Ukrainian studies research to print and to a wider audience.  We turned to Robert DeLossa, head of publishing at the Ukrainian Research Institute, to explain how a niche publisher of Ukraine-related books markets itself in the United States.

According to DeLossa, in 1998, as in previous years, the institute has published books which encompass a wide range of Ukrainian studies topics, from the distant past to current affairs.

For example, the institute has published historian Omeljan Pritsak’s work on the monetary system and system of weights and measures of Kyivan Rus and a collection of lectures of Ambassador Yuriy Shcherbak about Ukraine’s current geostrategic role in the world. 

Robert DeLossa says that a year ago HURI reorganized its work, turning over responsibility for marketing and distribution of its books to Harvard University Press.  This enabled HURI to focus its attention on increasing the number of titles in its catalogue -- and sales of books increased by 75%. 

“I think the lesson is you can’t do everything, said DeLossa, “especially if you have limited resources and a limited staff.  You need to focus on one thing.”

So, who buys Ukrainian books?  What audience does HURI count on? And how should you target your advertising? DeLossa responded:

“That’s actually a tricky question.  We’re still trying to figure out what the demographics are but we do know that there are more courses at universities that make use of such books.  We propose our books to lecturers of general courses on Eastern European culture and political scientists who are interested in international relations.”

Robert DeLossa noted that information about the HURI book catalogue is sent to the members of the American Association for Slavic Studies and Harvard University Press sends 30,000 copies of its catalogue to bookstores and individuals throughout the U.S.A.

As for HURI’s future publishing plans DeLossa said:

“We have an exciting year ahead of us.  We’re finishing up work on Kostyantyn Morozov’s autobiography which, I think, will be a breakthrough publication for Ukrainian studies in [the United States of] America inasmuch as this book will be interesting for a very wide readership audience. We are also planning books about the Union of Brest, Ukrainian-Jewish relations during the time of the Bolshevik revolution and the Ukrainian National Republic.”


Throughout the year in 1998, HURI would hold various seminars on Ukrainian studies.  During my reporting assignment, there was a roundtable on ethnic minorities featuring Roman Solchanyk (Rand Corporation), Zvi Gitelman (University of Michigan) and John Paul Himka (University of Alberta).

Solchanyk’s presentation was devoted to the question of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.  He cited opinion surveys indicating that an overwhelming majority of Russians residing Ukraine do net feel that they are subject to discrimination in Ukraine. Among a significant amount of data that he presented he cited this example: Of all the Russians who moved to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, only 7% were from Ukraine – while 45% of all Russians residing in non-Russian former Soviet republics lived in Ukraine.  And the decision of ethnic Russians to leave Ukraine is usually based on economic motivations rather than ethnic considerations, noted Solchanyk. “Very briefly, I think initially, the Ukrainian government in a very clever fashion, pursued a nationalities policy that proved to be quite successful,” he said.

Meanwhile, Zvi Gitelman, a University of Michigan political scientist, described how proportionally more Jews from Ukraine emigrate abroad than Jews from Russia.  This, to a great extent, can be explained, he said, by the fact that Jews in Ukraine traditionally did not feel an affinity to Ukrainian culture but instead were more drawn to the dominant Russian language and culture. Therefore, they have been more ambivalent toward newly independent Ukraine than toward the successor of the USSR – Russia.  Gitelman says that according to data there is no basis to say that Jews in Ukraine suffer from discrimination from the Ukrainian government or society in general.

In his turn, University of Alberta historian John Paul Himka conveyed that the question of interethnic relations has deep roots in Ukrainian history.  Among other things, he mentioned the role of ethnic Germans in Ukraine’s development, starting in the 15th century – although most of them have assimilated.

The lecturers at the HURI gathering expressed the thought that the most pressing ethnic question in Ukraine today is that of the Crimean Tatars.


During my visit to HURI, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roman Szporluk, Professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard.  He had been my mentor over a decade earlier, when he was teaching at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and I was a graduate student there, writing my thesis on the Soviet Ukrainian press.

Looking back at how research was done in the pre-internet age, it’s interesting to contemplate how reliant historians have been on journalists as chroniclers who produce the “first draft” of history and how researchers clipped and saved articles of interest from newspapers.

Professor Szporluk explained that what was especially useful for him in his career was the creation of a personal archive of newspaper “clippings” from the Ukrainian press:

“I am a historian that is interested in rather theoretical and philosophical issues but I know that a historian cannot only speak in abstractions.  History is the history of people, living people. And that’s why these types of materials help me very much. They are a very essential element of what I do as a lecturer or author.”

Roman Szporluk began collecting newspaper articles from the Ukrainian press in the late 1950s when he was living in Poland. And he continued to do this, as it turns out, during an especially interesting and important period of Ukrainian history.  People who decades ago began to appear on the pages of newspapers that he was reading, today occupy influential positions:

“At the beginning of the 1960s there were appearing more often in newspapers, especially in Literaturna hazeta, but also in Zhovten, Dnipro and others, such names as Vitaliy Korotych, Yuriy Shcherbak, Ivan Drach, Ivan Dziuba.  And I created files on these people.  And now, for example, in Washington there is a gentleman by the name of Yuriy Shcherbak – he is the Ambassador of Ukraine in the United States.”

Szporluk held out his folder filled with materials by Shcherbak, including an article dating back to 1965 and a joint letter written by Shcherbak, Oles Honchar, Ivan Drach and Roman Lubkivsky in response to an anti-Ukrainian speech given by Russian vice president Rutskoi.

The professor encourages all his students to clip articles from newspapers, catalog them and save them, emphasizing that one day, in retrospect, you will realize that “that which was once contemporary has become history -- and now you have a unique collection of documentation of sources which anyone could have had but only you have compiled it in this fashion.”

Szporluk cautioned that one should not be a crazy collector of interesting anecdotes.  Instead, one needs to limit one’s collection, because a disorganized dump of clippings can lead to a conflict within the family, he joked.  His archive is made up mostly of materials about the history of the Ukrainian intelligentsia and Ukrainian mass media. 

In 1998 Roman Szporluk, who held the Chair of Ukrainian History at Harvard, said he was completing work on a new book on the history of Ukraine in which he devotes a lot of attention to the events of the last decade, undoubtedly drawing on information from his personal archive:

“A historian should possess the kind of facts that he doesn’t just copy from other histories [history books].  And that is why these… [unique sources from] history, I think, add weight.  As you may know, currently at the Harvard [Ukrainian] summer school there is a big group of students from Ukraine and I appealed to them: ‘you, young people, begin collecting documents and writing your personal memoirs about 1991, about Chornobyl, about life since that time.  Time will pass and you will look at all of this as history and you will be very pleased that you have these documents, notes.  And you will see that you… remember them [these events] only because you wrote them down in your diaries or books, or saved clippings or other documents.’”


Kennedy School of Government’s Ukrainian defense and national security exchanges.

At Harvard University, most seminars, research and lectures on Ukrainian topics in 1998 took place under the auspices of the Ukrainian Research Institute.  But as mentioned earlier in this article, other entities at the university were engaged in Ukrainian topics.

For example, the Kennedy School of Government had programs focusing on the issue of Ukrainian security. 

The deputy director of the program on National Security of Ukraine, Serhiy Konoplyov, said his project at KSG focuses on the topic of Ukrainian cooperation with Western security structures and the study of reform of the armed forces and civilian control of the military.

The most impressive event of the program is an annual two-week seminar in the U.S. for 30 Ukrainians which takes place in December.

“And they are not only military,” said Konoplyov.  “About  50 percent,” he continued, “are from the ministry of defense. And we also invite for this program people who worked in the sphere of arms production, defense, national security and intelligence.  This time we invited a few people from parliament, the cabinet of ministers, the ministry of economy, the ministry of internal affairs.  So, it’s not only military but people who work on defense and security issues in various government agencies and ministries.”

The Ukrainian guests have the opportunity to engage with their American colleagues, listen to lectures of experts, visit military bases, discuss important issues with representatives of the Pentagon, State Department and Congress.  Konoplyov emphasized that “Americans do not teach Ukrainians how to build up their military forces or how to establish civilian control – instead, it’s a dialogue.”  It’s about communication, developing contacts and access to information about best practices in the U.S. and other countries, and determining what’s applicable in Ukraine, he said.  Konoplyov added that it’s a useful forum for interaction among Ukrainians themselves who might not otherwise find time to meet back home.

Meanwhile, the coordinator of a different security program at KSG, Olga Oliker, explained that her project is designed to engage high-level officials and current influential leaders.   

In April of 1998, a working meeting was set up in Washington, DC, on the subject of Ukraine and NATO with the participation of former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasiuk, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and others. 

As for the impact of the meetings, Oliker said: “I think it takes time to see what kind of changes they lead to.  I think by providing a forum for discussion and by ensuring that these issues do get raised and discussed by Americans, Ukrainians and representatives of Europe -- we can facilitate a wider discussion of these issues. “

Olga Oliker emphasized that the program is not pushing Ukraine towards NATO membership.  This should be decided by Kyiv, she said.  But leaders of the program believe that Ukraine’s participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace program needs to be filled with real content so that it will be similar to true membership in NATO. And it’s noteworthy that former top U.S. officials like Perry and Carter continue to be engaged in issues pertaining to Ukraine’s role in European security.


Today, the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard continues to be the leading institution for Ukrainian studies in the United States, although an ever-growing number of specialists on Ukraine work at various American institutions of higher learning.


- May 29, 2022

* * *

This is the third in a series of articles illustrating the type of reporting I was engaged in as a radio journalist with the Voice of America’s (VOA) Ukrainian Service in the 1990s.  Previously, I have written about my 1993 reporting assignment in then-newly independent Ukraine (2) and my 1996 reporting assignment at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. (3)  A collection of VOA Ukrainian Service recordings is preserved at the Ukrainian Museum-Archives in Cleveland. (4) My memoir about my career at VOA is included in a collection of articles published in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of VOA’s Ukrainian Service. (5)

*Most of the interviews for this story about HURI were conducted in English and then translated into Ukrainian for broadcast to Ukraine.  For this article, the Ukrainian versions of interviewee comments were translated back into English.



1.     https://huri.harvard.edu/history-institute

2.     http://uaas.org.ua/karmazyn_en-reporting.html

3.     http://uaas.org.ua/VOAs-Ukrainian-Window-on-the-1996-Democratic-Convention-by-Karmazyn.html

4.     https://www.umacleveland.org/research/#Voice-of-America

5.     https://www.umacleveland.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/VOAUkr70th.pdf