A Question to the Professor

I never had friends or acquaintances serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Now I have quite a few of them. I used to know many professors from schools of journalism across Ukraine. Kharkiv, Odesa, Donetsk, Mariupol, Poltava, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv. In their lectures, most of them quoted a famous phrase a British banker once said: “He who owns the information, owns the world.”

Now some of them are serving in the military.

At the end of this wartime summer of 2022, Ukraine’s Ministry of Education reported that Russian missiles have damaged over 2,000 educational establishments in Ukraine. Another 300 have been destroyed. A huge number of university students, faculty, and employees became internally displaced persons or joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

I first listened to Serhiy speaking at a research conference back in 2005. The centenary of the publication of the first Ukrainian-language newspaper, Khliborob (Grain Grower), was celebrated in Poltava. It meant that only one century had passed since Ukrainians decided to establish their own newspaper in the Ukrainian language. We, Ukrainians, wanted to talk about it, discuss it, and reflect on our experience.

I was in my third year of studies at the time and prepared my first report on one of the public figures of the 1910s. Most of the conference speakers were silver-haired professors and dignified associate professors. There were a few PhD students and only a handful of students — Serhiy, a graduate student, was one of them. We became friends afterward.

Those who demonstrate an interest in the issues of the Ukrainian language, press, or national self-identification early on, usually resign to a life tightly linked with books. So, it was only logical that Serhiy and I became colleagues, teaching each at our respective university. He and I attended conferences in Zaporizhzhia, Poltava, Kharkiv, and Kyiv. Serhiy researched essays for his PhD thesis but wrote analytics for a living. He became a journalist who also taught at the university. Before the big war broke out, he was a contract reservist in one of the units of the Poltava Region Territorial Defense Brigade.

Serhiy commences a new academic year in the Donetsk region. Today, his social media content is all about his fellow fighters and reposts of war analytics. He’s been called up. He maintains his employment with the university.

I never had friends or acquaintances serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Now I have quite a few of them. I scroll my Facebook feed. I see a photo of a professor I know. A full professor from Kyiv, he has been researching media monitoring in the social communications system. I see his code name embroidered on his bulletproof vest. “Professor.”

In another photo, I see another full professor from Zaporizhzhia. He’s been researching periodicals published by Ukrainian immigrants in interwar Europe. There’s his code name embroidered on his bulletproof vest, too. Again — “Professor.”

“What’s your code name?” I text Serhiy. “Unless it’s a secret.”

“It’s not,” he texts me back.

And he sends me a photo. I can clearly see his code name — “Journalist” — on his bulletproof vest, along with the blue-and-yellow flag.

It’s a pity that the official statistics on the people called up to the Armed Forces do not mention how many of today’s fighters are yesterday’s professors who quoted a famous phrase a British banker once said in their lectures: “He who owns the information, owns the world.” I’m wondering how the professors I know — journalists turned fighters — will rewrite this quote after the victory and how they will answer the question:

“Who owns the world?”

A Question to the Professor-1

Author: Svitlana Stretovych, Ukrainian essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator: Hanna Leliv

Illustrator: Victoria Boyko

Content Editor: Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors: Julia Ovcharenko and Demyan Om Dyakiv Slavitski