​​That Is the Question

Any biography, just like any introduction, starts with one question: “Where are you from?”

In 2011, I started teaching at the university. I liked being the first one to introduce students to their discipline and ask questions.

“Hello! Now, this might make you think of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Please tell us your name and what motivated you to join the school of journalism.”

“Hi. I am Yaroslav. I decided to major in journalism because I’ve been dreaming of becoming a sports reporter.”

“And where are you from?”

“Rivne.”

At the introductory meeting, students would sometimes say there was little chance that I heard about their hometown, as it was quite small. “I’m from Bashtanka, but I don’t think you know this place,” someone would remark.

As a post-graduate intern, I delivered my first lecture to 120 students. The fate brought people from at least ten regions of Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula together in a large hall.

“Oh, Crimea,” the students said dreamily.

Everyone was envious of people who arrived from the peninsula with the subtropical Mediterranean climate along its southern coast, luscious mountains, and the inspiring sea. Their envy vanished in 2014.

Some questions have only one answer: “I’m Ukrainian.”

You can establish one’s political attitudes by asking them: “Who does Crimea belong to?”

When the war broke out in Donbas, and Russia occupied Crimea, my students and I resisted it in our own way. Our theses explored the experience of journalists who moved onto the mainland of Ukraine after the illegal referendum, unwilling to live under the Russian flag. We prepared materials about Oleh Sentsov, political prisoner who was illegally detained and charged with terrorism.

After 2014, the phrases “I’m from Crimea” or “I’m from Donbas,” said during the round of introductions in the lecture hall, triggered a sense of despair.

Pursuing their discipline, the students asked another laconic question that revealed the truth: “Who does Crimea belong to?” If you did not speak out against that crime, it meant you were an accomplice.

Some questions have only one answer: “I’m Ukrainian.”

Ukraine has 24 regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Explosions in Kyiv.

Explosions in Kharkiv.

Explosions in Kherson.

Explosions in Lutsk.

Explosions in Ivano-Frankivsk.

As a lecturer, all I know about geography is my students’ hometowns. My social media feed turned into the news feed:

My former student. Killed in the war. His wife and two children left behind.

My student. Her husband was killed in the war. She is left alone with her little son.

My student. Her brother was killed.

My students. Their professor was killed.

My student. Her apartment in Mariupol was shelled to pieces.

My student. His apartment was destroyed in the missile attack in Kyiv.

Dmytro announced a fundraising effort to install air conditioning units in several rooms of the military hospital in Pechersk neighborhood in Kyiv. Soldiers from across the frontlines were being treated there, and you wanted to ensure the most comfortable conditions for them in that abnormal heat wave weather. The social media community raised the necessary funds in just one day. The AC units were installed.

Olena drives her small car all over Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, delivering humanitarian aid to the villages that suffered under the Russian occupation. She also catered to 120 soldiers and 250 civilians on the frontlines. Vegetables, tinned food, cereal, 500 liters of petrol. It was enough to satisfy a weekly demand. A full-scale war has been raging in Ukraine for 5 months, though.

Oleksiy is a professional photographer. He is now taking photos of the damaged civilian infrastructure. He took his latest photos in Vinnytsia that suffered the missile attack on July 14. As of July 15, 23 people, including three children, were reportedly killed in the Russian shelling of Vinnytsia downtown.

It remains to be determined how many facilities of civilian infrastructure have been destroyed. Back in March 2022, when the all-out war just exploded, the number topped 3,500.

The students taught to ask the right questions give a clear answer that represents each of the 24 regions and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea: “І’m Ukrainian.”

Author — Svitlana Stretovych, essayist, program director of Litosvita

Translator — Hanna Leliv

Illustrator — Victoria Boyko

Editor — Maryna Korchaka

Program Directors — Julia Ovcharenko, Demyan Om

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