Mariya Shymchyshyn
© UDE/Jennifer Meina

Ukrainian researcher received scholarship at UDE

Between the lines

  • von Jennifer Meina
  • 09.08.2022

Writing about language and literature when one is at a loss for words. This is what happened to Ukrainian scholar Prof. Mariya Shymchyshyn during the war in her home country. She is now at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) on a scholarship from the Volkswagen Foundation, will be staying here for at least a year – and has rediscovered her language.

Born in Ternopil, the west of Ukraine, Shymchyshyn was still a child when she learned what it meant to be uprooted through her grandparents' stories about their deportation from Poland. Today, she is the chair of the Department of Theory and History of World Literature at Kyiv National Linguistic University. Her research interests are broad – from feminism and The Harlem Renaissance to geocriticism and migration. When the war broke out in Ukraine she was writing her new book about refugees in contemporary fiction.

" The war changed everything we thought about nations, about peace”, Shymchyshyn says. "I remember when I saw the first bomb, when I heard the bang, I could not believe that this was real. We all could not believe that such barbaric war could be possible in the 21st century". It took about a month for the university professors to start teaching again online. "Students wanted to articulate what they were going through. Many started writing themselves." And she herself also wanted to teach and do research again. "As an academic, you have to think clearly, you have to work. But I couldn't. I doubted my work: what relevance does my research have when people are dying nearby?”

It was only through her escape, which took her and her 13-year-old son via the Netherlands to Essen, that she was able to write again. Together with Prof. Dr. Jens Martin Gurr from the UDE's Department of Anglophone Studies she applied for the Volkswagen Foundation: Shymchyshyn's research will be funded for at least a year. “I am grateful because I am seen not just as a refugee, but as an academic who wants to keep working.” But as productive and happy as she currently is in Essen, Shymchyshyn wants to return to her homeland after the war. "The intellectual capital of the country must not disappear. We will rebuild our country and become stronger than before."

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