Ukrainian scholars able to keep working with new funding initiative at University of Alberta

The Disrupted Ukrainian Scholars and Students initiative, created in the wake of Russia's attack on Ukraine, has already distributed about $600,000 and helped more than 30 students and scholars

$600,000 has already been allocated, with more than 30 scholars and students helped

A man outside with a body of water in the background.
Oleksandr Melnyk completed his master's degree as well as a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta. Now the Ukrainian is back at the university researching the current war between Ukraine and Russia. (Submitted by Oleksandr Melnyk)

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta in 2018, Oleksandr Melnyk moved back to his hometown in southern Ukraine. 

Four years later, he is back in Edmonton and at the university, a move that became necessary after his country was attacked by Russia in February. 

"It was becoming very difficult in terms of the Russian occupation forces that cut off the internet and cellphone connection, and the resources were running out, and it was generally becoming not very safe in that area," he told CBC's Edmonton AM on Thursday.

"So I decided at some point to leave when the opportunity arose." 

Almost 13 million people were forced from their homes when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Among those displaced were scholars and students. Some of them are now in Edmonton, supported through an initiative from the University of Alberta. Alex Melnyk is one of them. He's a U of A graduate and historian.

Melnyk is one of more than 30 scholars and students supported by the Disrupted Ukrainian Scholars and Students (DUSS) initiative, started by six departments and institutes at the university's Faculty of Arts.

Natalia Khanenko-Friesen, director of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian studies, said the initiative has reallocated about $600,000 to help Ukrainian students and scholars continue their research at the U of A while also providing grants and collaborative opportunities to those unable to travel to Canada. 

Khanenko-Friesen said academics from Ukraine started reaching out to the institute as soon as the war began.

"I remember vividly the first week of that insane invasion. Here I am, you know, on the phone and Zoom, on social media, trying to reach out to my colleagues just to find out what's going on," she said.

Right away, the institute started looking for funding and by March had come up with the money to help students and scholars, she said. Since then, the fund has helped students and scholars either find a place at the university or assisted them either in Ukraine or wherever they have ended up. 

She said other departments at the university are now looking for ways to support Ukrainian scholars and students.

Melnyk's work while living in Ukraine was to continue researching and writing a book on the Second World War and its impact on Ukraine.

Now that Melnyk is back at the U of A, he intends to spend the next six months researching the current war, which has forced 13 million people to flee their homes. 

"I found it ironic that I studied the war and occupation for so many years and now I found myself in the middle of it," he said.

Melnyk said his return to U of A was made possible thanks to David Marples, a history and classics professor and Melnyk's former master's supervisor.

"He suggested that if I leave, there might be a possibility to secure funding at the University of Alberta or some other institutions in Canada," Melnyk said.

Marples had been monitoring his former pupil's journey and had been working to secure funding for him to work in Canada. 

"I was very relieved that he got out," he said. 


Kashmala Fida Mohatarem is a reporter and associate producer with CBC Edmonton.


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