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Foto: Romain Beker
international

“Ласкаво просимо!“: Welcome to the first College of Ukrainian Language and Culture at the UvA

Jip Koene,
13 september 2023 - 12:32

The very first Ukrainian lecture at the UvA can expect a lot of support. The students are also enthusiastic. “Ukrainian is closer to the Slavic source language, so it’s nice to understand different Slavic languages.”

On a scorching hot Monday morning at the Old Man’s House Gate, each of the 40 new Ukrainian students is given a history textbook by the Ukrainian ambassador. A well-filled lecture hall prepares for the first-ever Ukrainian language and culture lecture at the University of Amsterdam.


Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian language and culture have been under pressure. That is why lecturer Oksana Kononchuk thinks it is so important to pay more attention to this Slavic language. At the UvA, she found the space to do so.

Foto: Romain Beker
Student Lucas Bakker (21)

Kononchuk fled to the Netherlands in 2022. Together with her 12-year-old daughter, she now lives in Amsterdam. Kononchuk comes from a Ukrainian family in which Ukrainian is spoken. This is not a matter of course in Ukraine, she explains. Over the past 400 years, the Ukrainian language has been banned more than 130 times in total, she tells the lecture hall.

 

Many students appear to already have a relationship with Ukraine. They have friends there, speak another Slavic language, and some are taking this minor in support of Ukraine.


Like Lucas Bakker (21) from the Netherlands, who is studying Russian and has a penchant for Slavic languages. He took a minor in Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian at the UvA and is now starting a minor in Ukrainian language and culture. “Ukrainian is closer to the Slavic source language, so it's nice to understand different Slavic languages.”

Foto: Romain Beker
Student Mira Nerpel (21)

Also present is Mira Nerpel (21), a political science student from Germany who has several friends from Ukraine who speak the language. Nerpel emphasizes the beauty of the language and aspires to become a diplomat. She thinks Ukrainians will play a bigger role on the world political stage in the future. “It is good to learn about their language and culture, so I’m very happy that the UvA is offering this program.”

 

Ambassador of Ukraine H.E. Oleksandr Karasevych gave a short speech before the start of the lecture. He thanked everyone in the room for attending and elaborated on how important the Ukrainian language is. “Learning the language helps you defend yourself against Russian propaganda.” In addition, he says, it lowers the threshold for social contact. “You not only help yourself but also the Ukrainian people.”

Kononchuk, meanwhile, seemed slightly tense as she began her first lesson. “Despite its history, the language has survived.” The stories she tells demonstrate that speaking Ukrainian can be dangerous. “Many people have been tortured, persecuted, or killed just for speaking the language.” This has had far-reaching effects, such as a man who set himself on fire in 1978 in protest against Russian rule.

Subsidy

The minor for the Ukrainian language and culture was created through the European Partnership for Innovative Campus Unifying Regions (EPICUR) alliance, which the University of Amsterdam (UvA) is a part of.


Direct funding from the UvA was not possible, even though there appeared to be enough enthusiasm for a minor like this, says Ellen Rutten, professor of Slavic literature and culture at the UvA. “Given the precedent, funding from the Faculty of Humanities was not possible, but fortunately they helped us with the EPICUR grant.”

Afterward, we chatted with Kononchuk. “I am very happy to have been given this opportunity to teach Ukrainian at the UvA. It is a great honor and great responsibility,” she says. Eric Metz, professor of translation science and Czech literature, is also very happy about the new minor. “It is also a collaboration with other European Universities. And students abroad can take the course online.”


The students had to prepare their first assignment before college and write their names in Ukrainian. Kononchuk collects the name signs one by one, not only to get to know her students but also to check attendance. The first lecture on the Ukrainian language and culture is officially over. On to Wednesday, to lecture number two.

Foto: Romain Beker
Fltr: the initiators of the minor. Ellen Rutten, Oksana Kononchuk, Eric Metz