Spotlight on CARA Fellow: Dr Kateryna Ivashchenko-Stadnik

Apr 22, 2024 | Fellows, Spotlight, Transformations (Issue 12)

“It’s the people we meet who shape us: Unveiling an interdisciplinary journey from historian to multidisciplinary wonderer”.

The shaping influence of encounters. Many years ago, I embarked on my scholarly journey studying displaced populations, specifically focusing on the Ukrainian refugees in Europe between the two world wars. It happened accidentally. When I was 19, I enrolled in the Society and Politics postgraduate program at the Central European University in Prague (CEU, a private research university founded in 1991 by George Soros, a fund manager, political activist, and billionaire philanthropist, to promote high-standard education and open society values in Central Europe after the fall of the Socialist Bloc). By a stroke of luck, my supervisor happened to be the renowned British interdisciplinary scholar (philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist) Ernest Gellner, who was raised in Prague. When Gellner was 13, the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany persuaded his family to leave Czechoslovakia and move to the north of London.

Kateryna during her studies at the CEU in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Richard O’Rourke.

He was always very busy, and I had only a couple of tutorials with him but during one of the meetings he suggested, in his typical thoughtful manner, that I explore the vibrant cultural life of Ukrainian emigrants in Prague in the 1920s-30s (that he witnessed himself when he was a boy), rather than the ‘evolution of concepts of good and evil in Russian peasant worldview’, as I had initially proposed. As a girl from a coal-mining region in Ukraine, I couldn’t fully appreciate the depth of this distinguished international scholar at the time (one of the world’s most vigorous intellectuals, as once described by The Daily Telegraph), but I took his advice to heart, fond of the allure of uncovering untold émigrés narratives from the Prague-based Slavonic Library archives. Later I did my PhD on the history of the Ukrainian political parties in the First Czechoslovak Republic in the interwar period. So, when now people ask me what I do as a researcher, I answer that I began my career as a historian, captivated by the stories of interwar migration and displacement in Europe, but it was my encounters with intellectually vibrant individuals that truly shaped my thematic focus and trajectory towards interdisciplinary studies.

Personal experiences and my research focus. Over the years, I transitioned from the confines of history to embrace a broader spectrum of social studies, driven by a desire to explore the intersections of disciplines and tackle complex societal issues. My personal journey and meeting with vibrant professionals and personalities (such as a prominent Polish sociologist Władysław Adamski and famous Ukrainian social psychologist Evgen Golovakha) led me to become a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. With more than two decades of experience in conducting cross-national surveys within a fantastic team of scholars, I have delved deep into topics of social change, migration, mobility, and, broadly, long-term societal transformations. Collaborating with esteemed institutions and scholars in Ukraine and across the globe, from the University of Manchester, Oxford, and Liverpool to the European University Institute in Florence, I have had the privilege of contributing to projects that transcend disciplinary boundaries.

Beyond academia, I’ve spent several years exploring parallel career paths, delving into film production and distribution, and taking on editorial roles in publications focused on showcasing Ukrainian culture to a global audience. These varied experiences have broadened my perspective and emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue in tackling complex socio-cultural issues.

The Ukrainian: Life and Culture magazine cover. With a Washington-based folklorist and social activist Inna Golovakha-Hicks and Kharkiv-based Ukrainian designer Oleksii Chekal, Kateryna served as the co-editor of a quarterly print magazine tailored for English-language readership in the US and worldwide. The magazine received the prestigious Best Design and Concept for Magazine award from The TDC global competition in 2023. The magazine is planned to re-launch in 2024, also for the audience in the UK.

Now, in the wake of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, that affected my home, I find myself among the displaced. Despite this traumatic personal experience, I remain dedicated to the field of migration studies that extend beyond one discipline and a singular set of research methods. Instead, I aspire to embrace a diverse and multifaceted approach that bridges different disciplines and, ideally, leads to the development of practical policy-oriented solutions. Being both a scholar and a refugee offers unique insights. On the one hand, it provides a participant’s perspective, enhancing comprehension of the processes involved. On the other hand, it presents challenges, as emotions can cloud objectivity and lead to bias. One approach to address this challenge is to view research through the lens of multidisciplinarity. By incorporating perspectives from various disciplines, we can validate our findings and mitigate the risk of unconsciously telling a personal story through your research findings.

Current plans in the UK. My current role as a CARA fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) marks a new chapter in my academic life. Here, I will be working on the book tentatively entitled “Childhood and Youth through Forced Displacement: Issues of Adaptation and Integration”. Also, together with my Durham colleagues and mentors (Markian Prokopovych, Olga Demetriou, Chrystosomos Apostolidis, Tetiana Vodotyka) we are developing a multidisciplinary research initiative on understanding the current nature of displacement, its social processes, and the displaced persons’ current needs, for example, in the areas of education and culture, as a key to devising contemporary social policy. These endeavours epitomize my commitment to people-centred interdisciplinary research, particularly in the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Kateryna with her son Matvii near the Institute of Advanced Study in Durham, 2023.

As I reflect on my journey, I’m reminded of the significant influence of mentors and colleagues who have helped shape my interdisciplinary mindset. Inspiration can come from a single focused conversation or from daily exchanges. It’s important to remain open to new ideas and reflections, as you never know what might trigger or encourage you. I’m fully aware of my own biases and limitations. However, other people’s guidance and inspiration have propelled me forward, igniting a passion for exploring the frontiers of knowledge and promoting positive social change. My journey is propelled by a profound admiration for the resilience of individuals around me and the brilliance of their minds. It’s fuelled by an insatiable curiosity to comprehend the intricacies of the developing world and, as it grows increasingly fragile and vulnerable, to make a positive impact on the lives of others, even if only in small ways.

During her CARA Fellowship, Kateryna co-authored a new book titled Eight Years After the Revolution of Dignity: what has changed in Ukraine during 2013–2021? (together with Vladimir Dubrovskiy, Kálmán Mizsei, in collaboration with Mychailo Wynnyckyj). The book features a foreword by a prominent Ukrainian historian Yaroslav Hrytsak and was published by IBIDEM Press in February 2024.

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