“Holy late to the blog writing, Levine” yells the inner critic. Whatever. Here is my tale of a circle I was most fortunate to have been swept into. And more critical whinging as I am actually a day later than I should have been. So it goes.

And the title was supposed to have this text which WordPress seems to reduce to ??????????? ??????

Ukrainian (I hope Google translates correctly) for “A Ukrainian Circle”

The thing about a circle is, mathematically, it’s infinite cycle, my geological Hutton nod of no vestige of a beginning, nor prospect of an end. But circles of human stories, while less prescribed, are almost more magical when they sneak back around on you.

The pop quiz here is to ask you to recall what you were doing two years ago yesterday, or February 24, 2022. If I rely on my alleged timelined self, I find nothing blogged and a bit more side scraping gets me somewhere between my oft-repeated call for serendipity stories for the OER22 conference and some less than impressive WordPress dabbling. Yawn.

My flickr photos indicate Cori and I were spending some time away in a cabin in the snowy forests of the West Cypress Hills in southern Saskactchewan.

Cone Time
Cone Time flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

While my life was running as whatever passes for normal in the 2020s, I am humbled to have been safely doing this far far away from a city I never heard of Dnipro, one of the many places in Ukraine being bombed during Russia’s invasion. While I was not blogging and taking photos of trees in the snow.

I was not unaware of the attacks, but admit not following much more news than what came across my news apps and some messages in social media.

I was not having to take shelter in a basement.

Yet the circle I am speaking of was in motion.

My connections with Ukraine were slim to none. My grandparents on my mom’s side emigrated to the US from Poland and Lithuania in the early 1900s, close on a map of the world, but quite far. On Cori’s family side, her Dad was from a family that came to Canada from the Ukraine. I have come to enjoy our family’s use of the phrase “dybosia” (Die-boh-shuh?) as a cup clanking toast, more or less “to life.” (makes a good fit with what I grew up with L’Chaim)– if you believe the wisdom in reddit, the word is not truly Ukrainian.

Would you rather my etymologically correct or enjoy a hearty toast.

The circle moved to March 2, 2022, just 8 days after the invasion, when Margreta Tveisme from the Norwegian NLDA posted a call to our OEGlobal OEG Community for rallying to organize Ukrainian language OER for the expected wave of refugee learners displaced by this act of war.

Margreta Tveisme starts a topic in OEG Connect that propelled this story.

I was fired up by this as an action our community could contribute to, and timely as it was a few days before Open Education Week, so set to amplify this call with a followup call for action. Further down in the replies many of them links and resources, came a message from Paola Corti, that pivoted this circle:

I am in contact with one of our ENOEL members; she lives in Dnipro, lately in the basement of her home with family members (grandchildren and daughters-in-law). Here is what she wrote to me in one of her last messages: “Ukrainian librarians, despite often unbearable conditions, continue to work remotely and physically in their institutions (if possible). But we are still working in groups of volunteers: we bake pies, weave camouflage nets, help people in need get medicine, clothes, water, food. There is enough work for everyone.

Paola Corti message in OEG Connect, March 11, 2022

ENOEL is the European Network of Open Education Librarians operated by SPARC Europe, and this connection is my first introduction to her contact, Tetiana Kolesnykova, librarian at the Ukrainian State University of Science and Technologies in Dnipro. Actually there is much more to this story, but follow the circle.

Some three months later, as most of our routines just continued the normal path, one a loathe to complain about now in hindsight, Paola shared a letter Tetiana wrote to let the world know not just the ordeal faced in Ukraine, but more nobly, the tremendous human spirit and dedication to the work of librarians. I cannot urge you to read this letter in full, “Open Education developments in Ukraine in times of crisis: A librarian’s perspective

We managed to overcome the fear, despair, and confusion of those first days thanks to family and friends, as well as thanks to work.

When you do something for others, it gives meaning to life and helps you move on.

Move on, adjusting your personal life and work to the unpredictable timing and duration of air raid sirens. Move on, even when, having grabbed the necessary items (documents, warm clothes, water, some food, a laptop), you hide in basements or corridors between the “three walls”. Move on when you can tell by the sound what exactly has exploded. Move on when you take your grandchildren to a safer place by evacuation train, but even there you work every day. Move on when you joyfully return home in a month, having left your family abroad. Move on when the pain for the sons and daughters who volunteer to defend Ukraine at the front is heartbreaking.

This is our new reality. But it is precisely at this time that you also realize the importance of your work, like never before.

As librarians, we had to take care of our teams and ensure that most online library services were reliably provided for ongoing remote university work. We had to protect the unique books and digital collections and we chose to be the ambassadors of Open Education (OE) and Open Educational Resources (OER) at our universities, and possibly in the whole of Ukraine. And all of that – in critical times of crisis.

The war has made us strong.

Ukrainian librarians are determined to continue supporting students and teachers: often in extreme conditions. They are taking the chance to implement Open Education solutions at a time when most at need.

Open Education developments in Ukraine in times of crisis: A librarian’s perspective” by Tetiana Kolesnykova

Librarians being strong!

And thus it was more than fitting a few months later that Tetiana and other librarians were recognized with an Open Award for Excellence in the Resilience category. To me, their story can be the poster definition of openness as an act of resilience.

That circle spins back to a year ago, when during Open Education Week 2023, we were able to coordinate a podcast recording session featuring Tetiana, coordinated by Paola, and facilitated by the uncanny translation skills of Mira Buist-Zhuk from the University of Groningen. These are recording sessions we do for OE Week where we invite anyone interested to listen in or join the conversational style of our OEG Voices podcast. We had even more synchronicity as our recording date aligned with International Womens Day.

This was for me even more rewarding to fill in the story I had known through text with the voices who were at the heart of it.

What you will hear and should know through this story is that Paola, Mira, Tetiana, and her colleagues at the Ukrainian State University of Science and Technologies had been collaborating before the invasion on a planned online conference, and in fact, were scheduled for an online meeting on February 24.

Meeting canceled due to bombing? Is that something we ought to be dealing with?

A few weeks later I was there to watch the OER23 online presentation “Ukraine librarians setting the stage: advancing OE as a tool for inclusion and overcoming language barriers during the ongoing war” by Tetiana, Paola, and Mira.

What stood out for me was after reading about these acts of resilience in Tetiana’s words, then hearing it in her voice, now more as filled in from the photos in their slides that gave a real sense to the dedication of these librarians who returned to their campus 3 weeks after the invasion to protect their books and continue their support for students and faculty.

I was fortunate as well to be invited by The Three Librarians to be part of a presentation at the OEGlobal 2023 conference in Edmonton, “Small but Mighty: The Power of OER and Open Collaboration for Localization and Translation in Ukraine“. In the course of the planning over the summer, Tetiana invited to bring a storytelling angle on this whole tale for an October 5-6 online conference being hosted at her university in Dnipro. My intimidation levels were over the top for what kind message I could make to a conference themed on Library and Knowledge Management in Times of Crises, to people who had lived it first hand.

In trying to assemble my presentation as a pre-recorded video (and provide a script for a translation to have Ukrainian subtitles), I went to this circling series of events that swept me as an observer into a (truly) amazing story, and how it really unfolded through media frm text to audio to photos and ultimately video. I remain humbled (and still not up to that level of resilience) to have been asked to concoct “Inspired By Human Connective Stories: Unfolding in Text, Sound, Photographs” (text available)

There is a bit in there, if my memory is working, where in my planning for the conference I had watched the videos Tetiana had introduced as their “Residence of Heroes” where they create conversational videos to introduce theur keynote speakers, to get to know them as people. I noticed in one how Tetiana spoke in front of a piano that had on top a vase of sunflowers.

Hardly significant, but seeing sunflowers from Ukraine and connecting them with the ones we grow here a our home in Saskatchewan, somehow brought this circle back around.

Deck Side Sunflowers
Deck Side Sunflowers flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Okay my part in all of this story is insignificantly minor; I am an inspired observer from my safe perch in North America. No aggressor is bombing my land or my home or forcing me to vacate. I have every comfort and privilege of safety. Don’t take this for granted.

I only want to appreciate the gift of just having this story circle back here.

To all in Ukraine who are still under war conditions, and who maintain that resilience, I offer a toast of “Dibosya”/ “To Life” even if it is not a real word!


Featured Image:

Proudly and Sweetly Ukrainian Blue and Yellow
Proudly and Sweetly Ukrainian Blue and Yellow flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

Comments

  1. Dear Alan!
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post “Life, Presenting, Random Musing. Overdue yet timely: A Ukrainian Circle”.
    It’s really great!!! You have invested your invaluable time, creativity, emotional experience, compassion, professionalism in this work…
    When my colleagues and I were reading it, we went back to the beginning of the war, and then to 24 February 2023, and we cried again, and then laughed again at some of the stories we had experienced.
    But my present-day self says that our experience (life and work) is not a heroic story compared to what our soldiers (brothers, sons, husbands, grandsons) are going through and will go through at the front, sacrificing their lives to protect Ukraine and European countries (because Putin has clearly said that he will not stop at Ukraine in his aggressive intentions).
    Today, we have become, perhaps, tougher on ourselves and our feelings, and we have come to understand that the war will not end tomorrow by a “magic wand” and despite the heroism of soldiers (men and women) and our constant conscientious library work and volunteering.
    But we have become stronger thanks to both: the experience of physical survival and the experience of library work in the conditions of the highest level of crisis. And this allows us to move forward and understand that this crisis experience may someday help other countries. Especially for Open Education and Open Educational Resources.
    And already in 2 months of 2024, we have made many steps, both at the level of USUST and at the level of the entire university community of Ukraine.
    And I am very grateful for this to the international team of wonderful Paola Corti, Jennryn Wetzler, Mira Buist-Zhuk, who managed to stir up 150 educators (professors, teachers, librarians, IT specialists) during the all-Ukrainian webinar on 9 January 2024 “CC LICENSE – ONE OF THE MECHANISMS FOR THE FORMATION OF THE ECOSYSTEM OF OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES IN UKRAINE”.
    More than 30 questions were received from the webinar participants! I had to create a separate document “Questions and Answers about CC Licences” (the document is currently being finalised).
    And this is just about VOLUNTEERING – my own, my colleagues, teachers, Paola, Jennryn, Mira …
    And it’s about your VOLUNTEERING, dear Alan!

    Thank you, thank you to our international team, thank you to the Canadians, Italians, Americans, Dutch, everyone who helps Ukrainians not to lose faith in themselves and to move forward with small steps.

    With warmth in my heart,
    Tetiana

    1. Thank you so much Tetiana, for this message with, as I am come to know it, Ukrainian “Get it done” attitude. All the heart warmth to you and the people of Ukraine.

  2. Hello Alan,
    It’s worth watching this open Yale lecture series on ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine’ by Dr. Timothy Snyder. You might learn of a deeper connection as the complex history is unfolded by Dr. Snyder.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJczLlwp-d8
    Janet (past collaborator on #ETMOOC and DS106)
    Still read your posts now and again 🙂

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