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“All Ukrainians are working on their own front lines,” says Ukrainian researcher

March 30, 2023

By Ian Evans, Kerri Brown

Viktoriia Lemeshchenko-Lagoda quote

Challenges abound for researchers in Ukraine, even those who have fled the occupied territories. Viktoriia Lemeshchenko-Lagoda shares her story

Viktoriia Lemeshchenko-Lagodaopens in new tab/window of Dmytro Motornyi Tavria State Agrotechnological Universityopens in new tab/window often experiences what she describes as “certain difficulties in continuing my research.”

As with so many in Ukraine, her life was upended on February 24, 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion. For the first few months, Viktoriia was stuck in an occupied city — Melitopol — with no opportunity to leave. During that time, she said, research provided a kind of refuge:

“Conducting research, studying dictionaries and writing articles allowed me to calm down and find strength for further struggle,” she recalled on a recent Zoom call.

Since then, Viktoriia has been able to relocate. However, the challenges continue:

Due to constant shelling of the energy system of Ukraine, there are long power outages and problems with heat supply. Sometimes there is no mobile or internet connection. In fact, electricity and Internet connection are available for only a few hours a day.

The materials for Viktoriia’s research are primarily based online, so it is often almost impossible to process the necessary materials and conduct the experimental studies her work in Comparative Linguistics and Historical Lexicography depends on.

In these circumstances, Viktoriia noted, research “motivates me to pull myself together and not give a path to despair and panic.”

Victoriia noted that research “motivates me to pull myself together and not give a path to despair and panic.”

Viktoriia’s work focuses on comparative linguistics and historical lexicography, which provides an opportunity to better understand the peculiarities of the native language formation, the formation of its vocabulary and its place in the system of languages and relationship to the dominant or minority languages of the area. “All this makes it possible to see the beautiful linguistic diversity and to understand the importance of each language as a part of a whole and at the same time to enjoy their original and unique characters,” she said.

Last year she won an Elsevier-sponsored award at the 2022 Chance for Science Conferenceopens in new tab/window — an event for academics affected by the war in Ukraine — for her work Language and Identity: fight for recognition and independenceopens in new tab/window (dictionaries of minority languages as a means of language and identity preserving and formation).

Taking about the things that inspired her to be a researcher, she reflected on the way her upbringing nurtured her enthusiasm for language:

I have always had an inquisitive mind and a desire to preserve the world in its colorful diversity. I was brought up in a bilingual environment with respect for both languages. While studying the History of Ukraine course at school, we studied various documents about the ban of the Ukrainian language, which at one time was adopted by Tsarist Russia and the USSR. I think that was the first time when I became interested in studying other languages that were banned or forced out of active use by dominant ones. This motivated me to become a researcher in the field of preservation and restoring of minority languages.

Viktoriia highlighted the paper An ecological, multilingual approach to language learning with newly reunited refugee families in Scotlandopens in new tab/window by Sarah Cox and Alison Phipps as an example of the importance of her field of research. Published in Elsevier’s International Journal of Educational Researchopens in new tab/window, the paper argues that newly reunited refugee families can be better supported through an ecological, multilingual approach because it complements existing community language classes. “Moreover,” Viktoriia said, “the findings of the research illustrate the participants’ increased feelings of confidence and empowerment in their learning, which supports and promotes integration into the multilingual societies.”

As a representative of an “internally displaced higher education institution” — meaning her university was relocated from the occupied territories — Viktoriia works remotely. Now, she begins her working day traveling around the city in search of an internet cafe or a place where generators will allow her to work productively and charge all her devices. “This journey can take from two to four hours daily,” she said. “After working for 5 or 6 hours, I return home hoping to continue my work there.”

Viktoriia’s ongoing work demonstrates that Ukrainian science is alive and continues to live — but it needs continued support:

Our institutions of higher education, research institutes and laboratories have been captured or destroyed by the Russian troops. Lots of Ukrainian scientists have joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army or are engaged in volunteering. We have the strength and desire to work further, to implement new projects, and we continue to work unceasingly, despite all the difficulties. But with the lack of laboratory and computer, especially at the relocated or damaged institutions, it is challenging to continue research.

Describing how she maintains focus in the face of such disruption, Viktoriia thinks about the contribution she is making to Ukraine’s future:

All Ukrainians are working on their own front lines. Some of us defend our Motherland with weapons, others work around the clock to ensure the stability of our critical systems. I, in my turn, continue my work at the university and my research and thus contribute to the stability of Ukrainian science and education. Moreover, as a representative of the Scholar Support Office at the Young Scientists Council, we work in a team whose activities are aimed at supporting Ukrainian science, implementing new initiatives and ideas.

This is my contribution to our victory. After the Victory, we will face lots of challenges in rebuilding the country, so the better we work today, the easier it will be for us to restore our country.


Portrait photo of Ian Evans


Ian Evans

Senior Director, Editorial, Content & Brand


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Kerri Brown