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The School of Ukrainian Studies, a Ridna Shkola in Yonkers, New York, strives to help young Ukrainian Americans retain their heritage. Like other Saturday Ukrainian schools, the educational center offers courses in Ukrainian language and history for children of Ukrainian descent. As part of the curriculum, the school organizes an annual field trip, allowing students to see how the material they learn inside the classroom extends beyond its walls.

For this year’s trip school advisors recommended the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) as the group’s destination. Visiting HURI would allow students to learn about the Institute and maybe even inspire young students to go into Ukrainian Studies themselves.

Ridna Shkola visits HURI

Group Photo of Yonkers Student Visit 800px

On Saturday, May 21, a group of 45 students, teachers, and parents arrived at HURI. The visitors took an official tour of Harvard’s campus and visited the Institute.

On the campus tour, they learned about the history of Harvard University, some ‘myths and legends’, and interesting events that have happened in the Yard, the oldest section of Harvard. Walking around campus, they saw the freshman dormitories, dining facilities, Widener Library, and academic buildings.

Back at the Institute, Dr. Lubomyr Hajda, Senior Advisor to HURI Director, presented an overview of HURI’s history and activities. Speaking both in Ukrainian and English, Hajda explained how HURI came to be, the significance of its programs, and how its mission has evolved over the years.

In particular, he noted that the idea of an endowed chair in Ukrainian Studies had sprung from a group of Ukrainian scholars who were concerned about the lack of information - and prevalence of misinformation - about Ukraine in the American educational system. Professor Omeljan Pritsak at Harvard advised the group to create three chairs in Ukrainian studies, one for each major discipline, and an institute to support and propagate its work. The endowments for the chairs and institute were created through the generosity of thousands of Ukrainians living throughout the United States who believed in the need to keep Ukraine’s identity alive.

Students encounter Ukrainian studies

Students during Hajda presentation 500The visitors also examined HURI’s range of publications and work in early Ukrainian literature, products of that founding mission. One of the highlights was the defter, the Ottoman survey register of Podolia in 1681. The joint project - undertaken by HURI and the Institute of Oriental Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine - included producing both the facsimile and an English translation from the Arabic original. It was published in 2004 as part of the Studies in Ottoman Documents series.

The register provides a record of people living in towns, the animals they owned, and so on, which together offers a taste of everyday life in a specific time and place. This volume is especially valuable because it’s the only surviving document of its type of an ethnic Ukrainian territory.

Hajda also noted that many leaders and important scholars have spent time at HURI, both in the summer school (HUSI) and as fellows or visiting scholars. General Morozov (the first Minister of Defense of Ukraine in 1991-1993), for example, was a fellow. HURI published his memoirs and retains in its archives the taped interviews, transcripts, and photographs used in producing them.

The students learned about the Harvard Ukrainian material housed in the University libraries, the largest collection of its kind outside Eastern Europe. While the majority of the books, documents, and archives are housed in Widener Library, Houghton Library, and other locations, the visitors were able to see firsthand a portion of the collection while sitting in HURI’s own reference library.

“Our travelers were provided the opportunity to see Harvard University, a world-renowned institution. It was important for our children to see with their own eyes what the Ukrainian Institute is all about,” said Svetlana Khmurkovska, director of the school. “I'm sure the visit will inspire them to learn more. After all, our young people so smart and motivated; we are doing our best so that they retain their heritage.”

Ukrainian communities today build on the past

The Yonkers school and other similar schools were founded by Ukrainian immigrants who wanted to keep their culture, history, and language alive for generations to come. Many of these same communities donated the funds that made Harvard’s endowed chairs in Ukrainian Studies and the Ukrainian Research Institute possible.

For that reason, this visit from the Yonkers school was particularly special. HURI recognizes is connection to the Ukrainian community and serves as a resource. HURI joins in the hope that the visit will perhaps inspire a new generation of Ukrainian scholars, and welcomes the broader community to participate in its programs and attend its events and lectures.