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Stories and ideas

Kroke. Orthodox Jews in Krakow

The exhibition Kroke. Orthodox Jews in Kraków is the result of a long-term photography project by Agnieszka Traczewska.

November 6, 2023 - New Eastern Europe

No school for the children of Izium

Ukraine’s newly liberated territories still show the scars of war. Critical infrastructure often remains damaged and life remains anything but ordinary. This is particularly true in the case of schools, with the education system in the town of Izium simply unable to provide for the country’s youngest citizens.

Almost a year after its liberation, Izium, a town in Kharkiv Oblast, bears the visible scars of the Russian aggression. Heavily damaged by the Russian bombing and having at least temporarily lost the majority of its population, Izium still remains an unsafe place to live. It will take a long time for the town to rise again.

September 11, 2023 - Kateryna Pryshchepa

Rethinking Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies in the West

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine since February 2022 has impacted academic research on the region, forcing students and staff in western university departments to rethink their interests and curricula.

After Teresa Reilly took Russian classes for her bachelor’s degree requirements, she was keen to learn more of the language and decided to apply for a master’s programme that would allow her to spend more time in Russia. In autumn 2021, she enrolled in the Erasmus Mundus master’s degree in Central and East European Studies, Russian and Eurasian Studies, with the aim of spending the second year of her studies in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. This would allow her to hone her language skills and work on her thesis, which was focused on a post-colonial view of the relationship between NATO and Yeltsin’s Russia.

September 11, 2023 - Veronica Snoj

The spirit of Estonia’s tradition of song

The Estonian song festival, Laulupidu, has taken place every five years for over 150 years. It is one of the largest choral events in the world and involves almost all of Estonia. The festival embraces the power of singing, which has become a national symbol for Estonia, especially in the most troubling of times.

That recent stormy night in Europe’s eastern frontier still reverberates for a 19-year-old student and much of her country. It happened during the closing hour of Laulupidu, Estonia’s biggest national gathering, a quinquennial choral event that had helped Estonia free itself from communism. Under pouring rain that July 2nd, before a crowd, Hanna Grete Rebane stood in a choir of 23,000 young Estonians singing poetic verses about yearning for one’s homeland despite hardships. As darkness began to settle, the audience began to sway with the singers; people held hands and wept, waving the Estonia flag.

September 11, 2023 - Isabelle de Pommereau

Gagauzian youth contemplate their future

In the semi-autonomous Moldovan region of Gagauzia, young people seem to be at a crossroads, grappling with issues of identity. The direction the region will take depends on finding a balance between preserving independence, heritage and tradition and embracing opportunities for growth and cooperation at both regional and international levels.

Gagauzia, a little-known semi-autonomous region covering 1,848 square kilometres in Moldova's south, comprises a cluster of cities, towns and villages amongst mainly rural and agricultural landscapes. This unique region is predominantly inhabited by an ethnic Turkic group whose origins remain somewhat enigmatic. Presently, facing significantly worse economic conditions than Moldova's capital (Chișinău) and limited opportunities, young Gagauzians find themselves torn between preserving their community and embracing a more European-aligned lifestyle and outlook.

September 11, 2023 - Madeleine Cuckson

The long exodus

The ongoing war in Ukraine has forced many refugees to make tough decisions about their future. This is particularly true in neighbouring Moldova, where many Ukrainians are deciding to settle on a more long-term basis. Despite the difficulties of this new life, a large number of refugees are trying to make the best of the situation.

Olena Mustiats, 41, had only the most basic requirements when she fled Ukraine with her six-year-old daughter last March: safety, affordability and a local language she knew. Leaving from her native Odesa, in Ukraine’s southwest, Mustiats settled on Moldova and headed to the capital, Chișinău. “I chose Moldova because it’s closer [to Odesa] than Poland, they speak Russian there, and because prices at the supermarket are cheaper than in Poland,” Mustiats said. A year and a half later, Mustiats and her child are still in Moldova, with no plans, and limited options, to go anywhere else.

September 11, 2023 - William Fleeson

How vulnerable groups live in Belarus in the era of mass repressions

The LGBTQ+ community faces discrimination and stigmatisation in most countries in Europe. Belarus is no exception. Recent research by the “It’s OK” initiative, however, shows that the scale of the threat faced by the LGBTQ+ community is much greater in Belarus than other countries in the region. This is also related to Russian state policies against sexual and gender minorities.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, more than 50 per cent of LGBTQ+ people in European countries have faced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This includes such forms of discrimination as insults, bans on employment or career advancement, denial of accommodation and access to health care, and physical and psychological violence.

September 11, 2023 - Volha Kavalskaya

Multilingual and multiple minorities. Who are the Balkan Jews?

The documented history of Jews in the Balkans can be traced back to the early Middle Ages and has been studied by researchers from diverse perspectives. Undoubtedly, it is a vibrant, dynamic and tumultuous story, set at the crossroads of multiple intersecting cultures and social groups. Although the Second World War profoundly impacted the Jewish world, it did not bring about its end.

In less than three years, we have lost three women who had made a tremendous impact on Balkan Jewish culture. The first to pass was Flory Jagoda, who died in January 2021. Born in 1923 in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) as Florica Papo, Flory emigrated to the United States after the Second World War. She was an accomplished singer and composer devoted to the preservation of the Ladino and Sephardic traditions.

September 11, 2023 - Katarzyna Taczyńska

Ukrainian refugees fleeing war battle with French bureaucracy

Ukrainian refugees who arrive to France face the daunting task of not only coming to a new country where they do not speak the language but also of trying to understand the complicated bureaucracy. In many cases, additional help from volunteers and online community groups is the only way to fully navigate the process.

When Olena Kondratova arrived in Paris in August 2022 after having fled the Russian invasion, she found shelter in temporary accommodation provided by French social services. The small apartment, where she lived with two other Ukrainian women, was two hours away from her new university, but it meant safety from the bombs raining down on her native city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.

July 4, 2023 - Cristina Coellen

How a Belarusian crowdfunding initiative provides relief for the repressed

The civic campaign “BY_Help” started as an online initiative to help repressed Belarusians back in 2017. Little did the founder expect that both the success and need for the programme would only grow in the coming years. Despite all the challenges, BY_Help is still working, providing the much needed aid that so many Belarusians require in the face of extreme repressions.

The story of an initiative that has raised over five million US dollars to help victims of repression in Belarus began in a British pub in 2017. At the time, after a comparatively long break in cracking down on dissent, the hard-line authorities had started rounding up people to head off possible protests on Freedom Day, an unofficial holiday in Belarus celebrated on March 25th to commemorate the declaration of independence by the Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918.

July 4, 2023 - Maryia Hryts

Ukraine, Mayday

While Russia’s war in Ukraine has become a regular story in European and world media, its physical connections with the wider world have become severely restricted. Now reliant on railways and roads to transport both people and goods, the war-torn nation now dreams of a future in which airplanes will no longer bring destruction and death.

My last visit to Kyiv was on February 16th, 2022. It was the day that American intelligence determined to be the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities an initiative called “Reconciliation” was held on that day as well. It was meant to “strengthen the consolidation of the Ukrainian society, increase its resilience when faced with growing hybrid and propaganda threats as well as the psychological pressure that was being put on the Ukrainian society”, as stated by the president’s decree “On urgent means to consolidate the Ukrainian society”’ issued two days prior.

July 4, 2023 - Nikodem Szczygłowski

The nightingales singing to the wounded. How Ukrainian medical staff save lives under fire

Ukraine’s military has set up special medical stabilisation points (stabs, for short) near the front lines to provide immediate treatment for wounded soldiers. These points, which are just a few kilometres from the front, are manned by dedicated medical staff and volunteers who work to save wounded soldiers coming out of Bakhmut. A recent visit to one of these points tells the story of these harrowing moments of sacrifice and hope amidst the chaos of war.

At the time of writing, the Battle of Bakhmut, reportedly the deadliest so far since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, is far from over. Even though there have been reports about Ukrainian forces pulling out from Bakhmut, the city continues to be the centre of military activity. Ukrainian forces still held some segments of the city for at least several days after the international media announced the Russian takeover in late May 2023.

July 4, 2023 - Kateryna Pryshchepa

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