REPOST: Inaugural Ralph Fisher Library Scholars Celebrated

Originally posted by the University Library at: 

fisher_scholars170413-033-b_websitecoverOn April 13, faculty, staff, students, and Library Friends gathered in the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library to celebrate the legacy of Professor Ralph Fisher; Professor Christopher “Kit” Condill and Professor Joseph Lenkart, the very first Ralph Fisher Library Scholars; and the generosity of Professor Emeritus Larry Miller, whose gifts have made the Scholars program possible.

Ralph Fisher’s wife, Ruth, and family members were on hand for the afternoon celebration including remarks by notable faculty and staff. Acting Dean of Libraries and University Librarian William Mischo welcomed everyone to the event. John Randolph, associate professor of History in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, spoke of Fisher’s work and accomplishments. An exhibit of Fisher’s papers from the Archives was introduced by University Archivist William Maher. Library Friend Larry Miller recounted his partnership with Fisher and his vision for the Slavic, East European, and Eurasian collections and services which inspired his gift in Fisher’s honor. Professor Steven Witt, the head of the IAS Library, talked about Condill’s and Lenkart’s many contributions to the Library and the profession.

Kit Condill is the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Librarian and an assistant professor at the Library. He is a 2004 graduate of the School of Information Sciences (iSchool) at Illinois, where he teaches a Slavic Bibliography course each fall, and a 1995 graduate of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He spent seven years as the Central Asian reference specialist for (and then manager of) the Slavic Reference Service. He has directed Slavic collection development since 2011. Condill’s research interests revolve around national bibliography as a tool for assessing and evaluating the publishing output of the non-Slavic peoples of the former Soviet Union, and for assessing the comprehensiveness of U.S. library collections.

Joe Lenkart is the international reference librarian and an assistant professor at the Library. He provides vision and leadership for the Slavic Reference Service in support of Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies scholars at Illinois and affiliated programs from around the world. As international reference librarian, he also extends the model of in-depth reference services across other regional areas of focus in the IAS Library. Lenkart’s research focuses on information systems and print cultures associated with ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. In addition to his reference and research interests, Lenkart is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (Russian Federation, 2000–2002). He holds a master’s degree in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and a Master of Library Science degree, both from Illinois.

Named positions, such as the Ralph Fisher Library Scholars, enhance the Library’s services, programs, and reputation by recognizing and fostering the considerable research contributions of its faculty.

2017 Summer Research Lab Reception

Faculty, staff, students, and Summer Research Lab (SRL) participants celebrated the start of this year’s SRL with a reception at the University YMCA on June 21. Food from the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region was served. Joe Lenkart, Manager of the Slavic Reference Service (SRS), gave his remarks. Everyone had a great time catching up with colleagues, meeting visiting researchers, and enjoying the refreshments.

Recent Acquisitions at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Collections at the University Library

Despite budget uncertainty at the state and federal level, the Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies collections at the UIUC Library continue to grow, to diversify, to build in areas of strength defined in previous decades, and to adopt new tools and resources to make materials available to researchers.

Perhaps the biggest news for the 2017-2018 academic year is that UIUC Library users will now have access to the Integrum database — the single most comprehensive source for current online media content from the Russian Federation, containing the searchable full text of tens of millions of articles and other documents generated by the contemporary Russian press. This will supplement and enhance the access to current Russian media content that has been provided for UIUC researchers through East View for many years.

Retrospective content available through East View was also expanded earlier in 2017, with the purchase of complete full-text-searchable digital archives of the pre-revolutionary journal Russkii Arkhiv (which provides access to primary source documents from the 18th and 19th centuries) and the early Soviet journal Krasnyi Arkhiv (dedicated to previously-unpublished tsarist diplomatic documents). UIUC Library patrons now have the ability to search the full text of these journals along with fully-digitized runs of other major Russian and Soviet periodical publications such as Pravda, Izvestiia, Literaturnaia Gazeta, Sovetskaia Kul’tura, and Iskusstvo Kino.

In Spring 2017, the Library also began subscribing to East View’s new database of 10 current newspapers from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. To support additional research on the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Library recently acquired over 150 Ukrainian, Russian and Crimean Tatar titles published in Crimea in 2014-2016 (i.e. before, during and after the Russian annexation of the peninsula).

Other noteworthy print resources acquired in 2017 include over 80 volumes of the Kazakh biographical series Ȯnegelī ȯmīr, along with the 12-volume Kyrgyz encyclopedia Asker ansiklopediiasy. These reference materials will enhance the Library’s Kazakh- and Kyrgyz-language holdings, which are already among the best in the United States. Other unique 2017 acquisitions include the only U.S. holdings of the ethnoregional journals Karabakhskii ekspress (an official publication of the unrecognized government of the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan) and Gor (devoted to the language, culture and history of the Hemşin people of eastern Turkey).

The UIUC Library’s microfilm and microfiche holdings are among the most extensive in the U.S., providing access to a huge amount of retrospective primary- and secondary-source material on the REEE region. Recent acquisitions in these formats include 1,687 reels of microfilm from Gale/Cengage, which contain thousands of archival documents on women’s roles in World War I in Eastern Europe, American intelligence on the Prague Spring of 1968, Zionist movements in Western Ukraine before 1939, and voluminous documentation on the experience of Eastern European immigrant communities in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Finally (and appropriately enough, as the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution draws near), we have also discovered century-old original paper copies of a handful of newspaper titles from the revolutionary era, including issues of Golos krest’ianstva (“Voice of the Peasantry”) from Vladivostok in 1919, Viatskiia izviestiia vremennago pravitel’stva (“Viatka Provisional Government News”) from May 1917, and the Kyiv Province Communist Party organ Bil’shovyk (“Bolshevik”) from 1923. After appropriate preservation measures are taken, these items are slated to join the thousands of other rare Slavic and East European items in UIUC’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

We look forward to making additional high-impact acquisitions for the Library’s collections in 2018 and beyond. We are always happy to hear from faculty, students, and other members of the REEEC community regarding our collections and how they might be improved still further.

Kit Condill is a REEES Librarian, Slavic Acquisitions Specialist, Ralph T. Fisher Library Scholar, as well as an integral member of the REEEC community. Every fall he lends his expertise to graduate students in the course LIS 530C: “Russian, East European & Eurasian Bibliography & Research Methods,” where he teaches students how to most effectively utilize library resources. 

New Acquisitions at the REEEC Multimedia Library

This summer, REEEC added some new films to our multimedia library. They range from Soviet classics to contemporary Academy Award nominees and winners from the region. All are available to check out for university faculty, K-12 teachers, and graduate students who are interested in incorporating cinematic and other multimedia materials into their courses and studies.


Battleship Potemkin (2-Disc Special Edition) : Soviet Union/Russia
A film by Sergei Eisenstein (1925, 69 min., B&W/Color, English intertitles/Russian intertitles with English subtitles)

Course Relevance: film history, classic film, Odessa, Russian Revolution

Synopsis: In the midst of the Russian Revolution of 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutiny against the brutal, tyrannical regime of the vessel’s officers. The resulting street demonstration in Odessa brings on a police massacre.

Reviews: RogerEbert.comThe Guardian


Leviathan: Russia
A film by Andrey Zvyagintsev (2014, 140 min., Color, Russian with English or French subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer.

Course Relevance: Post-Soviet Russia, contemporary Russia, corruption

Synopsis: In a small coastal town in Russia lives an ordinary family: Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), his wife Lilya, and their teenage son Roma. The family is haunted by a local corrupt mayor who is trying to take away Kolya’s business, house, and precious land. Kolya calls in an old friend, now an authoritative attorney, for help. Together they fight back and collect dirt on the mayor, but fate does not seem to be on Kolya’s side.

Awards: Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Experimental Film Award (National Society of Film Critics Awards, USA), Grand Prize (IndieLisbon International Independent Film Festival), Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (Cinema Eye Honors Awards)

Reviews: The Atlantic, Washington Post


Son of Saul: Hungary
A film by László Nemes (2015, 107 min., Color, Hungarian with French, Portuguese, Spanish, or English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer.

Course Relevance: Holocaust, Sonderkommando, Jewish life

Synopsis: October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis. While working, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.

Awards: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language (Golden Globes), Best Film not in the English Language (BAFTA Awards), Grand Prize of the Jury, FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes Film Festival)

Reviews: Associated Press, Time


Ida: Poland
A film by Pawel Pawilikowski (2013, 80 min., B&W, Polish, Latin, French with English or French subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: religion, Catholicism, Communism, postwar Poland, Jewish life, the Holocaust, women

Synopsis: 18-year old Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a sheltered orphan raised in a convent, is preparing to become a nun when the Mother Superior insists she first visit her sole living relative. Naive, innocent Anna soon finds herself in the presence of her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a worldly and cynical Communist Party insider, who shocks her with the declaration that her real name is Ida and her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. This revelation triggers a heart-wrenching journey into the countryside, to the family house and into the secrets of the repressed past, evoking the haunting legacy of the Holocaust and the realities of postwar Communism.

Awards: Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), Best Film not in the English Language (BAFTA Awards), Audience Award (European Film Awards), Grand Prix (Warsaw International Film Festival)

Reviews: AV Club, Newsday


The Innocents: Poland
A film by Anne Fontaine (2016, 115 min., Color, French and Polish with English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: postwar Poland, Communism, religion, Catholicism, pregnancy, women

Synopsis: Warsaw, December 1945: the second World War is finally over and French Red Cross doctor Mathilde (Lou de Laage) is treating the last of the French survivors of the German camps. When a panicked Benedictine nun appears at the clinic begging Mathilde to follow her back to the convent, what she finds there is shocking: a holy sister about to give birth and several more in advanced stages of pregnancy. A non-believer, Mathilde enters the sisters fiercely private world, dictated by the rituals of their order and the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza, Ida). Fearing the shame of exposure, the hostility of the occupying Soviet troops and local Polish communists and while facing an unprecedented crisis of faith, the nuns increasingly turn to Mathilde as their beliefs and traditions clash with harsh realities.

Awards: Andreas Award (Norwegian International Film Festival), Audience Award (Provincetown International Film Festival), Best Film (Valladolid International Film Festival)

Reviews: New York Times, Boston Globe


Tangerines: Georgia/Estonia
A film by Zaza Urushadze (2013, 87 min., Color, Estonian, Russian, Georgian with English subtitles)

Click here to watch the trailer. 

Course Relevance: Abhaz-Georgian conflict, post-Soviet Georgia

Synopsis: A story of awakening humanity in the midst of violence, told with intimacy and elegance by writer/director Zaza Urushadze, Tangerines is the spare, yet haunting tale of an older Estonian man who cares for two wounded soldiers from opposite sides of the 1990s-era war in Georgia. The film reveals compassion to be the ultimate response to centuries of political, cultural and ethnic conflict, a compelling and relevant message for contemporary audiences.

Awards: Best Feature (Jerusalem Film Festival), Audience Award (Warsaw International Film Festival), nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Academy Awards), nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)

Reviews: The Washington PostLos Angeles Times


Balkan Spy: Serbia/Yugoslavia
A film by Dušan Kovačević and Božidar Nikolić (1981, 95 min., Color, Serbo-Croatian with English subtitles)

Synopsis: In this black satire flashing back to the 1950s Yugoslavia under Tito, when relations with the Soviet Union were broken off, a pro-Stalinist Iliya (Danilo Bata Stojkovic) and his brother have never wavered in their political support of the Soviet dictator and his policies. They both served prison terms back in the 1950s for their beliefs. Now nearly three decades have passed, and a new neighbor who has spent a long time in Paris comes under police suspicion because of his long years outside the country. It turns out, however, that the man is innocent of any wrong-doing but Iliya is convinced he is a spy for the forces of imperialism, and, armed with a tape-recorder and camera, he carries out a surreptitious, evidence-gathering surveillance. At the same time, Iliya is whipping up his neighbors into a real frenzy of anti-imperialist furor directed against the hapless neighbor. Before Iliya can be stopped, even his wife joins him, but his daughter is hardly a convert — embarrassed would be a better word. Humor and pathos rise along with the paranoia, as Iliya and his delusions rule the day.

Awards: Best Screenplay (Montreal World Film Festival), Best Actor (Pula Film Festival of Yugoslavian Films)

Please note that REEEC provides access to its collection free of charge to the following: University of Illinois faculty, graduate students, registered student organizations, K-12 instructors, and university/college faculty in the United States. First priority is given to University of Illinois faculty teaching Russian, East European, and Eurasian area studies courses. The collection is for educational purposes only. REEEC does not lend films to individuals for private viewing, and it does not lend materials outside the US.

2017 Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum: Central and Eastern Europe in the Global Middle Ages

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On June 22nd, the Russian, East European, Eurasian Center hosted the annual Ralph and Ruth Fisher Forum. This year, the forum was organized by REEEC Director David Cooper (Associate Professor of Slavic Languages & Literatures), and was co-sponsored by the Ralph and Ruth Fisher Endowment, the Program in Medieval Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics, and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

The theme of this year’s Fisher Forum was Central and Eastern Europe in the Global Middle Ages. The presentations were broken up into three different panels, each focusing on a different region of Central and Eastern Europe. The first panel was dedicated to Kievan Rus’ and its environs, the second to Central Europe, and the third panel focused on Southeastern Europe.

The first panel included Ines Garcia de la Puente (Boston University), who discussed “The Translated Worlds of Kievan Rus’”; Olenka Pevny (Cambridge University), whose work focused on “‘Living’ Orthodoxy and Petro Mohyla’s Restoration of the Kyivan Rus’ Patrimony”; Matthew Romaniello (University of Hawaii), who presented his lecture “Commodities without Context? Rethinking the History of Medicine in Medieval Russia”; and Michael Bechtel (University of Chicago), who talked about “The End of the Nomadic Military Elite: Technology and Institutional Change in Late Medieval Central Eurasia.” 

The scholars who discussed Central Europe included Julia Verkholantsev (University of Pennsylvania), who presented her lecture “Medieval Historian at Work: Historical Method and Linguistic Thought”; Paul Milliman (University of Arizona), who presented his research on “The First Invention of Eastern Europe: Sclavia, Scythia, and the East in the Medieval Map of Civilization”; and Eva Doležalová (Center for Medieval Studies, Prague), who discussed the “Image of the Jews in the High and Late Medieval Bohemian Society in Comparison to the Holy Roman Empire.”

The third and final panel included Gabriela Currie (University of Minnesota), who gave a lecture entitled “Eurasian Sonic Borderlands: Cultural Encounters in the Danubian Plains”; Donna Buchanan (University of Illinois), whose research focused on “Sonic Politics of the Sacred: Bells and Belfries in the Bulgarian Middle Ages and Contemporary Medieval Imaginary”; and lastly, Robert Romanchuk (Florida State University), who discussed “The ‘Formulaic Style’ and Its Role in the Translation of Digenis Akritis into Old Slavic.”

Although the participating scholars all discussed different topics and focused on different areas, the lectures were all united by a common goal: to deconstruct outdated divisions of an “Eastern” and “Western” Medieval Europe that imagine the continent as a collage of separate, isolated parts. Medieval Europe was not split into two, but was instead composed of a plurality of networks, communities, and other social formations that brought distant peoples and cultures into contact. By looking to the past and showing the interconnectivity of Europe in the Middle Ages, the Fisher Forum scholars ultimately sought to offer a new perspective on processes and problems of globalization in the modern era.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, including issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.

Russian Week at Urbana Fine Arts Center’s Summer Camp

During the week of July 10th,  REEEC visited Urbana Fine Arts Center’s annual summer camp to give presentations on Russian language, dance, and music. On Wednesday, Nadia Hoppe, PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, and Stephanie Chung, Outreach and Programming Coordinator of REEEC and also a PhD candidate in the Slavic Department, introduced the summer camp participants to the Russian alphabet. The summer camp participants, who ranged from ages 6-8, then learned how to write their names in Russian script. On Friday, Hoppe returned to give a presentation on Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. After learning about the Firebird in Russian folklore and watching several productions of the ballet, ranging from Margot Fonteyn’s 1954 performance to a contemporary performance in Mariinsky Theater, the campers enjoyed a Firebird mask craft.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Cadra McDaniel, “Politics in the World of Art: Representations of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries”

On June 27th, Professor Cadra McDaniel gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled, “Politics in the World of Art: Representations of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.” Professor McDaniel is an Assistant Professor of History and Liberal Studies at Texas A&M University-Central Texas and the author of American-Soviet Cultural Diplomacy: The Bolshoi Ballet’s American Premiere.


According to Professor McDaniel, the emergence of the World of Art (Mir iskusstva), a Russian art magazine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, heralded a new and innovative phase in the world of Russian art. Artists associated with the World of Art, the Miriskusniki, became known for their avant-garde works and for their appreciation of Western European aesthetics and cultural trends. The name World of Art was meant to highlight their cosmopolitan proclivities and to build a bridge between Russian art and Western European art. While many scholars have acknowledged the World of Art for its cultural achievements and contributions to European art as a whole, few have considered how the World of Art interacted with Russian politics. Although the World of Art is commonly seen as having been apolitical, Professor McDaniel argues that the World of Art and the Miriskusniki often expressed political and nationalist themes through their art, many of which have continued to feature in 20th century and contemporary Russian art.

In the late 19th century, nationalism became a powerful force in Europe and Russia. Amidst ongoing nationalist debates in the country, the Miriskusniki sought to illustrate national identity not through politics, but through what they saw as authentic Russian art. In their search for national identity, the Miriskusniki looked to the past, finding inspiration in ancient Russian myths and folklore, as well as 18th century Russia and France.

Viktor Vasnetsov, Knight at the Crossroads, 1882

Viktor Vasnetsov, Knight at the Crossroads, 1882

The artist Viktor Vasnetsov and his painting Knight at the Crossroads became a source of nationalist discussions among the Miriskusniki. Knight at the Crossroads, which celebrates Russia’s glorious past and the Slavic soul, depicts a Russian bogatyr, and draws heavily on Russian folklore. Sergei Diaghilev, one of the founders of the World of Art, believed that nationalists such as Vasnetsov would help Russia transition into Western European culture. In Europe at the time there was a widespread interest in myths and folklore, so Diaghilev believed that works like Knight at the Crossroads would integrate Russia into larger European artistic trends. Following the ideological traditions of Viktor Vasnetsov was Mikhail Nesterov, who was seen as representative of Russian national romanticism. Many of Nesterov’s works focused on religious themes, such as his Holy Trinity from 1895. Holy Trinity is a direct imitation of Anton Rublev’s icon, The Trinity. McDaniel argues that Nesterov’s imitation of the famed icon painter shows the continued importance of Orthodoxy in Russian nationalism. By harkening back to the Middle Ages, both Vasnetsov and Nesterov highlight the medieval period as a formative and glorious time in Russian history and as a central part of Russian identity.

Alexandre Benois, The King's Walk, 1906

Alexandre Benois, The King’s Walk, 1906

Moving forward in time, the World of Art also exhibited a great love and appreciation for the 18th century. Artists like Alexandre Benois, Valentin Serov, and Konstantin Somov, who were not interested in the medieval period, devoted their work to glorifying 18th century Russian culture. Benois’s painting, The King’s Walk, shows a stylization of the period that evokes a longing for a bygone era. The glorification of the 18th century by the Miriskusniki could be interpreted as a rebellion against bourgeois practicality, but it could also be seen as a celebration of Russia’s integration into European culture. As Professor McDaniel notes, “for the Miriskusniki, a Russia fully integrated Europe should serve as a basis for contemporary political and national identity.”

The ideologies of the Miriskusniki were not shared by everyone in Russia and even proved to be contentious in some circles. Vladimir Stasov, a supporter of the Peredvizhniki, often shared his contempt for the Miriskusniki in his journal, Art and Art Industry. He found the Miriskusniki and their works “anti-artistic,” “repulsive,” and derivative of their Western counterparts. McDaniel claims that Stasov’s distaste for the World of Art was rooted in his love for realism and his inability to appreciate new trends in Russian art, and she further argues that these tensions between the Miriskusniki and the Peredvizhniki highlight the importance of art in Russian society.

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, October Idyll, 1905

Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, October Idyll, 1905

Toward the beginning of the 20th century, the political landscape in Russia became increasingly volatile. This volatility came to a head on January 22nd, 1905, a date that would come to be known as Bloody Sunday. Led by Father Georgy Gapon, thousands of workers marched to the Winter Palace with a list of demands for improved working conditions. As the unarmed workers peacefully approached the palace, they were fired upon by the Imperial Guard; countless were killed or gravely wounded. Bloody Sunday sparked a widespread outcry throughout Russian society and many Miriskusniki unabashedly vocalized their disapproval of the event and of the monarchy as a whole.

Some of the Miriskusniki, such as Valentin Serov and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, started a new satirical journal, Zhupel, and used it as a platform to publicly criticize the monarchy. Zhupel included works like Dobuzhinsky’s October Idyll, which depicts a scene of political violence committed by the government. Boris Kustodiev’s Entry illustrates a similarly macabre scene; Kustodiev depicts a battle between soldiers and workers, who are overshadowed by a massive, blood-covered skeleton. Not all artists of Zhupel chose to focus on themes of violence and death. For example, in the third and final edition of Zhupel, Ivan Bilibin published his illustration An Ass (Equus Asinus), which features a donkey accompanied by symbols of the Romanov dynasty. The illustration was an obvious critique of Nicholas II and was not received warmly by the government; Bilibin was sentenced to a brief house arrest and Zhupel was subsequently shut down.

Leonid Nikolayev, Blue Bucket Protests

Leonid Nikolayev, Blue Bucket Protest, 2010

According to McDaniel, the legacies of the World of Art and Zhupel continue to resonate into the 21st century. Government-sponsored art, such as World War I monuments, echo the early nationalist sentiments expressed by the World of Art, while the satirical traditions of Zhupel live on through the works of contemporary dissident artists like Gosha Ostretsov and Leonid Nikolayev. Nikolayev’s performance piece, Blue Bucket Protest, is a commentary on the abuse of political privilege by governmental officials, and mirrors the themes found in Ivan Bilibin’s An Ass. In contemporary Russia, as citizens grapple with concepts of national identity and struggle to wade through the political mire, the World of Art continues to serve as a source of inspiration and discussion.

Lucy Pakhnyuk is a second-year MA student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. Her research interests are in comparative politics, including issues of democratization, mass mobilization/political protest, and human rights in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia.