Study Abroad in Odessa, Ukraine (Summer 2016)

Thanks to a generous REEEC grant, I spent last June and July studying Russian in Odessa, Ukraine.  I shared an apartment with my friends Nadia and Tyler, UIUC Slavic Ph.D. students.  We all took intensive Russian classes at the Odessa Language Study Centre.  Nadia and Tyler took individual courses, while I decided to take a group class, which I would describe as a mixed bag.  On one hand, my language instructor Olga was incredible – like the other teachers at OLSC, she had many years of experience teaching Russian to international students in Odessa.  She also had a great sense of humor (sample Olga-ism: “My conscience is clean, I never use it”) and a keen interest in delineating cultural differences and similarities, sharing her perception of the local worldview (e.g. “U nas net feminizma,” “We don’t have feminism [here]”) and opinions on pressing social issues like political corruption (including a memorable anecdote about the “musornaia [garbage] mafia” chasing one of her students out of town for proposing the establishment of a municipal recycling system).  On the other hand, a group class entails accommodating students of varying levels – as a result, the first few weeks of class were a bit too rudimentary for me.  Private instruction is more expensive, but in retrospect, I should have opted for one-on-one lessons.  That being said, I still got a lot out of my classes with Olga, and I highly recommend OLSC to anyone who wants to study Russian in Odessa.

Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking city; culturally, it’s also quite “Russian,” a testament to its history as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Around 2500 years ago, current-day Odessa was a Greek colony; later, it was part of the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire.  Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, the city of Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great’s decree.  Although originally valued for its strategic significance as a warm-water port on the Black Sea, Odessa quickly became one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire.  Due in part to its port-city status, it also become an exceptionally diverse cultural center, fostering a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that persists to this day.

As places to spend the summer go, Odessa is hard to beat.  Our apartment was a five-minute walk from Lanzheron Beach, apparently one of the nicer beaches in the area – “apparently” because once we found “our” beach, we went back to the same spot at least once or twice a week without much further exploration.  Lanzheron Beach has a cute boardwalk with several restaurants and beachside cafes (we were regulars at Prichal No. 1).  In general, downtown Odessa is filled with great bars and restaurants – some of my favorites were Dacha (a restaurant in a gorgeous 19th-century country estate), Kompot (traditional Ukrainian cuisine, kitschy Soviet décor), and Dzhondzholi (delicious Georgian food).  Odessites are also very proud of their stunning opera house (where we saw a nice production of Carmen), and the lovely Palais-Royal Garden is right around the corner.  For night owls and party animals, Odessa’s “Arkadia” region is also worth checking out – it has several huge clubs with pool complexes and regular concerts and DJs.


The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Among Slavists, Odessa is known for its role in literary and film history.  In 1823, Pushkin wrote several chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin when he lived in the city during his “southern exile.”  Gogol wrote the second volume of Dead Souls in Odessa from 1850-1851 (he famously burned the manuscript).  Several notable Russian-language writers were native Odessites, including Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, and Isaac Babel, whose “Odessa Tales” are set in the city.  Odessa’s place in literary history is memorialized by statues all over town, as well as by the Odessa Pushkin Museum and the Soviet-era Literature Museum.  Odessa was immortalized in a famous film sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925).  The city was an important filmmaking center before and during the Soviet era, and it hosts the wonderful Odessa International Film Festival every summer.


Memorial Plaque on N.V. Gogol’s Odessa Residence


Although downtown Odessa is beautiful and quite safe, there is a lot of poverty in surrounding areas.  In addition to the general economic decline in Ukraine, Odessa formerly benefitted from an influx of Russian tourists every summer, which (for obvious reasons) has dried up since the annexation of Crimea and War in Donbass.  However, there are ongoing efforts to revitalize Odessa as a tourist center, including (usually free) cultural events that take place all summer long.  It’s also an extremely affordable place to live, even on a graduate student budget (the silver lining of the region’s economic woes, from a foreigner’s perspective).  Most locals aren’t fluent in English, making life in Odessa a truly immersive language-learning experience – if you want to order food at a restaurant, you’ll have to work on your Russian.

Overall, I found Odessa to be a fascinating and beautiful city.  I’d particularly recommend it as a study abroad destination for language students, especially since there’s no need to get a student visa (by all accounts one of the more frustrating parts of studying in Russia).  I’m certainly planning to go back as soon as possible.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

Faculty Publications

Mark Steinberg, Director of Graduate Studies, Professor of History, Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global Studies, published a new book on February 1st of 2017, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921, was released through Oxford University Press. Steinberg’s book explores a different perspective of the historical period that ranges from the 1905 Bloody Sunday events to the end of the Civil War, all presented through the perspectives and experiences of those who lived through the period. Writing on the key characters of the revolution, including Vladimir Lenin, Lev Trotsky, and Alexandra Kollontai, Steinberg takes knowledge and information from the present and uses it to breath new air into the past. For more information on Dr. Steinberg’s book, follow this link to Oxford University Press.

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

Marek Sroka, Librarian for Central European Studies and Associate Professor of Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, published “American Books to the Rescue: The American Library Association (ALA) and the Postwar Restoration of Polish Libraries, 1944-1948,” in the final issue of 2016’s The Polish Review 61(4), and then published “”A Book Never Dies”: the American Library Association and the Cultural Reconstruction of Czechoslovak and Polish Libraries, 1945-48,” in Library and Information History 33 which was released in 2017.

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

Dr. Kristin Romberg, Assistant Professor of Art History and REEEC Affiliate, published an anthology, “Tektonika,” in volume 1 of Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism), edited by Serguei Oushakine and published by Moscow and Ekaterinburg: Kabinetnyi uchenyi in the summer of 2016.  Romberg also spoke at The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond panel at the Museum of Modern Art on February 8th, 2017. The panel was organized in tandem with the exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde and discussed the how an art object could be revolutionary. Information about the panel is available here.

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Stage Russia Presents: Eugene Onegin

On September 23, 2016, REEEC hosted a discussion panel for Stage Russia Presents: Eugene Onegin, which was screened at the Art Theater Co-op.  Stage Russia is “an intercultural project that films Russian theater productions which will be distributed into U.S. cinemas, starting this fall with the Vakhtangov Theatre’s ‘arrestingly beautiful’ Eugene Onegin.”  The discussants were Eddie Aronoff, Owner and General Director of Stage Russia, Olga Maslova, Assistant Professor of Costume Design at UIUC, and Valeria Sobol, Associate Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at UIUC

Eugene Onegin, originally published serially from 1825 to 1832, is a “novel in verse” written by Aleksandr Pushkin, widely considered Russia’s greatest poet and a founding figure of modern Russian literature. Onegin is the story of the titular St. Petersburg dandy, a cynical “superfluous man” (a literary type based on the Byronic hero) whose tragic fate—which involves unrequited love and unwillingly killing his best friend in a duel—is the central focus of Pushkin’s verse novel. Described by Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky as an “encyclopedia of Russian life,” Onegin is an enduring classic. There are dozens of English translations of the work (hundreds overall), and it was famously adapted into an 1879 opera by Tchaikovsky. However, as Prof. Sobol pointed out, Pushkin is so revered in Russia that staging an adaptation of any sort is already “an act of bravery.”

Rimas Tuminas, the director of the Vakhtangov production of Onegin, devised creative solutions to many of the challenges involved in bringing Pushkin’s text to the stage.  One such potential obstacle is Onegin’s idiosyncratic narrator, a “chatty, playful” persona with “many faces,” who, according to Prof. Sobol, reflects Pushkin’s intent to separate his authorial voice from the character of Onegin. Tuminas decided to distribute the narrator’s discourse among several characters, including a narrator character (a “drunk hussar”).  This production also features two Onegins on stage: the younger one is the locus of action (i.e. takes part in events), and his older self—absent from the original text—looks back on the events of his youth.  In some scenes, young Onegin speaks the lines he spoke in Pushkin’s Onegin, while the older Onegin speaks the narrator’s lines describing his younger self’s inner life.

In her discussion of the production, Prof. Maslova argued that “a good director doesn’t just quote or illustrate [the original text]—he [or she] adds another dimension.” She praised the set design, particularly the large dance-studio mirror in the background, which creates space and changes subtly throughout the production: “Mirrors are one of the hardest things to use on stage.”  She noted that the costumes mixed early 19th-century and modern fashions, blending newer styles with Empire silhouettes. According to Prof. Maslova, “The production is terribly entertaining… you watch it in one breath and come out a better person.”

Along with the transition from text to stage, the Stage Russia project also entails the translation from stage to screen. Aronoff’s initial idea was to bring mid-sized Russian theatrical productions to the United States; when that turned out to be unfeasible, he struck upon the idea of bringing filmed versions to the U.S. Eventually, he met Alexey Shemyatovskiy, the film director who oversees the Vakhtangov and Moscow Art Theatre’s live transmissions. Shemyatovskiy agreed to film and edit Stage Russia productions, becoming an integral part of the project. Aronoff also works with a small team—”my ‘Eddie’s Angels,’ I call them”—including Katya Soloviev, who is responsible for translation into English. For Onegin, she used an earlier British translation, which she “tweaked to her specifications.” (She translated The Cherry Orchard from scratch.) Her translation manages the tricky balancing act of maintaining semantic accuracy while approximating the unique rhyme scheme of Pushkin’s original. According to Aronoff, “the key is, she’s a Russian theater junky.”

Thanks to Shemyatovskiy’s work, Onegin is distinctly cinematic: “there’s a scene that he’s so proud of—I love it when I see it now—where Olga is in the background and Lensky is in the foreground, and he… switches the focus—it’s so beautiful, and you can’t get that in the theater… you don’t feel like you’re watching a play live, but you do feel something… maybe not ‘better,’ ‘but different.'” Shemyatovskiy’s process begins with a technical video (“[they] see what the angles are and what they want to do”), followed by a full shoot with his six-camera crew. For the Stage Russia version of Onegin, he insisted in filming the play twice: “I think the ‘swings scene,’ somehow he felt he missed something on it [the first time].” He also edited the film without input from Aronoff or even Tuminas, who didn’t ask for final approval. (“I guess he had filmed stuff with Alexey for a long time, so he trusted him.”) However, Aronoff says that this isn’t the case for all of the directors they’re working with this season: “Kama Ginkas—we’re doing The Black Monk—he wants to be involved, heavily… I said, ‘You’re a great director, why would I resist having you help direct?’”

Intuitively, one of the obstacles to filming live theater is the difference between acting styles in the two media. Stage performances tend to be louder and more expressive, while screen acting is “smaller” and more naturalistic—a result of the fact that the camera can eliminate the distance between performer and audience. At some moments in Onegin, some of the actors’ expressions are surprisingly understated. However, Aronoff doesn’t think that they adjusted their performances for the camera:

Maybe there was a subtle thing that they were aware of, but [Tuminas] is such a strict director, that I can’t imagine that they would change one note… He’s a taskmaster, almost like Hitchcock… Maybe it’s the same philosophy: “Act as if they can see the tiniest expression in your face.”  It doesn’t feel overly theatrical—but I think that’s also the play.  There are so many quiet moments… capturing the essence of death, of… resignation, and at the same time love, but also sadness… there are some really nice, intimate moments.

Aronoff emphasized that he wanted to “create a diverse landscape of Russian theater.” The next film in the series is the Moscow Art Theatre production of The Cherry Orchard, directed by Adolf Shapiro (Aronoff: “Chekhov is a no brainer, you’ve gotta do Vanya or Cherry Orchard”). The third film is a modern dance interpretation of Anna Karenina, directed and choreographed by Angelica Cholina (“this kind of [adaptation] is very popular in Moscow right now, The Inspector General was done this way recently”). Other productions planned for this season include The Black Monk (dir. Kama Ginkas), The Three Comrades (dir. Galina Volchek and Alexander Savostianov), and The Suicide (dir. Sergei Zhenovach).

Eugene Onegin and The Cherry Orchard are currently screening in North America, England, and Ireland.  Stage Russia productions will be also shown in Mexico and South America beginning January 2017, and in Australia the following May. For more details, visit Stage Russia on FacebookYouTube, or VKontakte.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian.

Faculty Highlight — Roman Ivashkiv

Dr. Roman Ivashkiv

Dr. Roman Ivashkiv

REEEC is glad to welcome Roman Ivashkiv, Lecturer and Language Program Coordinator in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.  He received a B.A. and M.A. in English Linguistics and Translation Studies from the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, an M.A. in Russian and Comparative Literature from Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Alberta.

Dr. Ivashkiv’s doctoral dissertation explored the concept of transmesis (a portmanteau of “translation” and “mimesis”) which, in his words, “stands for the representation in fiction of translation, both as a process and a product, as well as for the portrayal of the figure of the translator in a fictional text.” In his dissertation, Dr. Ivashkiv looked at three contemporary postmodern novels – all of which feature the theme of translation – in their original Ukrainian and Russian and in English translation: Yuri Andrukhovych’s Perverziia (translated by Michael Naydan), Serhiy Zhadan’s Depesh Mod (translated by Myroslav Shkandrij), and Viktor Pelevin’s Generation “П(translated by Andrew Bromfield).

According to Dr. Ivashkiv, looking at these works in translation raises questions of untranslatability: “How do translators render transmetic episodes in novels into English while operating from the position of ‘retranslating,’ or translating what allegedly already is a translation?”  To explain the problem, he uses the example of Pelevin’s GenerationП.  From a translation perspective, even the title is challenging: “Generation” is already in English in the Russian title, and translating “П” as “‘P’” doesn’t quite do it justice, particularly in light of the fact that the novel is about translation.  GenerationПis written primarily in Russian, but it contains many instances of English usage – how can such instances be translated into English?  For the translator, conveying a multilingual mode is a problem.

In addition to translation studies, Dr. Ivashkiv’s research interests include postmodern and comparative literature, literary theory, and second language acquisition.  He has more than 10 years of language teaching experience, in various countries and contexts.  At the University of Alberta, he taught Ukrainian, Ukrainian Culture, and English as a Second Language.  In addition to coordinating the Slavic Language Program, he is currently teaching first- and second-year Ukrainian (UKR 101 and 201), an advanced Russian language course for graduate students (RUSS 501), and a Slavic languages pedagogy seminar (SLAV 591).

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2015-16 academic year for the study of Russian.

2013 Freshman Focus: Brief Report

On Tuesday, June 4th, the Champaign Schools Foundation hosted its first “Freshman Focus” at Parkland Community College.  The purpose of this event was to introduce freshman students from Centennial, Central and Urbana high schools to academic subjects (like Russian, Arabic, Swahili, and computer programming) not readily available in their own schools in order to motivate them to enroll in academically challenging classes in high school to prepare for college.

As a presenter during the Freshman Focus program I had the opportunity to talk about Russian language and culture to 40 of these bright, local students.  After I briefly introduced myself I began the lesson began with a very brief group “quiz” which asked the following questions: What is an alternate, official name for Russia? What is the present capital of Russia? What was the capital city of Russia for most of the 18th and all of the 19th century? From 1917-1991 Russia was part of a larger country.  What was that country called?

Nellie Manis teaching Russian at Freshman Focus

Nellie Manis teaching Russian at Freshman Focus

The students had a lot of fun arguing amongst themselves about whether or not the Soviet Union still existed and if Stalingrad had ever been the capital of the Russian Empire.  After revealing the answers to the quiz, the Russian language lesson began.  This consisted of an introduction to both the oral and written alphabet. Next, students were introduced to some of the most important words and phrases of the Russian language and were even able to ask each other (in Russian, of course!) “what is your name?” and respond appropriately.  Our young local scholars showed enthusiasm and openness and were not afraid of looking (or sounding) silly.

To conclude the session, I asked students whether they had thought about going abroad in the future.  Almost everybody raised their hand!  I told students about some of the very low-cost resources available to high school students to study outside of the United States including the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) — a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program, and the Rotary Youth Exchange that sponsors programs of varying length in more than 150 countries throughout the world.  After each lesson, students were rewarded for their hard work and attention with Russian candy. They were encouraged to take handouts explaining the options and requirements of majoring in Russian in college and a brochure on what graduates from the University of Illinois’s Russian, East European and Eurasian Center have gone on to do professionally.

Working with CUScholars was a really fun experience.  It reminded me that our community has a really bright future and that the local school systems provide great opportunities for students to explore the world outside of their own schools.  To find out more about the CUScholars program, see the organization’s website at

Nellie Manis finished her MA at REEEC with a graduate minor in European Union Studies in May 2013. She received a BA in History and a BA in International Studies from Penn State University in 2008.  In August she will begin a Fulbright Student grant at the Linguistics University of Nizhnii Novgorod in Russia.  In addition to coursework in translation and interpretation she will research the differences between translation pedagogy in the United States and Russia.

A reflection on Professor Gerber’s Lecture “Divided Historical Memory among Youth in Estonia: Sources of Ideational Cleavage.”

On February 21, Professor of Sociology Theodore P. Gerber (University of Wisconsin-Madison) gave a lecture titled “Divided Historical Memory among Youth in Estonia: Sources of Ideational Cleavage.”  He explored how and why recollections of World War II and the Soviet period in Estonia are understood and interpreted  differently.  Professor Gerber undertook a unique method to study historical memory through the application of latent class modeling.  This method surveyed data taken from Estonians and Russians in both nation-states.  His objective was to develop an understanding of the factors that determine conceptions of Estonia’s past.

For Gerber the past is “important in a post-conflict” setting  because it helps determine “accountability,” and to establish a sense of agreement about events that have transpired.  The concept of historical memory is especially relevant to a country like Estonia where issues relating to World War II and the Soviet era created varying conceptions of the past.  Professor Gerber provided some background information on the demographics of Estonia and the important historical events which served as the basis of his study.  Following World War II, Estonia once again became part of the USSR before declaring independence decades later.  Estonia is a country with a large Russian minority population, and many of them are not Estonian citizens due to restrictive naturalization policies of the post-communist period.  This created the potential for a divided memory regarding the Soviet past and what it meant.  His main research questions addressed the structure of historical memory, and how perceptions of the Soviet past related to ethnicity, gender, citizenship, and language knowledge.

Based on the survey data Gerber collected, Estonians were more likely to harbor critical views of the Soviet past.  Estonian Russians who were non-citizens and were lesser educated held a positive view of the Soviet past.  The ones whoEstonian citizenship held views more moderately situated between the polarized viewpoints of  ethnic Estonians and non-citizen Ethnic Russians. This study surprisingly pointed to the conclusion that the differences in socioeconomic status did not have a large impact on the conceptions of historical memory.  Professor Gerber concluded his lecture by stating that issues pertaining to citizenship, ethnicity, and country “shape divisions in historical memory,” and that the methodology used for this study was effective to answer his research questions.

Prof. Gerber with Prof. Zsuzsa Gille (Sociology, University of Illinois)

Prof. Gerber with Prof. Zsuzsa Gille (Sociology, University of Illinois)

As someone with a strong interest in post-communist life in Eastern Europe and Russia, attending this lecture was profoundly insightful.  Above all, Professor Gerber’s highlighted for me how varied and complicated conceptions of the past can be.  Additionally, I have a new found understanding of the importance of studying historical memory in order to truly grasp the complexities of a society.

Ryan Eavenson is a first year MA student.  He is particularly interested in democratization, human rights, and European integration in the post-Soviet world.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After completion of his MA, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs or continue his education.

Engaging the Law in Eurasia and Eastern Europe

Russian Constitutional Court

Russian Constitutional Court

On January 10-11, 2013 nine scholars from institutions across the United States convened at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington, DC for the first of a series of workshops on “Engaging the Law in Eurasia and Eastern Europe.” The workshop series is a collaboration between REEEC, the University of Illinois College of Law and the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars,  the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin Law School.  The workshops are designed to bring together junior scholars in the field of East European and Eurasian study who study topics of law and society to discuss their work currently in progress and receive feedback from fellow participants as well as a panel of expert moderators. These nine participants were selected through a national competition held in spring 2012.

Participants are:

Sergei Antonov, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harriman Institute Columbia University

Brad Tyler Epperly, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina

Lorita L. Ivanova, Juris Doctor Candidate, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Jordan Gans-Morse, Assistant Professor, Northwestern University

Lauren McCarthy, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Daniel Asher Newman, PhD Candidate, University of California Los Angeles

Alisa Oblezova, Senior Lecturer, Perm State University & Wilson Center

William Partlett, Non-Resident Fellow, Brookings Institution Washington D.C.

Karen E. Weber, PhD Candidate, New York University

Sophie Wilson, Lecturer, University of Washington

Law provides the foundation for both market economies and democracies. In the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a wholesale rewriting of statutes and regulations as part of a reshaping of the institutional environment of these formerly Communist countries.  The extent to which these reforms have taken root has varied.  Each country has its own distinct legal culture, which is in part a product of the societal experience of law during the Communist period.  The social demand for law also has colored the effectiveness of the reformed legal institutions in these countries, such as the bar, the courts, and various administrative agencies.  On some issues, non-governmental organizations and/or individual activists have played a critical role in pressing the state to live up to its legal obligations. Given the passage of two decades since the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, the time is ripe for an assessment of the role of law in the region.  The workshop series is designed to encourage cross-disciplinary exchanges and will facilitate the creation of a cohesive cohort of young scholars focusing on legal reform in Eurasia (the former states of the Soviet Union) and Eastern Europe.

The faculty moderators for the workshop include Dr. Kathryn Hendley (University of Wisconsin), Dr. William Pomeranz (Kennan Institute), and REEEC Faculty affiliate, Dr. Peter Maggs (Illinois College of Law). In addition to providing feedback for participant papers, moderators also facilitated peer-to-peer exchanges among all of the workshop contributors. Included in the event was a networking opportunity with colleagues from USAID and the Brookings Institute for workshop attendees that allowed for a discussion on non-traditional academic careers and how research is used in the policy community.

Further information about the workshop series, a public event (scheduled for May 2013) related to the program, and abstracts of participant papers can be found on the REEEC website.