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Project description

The war in Ukraine is driven by territorial claims, aided by historical justifications that until recently seemed obsolete. This project starts from an assumption that to draw recommendations for managing major crises, supporting post-conflict recovery/reform, we must understand its history.

Primary participants

Principal Investigators:
Dr Markian Prokopovych, History,
Dr Chrysostomos Apostolidis, Marketing and Management,

Visiting IAS Fellows: 

Looking Back to Look Forward (Michaelmas Term 2024)

The war in Ukraine has seen the weaponisation of globalisation by many political actors in discourses about migration and bought to light various uses and misuses of history. There is an urgency to bridge disciplinary approaches to the understanding of Ukraine while at the same time maintaining the right historical lens. This project asks which historical lessons - from its past as well as from other conflicts, could be used to understand the complexity of displacement caused by the war.

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Context: The IAS Major Project is part of a larger interdisciplinary agenda that began in the months following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and which spans the academic years of 2022-25. In the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Durham University is twinned with Zaporizhzhia National University (ZNU) (since summer 2022). Drs Prokopovych and Apostolidis have taken the lead in these activities, including several collaborative projects and public-facing events involving panellists from Zaporizhzhia, Durham and an international community of experts ( debates include such globally relevant topics as the moral costs of war, sexual violence, medieval and contemporary European history and historical manipulations, international and human rights law, refugees and displacement, and geo-security dimensions of the war in Ukraine)

The PIs have also been involved in a successful bid by the University for the 2023 UUKi UK-Ukraine RI Twinning project ‘Multidisciplinary approaches to building research capacity and resilience through partnerships during conflict’ with several activities taking place between April - August 2023. This programme embeds shared interests in relation to the themes of strategic importance that have been identified; support colleagues at ZNU with time and safe space to focus on research through visiting fellowships; provide research training and capacity building opportunities for PhD students and staff; and identify and explore potential ongoing further avenues for research. Workshops have been planned at the Departments of History, Geography, Psychology, Finance, the Law School, the Business School and Biosciences, incorporating visiting staff fellowships for Ukrainian colleagues, as well as the involvement of UG and PGR students from both Durham and ZNU.

Drs Prokopovych and Apostolidis have planned several activities to take place between August 2023 and September 2024, with support from, among others, the IAS, where they will be capitalising on the outcomes of the ongoing activities in the areas of memory politics, post-conflict urban renewal, mental health, legal aspects of conflict, global justice and arbitration, and the challenges of immigration and displacement. The goal is to broaden Durham’s outreach in Ukrainian Studies beyond the twinning partnership and into the networks of experts at other leading Ukrainian and European institutions. This includes the appointment of two CARA Fellows, who who will be in post for two years (and will be IAS Fellows for the duration), Dr Tetiana Vodotyka (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Institute of History of Ukraine,) & Dr Kateryna Ivaschenko (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Institute of Sociology), as well as ongoing collaboration with current CARA Fellow, Dr Natalia Ishchenko.

In preparation for thee IAS Major Project, the team will conduct a two-day workshop, funded by the IAS, in autumn 2023 ‘Understanding Ukraine: Interdisciplinary Approaches’ . 

Major Project 

Research agenda and team: The war in Ukraine has seen the weaponisation of globalisation by different political actors in discourses about migration and bought to light various uses and misuses of history. There is, however, an urgency to bridge various disciplinary approaches to the understanding of Ukraine while at the same time maintaining the right historical lens. Capitalising on the interest in Ukraine, this project will contribute to Durham University's and the IAS's global strategic outlook by asking which historical lessons - from Ukraine's past as well as from other bloody conflicts (Northern Ireland to the Balkans, the Near East to Vietnam) – could be utilised to understand the complexity of displacement caused by the war. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, the community of experts, in Ukraine and outside, would benefit from thinking how looking at the past from different perspectives can inform the future more effectively and sustainably. The project will enable the existing CARA Fellow, Dr Ishchenko to continue being engaged with the team. Analysing the impact of war on key sectors of Ukrainian economy under CARA fellowship in 2022-2024 and having experience in institutional reforming of HEI, Dr Ishchenko’s research in 2024-25 will elaborate effective historically and culturally sensitive education models that can support a resilient, sustainable and fair economy. Dr Apostolidis’ expertise in education technologies will enable effective mentoring in 2024-25. Secondly, the project will capitalise on the 2023-24 work (supported by CARA fellowships) on how social surveys on IDPs and refugees can shed light on historic and cultural challenges to reconciliation among Ukrainians to inform policy recommendations. For Michaelmas 2024, the project will bring in a prominent anthropologist Dr Kateryna Maltseva, who specialises on socio-cultural and socio-economic stress, mental health, and refugees, as a further IAS fellow. Dr Maltseva will be mentored by Dr Catherine Turner.

The IAS project will explore historical, economic, socio-cultural, and health implications of displacement on the example of contemporary Ukraine and how these must inform efforts at reconciliation and post-conflict sustainable development. The IAS fellows will be dedicated to contextualising their work in multidisciplinary scholarship through researching secondary literature as well as re-thinking previously used primary material, from historical sources to quantitative data. The PIs and the existing team will ensure that historical aspects are carefully considered from the perspective of how they inform current social tensions before any meaningful recommendations for future policy are being drawn. Given the interdisciplinary composition of the team, there is a potential for a major potential intellectual breakthrough in the area.

State of the Art: While in the past Ukrainian studies have largely been understood as the study of Ukrainian history, language and culture, this project is inspired by a much broader scope of disciplines and stakeholders. It also understands the war in Ukraine as a global phenomenon and benefits from studies of other conflicts and crises situations, historical as well as contemporary.

The project involves approaches from history, sociology, psychology, law, as well as international relations, business, economics, public policy and education. It considers the complex historical background in tandem with present challenges (e.g., institutional, legal, sociological, and psychological) caused by the war, as well as the prospects of developing more effective models for more sustainable post-war Ukrainian society. This approach will have transformative effect on Ukrainian studies and will also contribute to the rethinking of approaches to urban recovery, international displacement and refugees in other countries, and social and cultural aspects of social reconciliation in societies affected by war.


Objectives: Building on the 2023 workshop, a two-day interdisciplinary workshop ‘History, Recovery, and Sustainability in Understanding the War in Ukraine’ will be held in autumn 2024. Historians will work with experts studying hazards and disasters in thinking about effective and sustainable urban recovery; refugee scholars will combine efforts with geographers, lawyers and psychologists in considering oral histories of the war on a global scale; and business academics would work with experts in law, education, and culture to identify effective ways to support more sustainable and equitable post-conflict development. Such level of interdisciplinary dialogue is dictated by the urgency of the situation in Ukraine and commitment to change it.

Research Themes

1) Expertise and uncertainty:
The aim of this theme is to understand how individuals think and subsequently behave when presented with information from expert sources. For example, how does our understanding and behaviour change when statistical knowledge is presented as evidence from practitioners and professionals to the news and media. This knowledge can range from the chances of rain to the risks of intervention in maternal health and genocidal deaths. Furthermore, what precisely is an expert and has public trust in experts waned in recent years?
When considering expertise and their advice, it is natural to ask how much our prior beliefs – which are influenced amongst other factors by our political views and confidence with numbers – affect how we judge and view statistics and expert knowledge. Broadening this, what happens when we mix numbers with qualitative characterisations of uncertainty? Scientists cannot hope to model everything mathematically so how do we cope with that shortfall, and does the language used and the potential ambiguities feed into unease with using such information?
Of course, expert judgement touches policy making, guides industry decision making and is brought to bear in courts of law. This raises significant questions from a legal and ethical framework: do people understand these risks that are presented to them? There have been multiple occasions in the past where statistical evidence has been misrepresented in court leading to a partial ban on its use.

2) The Quantified Self:
This theme seeks to understand how humans view, feel, and understand data about the self. Self-tracking data is often associated with wearable technology that tracks individuals’ performance when exercising or taking part in sport. GPS watches and digital self-tracking devices (DSTDs) create dyadic and collective relationships between individuals and data. Relatedly, self-tracking devices have been used in health ranging from calorie counting to tracking sleep quality. The quantified self is becoming
increasingly used in businesses which often feature as a part of Knowledge Performance Indexes (KPIs) such as tracking personal sales or customer satisfaction. This raises questions that we argue can only be addressed fully when incorporating interdisciplinary perspectives (e.g., Psychology, Sociology, Exercise Sciences, Law) such as how individuals feel and understand these measures? How is mood affected if the data suggest that they have failed to meet targets – whether set internally or externally? Is the quantified self a recent phenomenon – driven by new technologies – or is it simply an ongoing extension of the story of humanity using numbers to make sense of the world? How is self-tracking data stored and used by businesses, and who gets access?

3) Statistical literacy and the media:
This final theme challenges current research perspectives of statistical literacy in society and offers novel avenues from an interdisciplinary perspective that address (a) how it affects key groups in society (e.g., policy decision-makers, journalists), and (b) whether and how it should be integrated into wider curricula (e.g., in schools, universities). Statistical literacy, broadly defined as the ability to interpret, critically evaluate, and communicate statistics, is essential to navigating not only the news, but arguably today’s society. Statistical literacy is increasingly of concern in the broader society as well as in those groups – such as journalists – who shape how expert knowledge is disseminated.
One argument is that journalists may knowingly spread misleading information to gain readership. However, if journalists have little or no understanding of how numbers are made (e.g., the design and analysis of scientific data) and how they can go wrong (e.g., the limitations of scientific research), then it is possible that they unintentionally report information that is misleading to their readers.


Events and Activities: