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Virtual bridge Wrocław-Lviv 3

Researchers from the Institute of Sociology of the University of Wrocław, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences together with sociologists, historians and political scientists from Lviv University have created a Virtual Bridge between Wrocław and Lviv. One form of cooperation is to inform you about what is happening in Ukraine. We are giving the floor to scholars from Ukraine.

Yuriy Pachkovskyy, Professor of Sociology,
Head of the Department of Sociology at Ivan Franko University of Lviv,

A month at war. Some reflections of a Ukrainian sociologist…

The heroic struggle of Ukrainians and the whole civilised world against the Russian invasion has been going on for over a month now. This is quite a difficult period in the life of any human being who shares the ideals of democracy, freedom and independence. These values are particularly important for every Ukrainian who perceives this war as an existential threat to their own statehood, their own identity, their place in the political space of other independent states and nations that have not been exposed to the destructive influence of totalitarian ideology and the rejection of ‘Otherness’. Drawing on my own experiences, and especially making an insight into myself because of what is happening around me and what is directly related to the war, I would like to focus on some reflections that have occurred to me during this difficult time for my country.

First reflection. The first days of the war. By the time this reflection appeared, several weeks had passed before 24.02.2022, which were crucial for understanding the inevitability of the threat to Ukraine from a Russian invasion. On the one hand, the information war that took on a massive and undisguised character during the Olympic Games in China and the realisation that it is neither possible nor logical to conduct military action against an independent state during a significant sporting event. On the other hand, the entire international community, led by the American president, spoke of specific dates for a potential attack by russia1. These conflicting narratives had an ambiguous impact on an average Ukrainian. I called it the expectation of the unexpected, when reason was preparing for war, but life and partly historical experience deterred from giving credence to such an eventuality. Consequently, an explanation for the illogic of a full-scale direct military attack was constantly sought. The turning point for understanding the reality of the military threat came with the rather emotional speech of our President at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), who, like a shout amidst the silence, appealed to the international community: ‘wake up’, ‘do something’, ‘ensure security and peace’. However, the worst-case scenario was being realised. A war… which even extreme sceptics believed in and which our fathers and grandfathers would not have believed in: ‘Slav attacked Slav’, ‘brother – brother’, although, after all, in russia-Ukrainian relations this has already happened, starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as a more local war in the east of the state.

The first day of the war. You, like the whole country in general, woke up in a completely different – and new to you – dimension. For someone this morning has become all too real, for another it has become virtual-real. When I am asked what I remember from this morning, I usually answer: confusion, it’s not possible, it’s not with me, shock. Some repressed emotion, an inability to react in a balanced and rational way at the outset. Your hands are tied, but at the same time reason motivates you to act in a certain way, by which you are able to protect your family, protect your home and at least provide water for the long term. All your attention is focused on the news and the desire to grasp the real state of emergency facing your country. I remember that there was no panic or panic mood. Just a feeling of trepidation that came from within and did not leave you for several days. On the same day I went to work, to the university. I met with my colleagues. Everyone was silent; they said little, but they worked. Someone was finishing up current affairs, someone was focused on the educational process, someone from the higher management was setting up for action during the war, coordinating the activities of subordinates. That day in Lviv will be remembered for the long queues, especially at ATMs, pharmacies and the unusual activity in shopping centres where you could buy all the necessary products and things. There was no chaos in the queues, everyone was focused on their own thoughts, not much talking, maintaining order and some kind of inner peace. Only the phone calls occasionally interrupted this omnipresent peace. Then I felt exceptional support from my Polish colleagues, with whom I had had the opportunity to work in various scientific programmes, and generally ordinary acquaintances and friends who offered help and expressed support in this difficult time. In turn, I telephoned Ukrainian colleagues, especially sociologists from Kyiv and Kharkiv who were on the front line.

The second and third days of the war. I consider them in terms of a very important and difficult period for the existence of Ukrainian statehood, which had to pass a very complex test of endurance, ability to self-organise and fight at a time when it seems that the whole world has already stopped believing (or maybe it had so far only pretended to believe) that the state will play the role of a real warrior in the fight against the ‘titan’. Your personal experience and perception of the situation turned out to be so acute that your consciousness ‘worked’ day and night; around the clock. During the day – it was expecting victorious news from the Ukrainian fronts that were resisting the numerous attacks of the russian military armada. Resembling a rabid dog, not seeing any danger in front of it, this armada was pushing with its whole body, and its frantic roar was engulfing not only the ground but also the air. At night – it was restless sleep or no sleep at all and a phone always lying next to me, waiting for the latest news. On my phone, among many other Ukrainian news add-ons, there was the Polish Interia application, which at that time became one of the main sources of information. At night, its red headlines, which resembled a lightning bolt carrying the freshest media content from Ukraine and the world, were hard on the eyes. A month has already passed, but this habit has remained and is particularly helpful in orienting myself in challenging situations, in analysing and assessing events in and around my country by the international community, especially the European one.

In my opinion, the now world-famous story of the Russian ship presented the then contemptuous attitude of Ukrainians towards the aggressor state, but also showed the steadfastness of the Ukrainian people and their willingness to fight to the very end, even if it means paying with their lives. The continuation of the theme was evident not only in the numerous memes, but also in folk creativity, songs, artists’ actions, as well as expressed in a deeper understanding of who is a friend to us and who remains an enemy among the Ukrainian people (the fifth column). What was difficult to get used to? To the disruption of ordinary life, air-raid alert sirens, the missiles of various kinds, including the banned ones, which continue to torment our already restless skies. What is hard to get used to is the death, or rather the killing of Ukrainian children, Ukrainian civilians by Russian bombs and bullets, the humanitarian disasters in Mariupol, Kharkiv and many other Ukrainian cities that have come under siege and blockade; to the untruths from the mouth of the kremlin and russian propagandists, their hatred of everything Ukrainian (those Ukrainian books that in the Russian-occupied libraries deserve only to be burned).

The first days of war – we have survived!!! The Ukrainian state continues to fight for its European future. What is most striking? In the Ukrainian media, proper names such as ‘russia’ and ‘putin’ are written in lower case in order to show the contempt Ukrainians have for everything that is russian and that entails the death and murder of civilians… A real demythologisation of the russian army is taking place, which presented itself as the second army of the world, as an army that cannot be defeated, that brings ‘peace’ to nations. However, it has turned out to be the most ordinary army of bastards and looters, whose heroism manifests itself in the total destruction of the Ukrainian cities under siege. However, one should not underestimate its military capabilities, especially its expected bias to destroy everything alive that comes across its path. Appealing to NATO to close the skies over Ukraine and provide it with modern military weapons is therefore unspeakable to us. Today, the humanitarian problem of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons (see below) remains the most topical; right next to it, the self-organisation of Ukrainian society is striking, the steadfastness of Ukrainian citizens in temporarily occupied areas, because ‘Kherson is Ukraine!’ What else is worth mentioning? Certainly the ‘disappearance’ of the coronavirus pandemic in Ukraine; it is only the number of military losses of the aggressor in the daily data from the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine that comes to mind then.

Second reflection. A united society. Unity, mutual understanding, cooperation, order, self-organisation, patriotism, mutual help – this is just a small number of words with which to describe the lives of millions of Ukrainians today, especially those who, due to various life circumstances, remain abroad. Today I draw attention to what I have said before and what I now remind my students – that this reconciliation is not accidental. It has developed due to a series of revolutions and struggles of Ukrainians for their independence, for the right to be a host in their country. Especially in 2014, after the Revolution of Dignity and the beginning of the russo-Ukrainian war, Ukrainian society encountered, for the first time in its history, the problem of internally displaced persons, their needs and the need to arrange their lives in the new conditions of the still ongoing military conflict with russia in the east of the country. Living in uncertainty has long remained a part of Ukrainian reality. During these years, Ukrainian society ‘learned’ perseverance, despite difficult political processes, sometimes clumsy reforms, especially judiciary, and a significant number of pro-russian forces and agents that remained here as well. Ukrainian society has turned out to be capable of making sacrifices in the name of lofty goals. This is evidenced by the high level of development of civil society, which is able to mobilise quickly in times of external threat. The Social Institute of Volunteering, created on the nation’s own initiative, which eight years ago already took on almost the entire burden of opposing the russian aggression, today started operating with renewed vigour, inviting more and more patriots to join it. It is significant that young people, especially students, are actively joining the mutual aid movement. This is striking and at the same time inspires others not to give up, to believe, to fight, not to be afraid…

When I think back to the first days of the war, I face the dilemma of being a scientist: ‘remain absorbed’ by the war, or do something and act in this unjust war. When I speak of being absorbed by the war, I mean, above all, the passive contemplation of events. To go beyond the limits of contemplation means to be a social actor who, through their daily work, hastens victory, goes beyond their capacity and their vision of their own place in the war. All the more so I, as a sociologist, understand perfectly that a total unification of the whole society took place, and in which there is no place for passivity and indolence. Since the beginning of the war, there has been a kind of ‘tectonic shift’ in the collective consciousness of average Ukrainians in terms of their trust in presidential power and their absolute readiness to defend their freedom and independence. This is not unfounded. To put it another way, I would call it a phenomenon of ‘mobilised consciousness’ that permeates public opinion, making it monolithic and coherent. Our adversary, in the form of russian society, has demonstrated its ‘mobilisation’ capacity through its support for the criminal kremlin power. However, such mobilisation is rather like the mistakes and deformation of pro-government sociology. By supporting the kremlin top absolutely, it achieved an appalling rate of ‘determination’, when out of 50 russian respondents as many as 31 simply threw down the phone and did not answer the questions asked. The conclusion is that in a totalitarian state like russia it is impossible to make sociological measurements and therefore it is impossible to speak of objectivity.

For the victory of the state, everyone in their workplace should do what they can and what they cannot. Today in Ukraine, there are many events that prove the unity of society. To win, the state should work, maintain in terms of economy. Therefore, many entrepreneurs from war-torn territories have moved their businesses to the west of the country. At the same time, a movement of social entrepreneurial initiatives became active. IT professionals, including students of relevant faculties, joined the fight against cyber-attacks from the enemy. Even on the example of the Department of Sociology at Lviv University, which consists of only ten lecturers, the absolute majority joined the volunteering effort. Our colleague Oleh Demkiv joined the territorial defence force and took the oath of allegiance to Ukraine. The reception and accommodation of displaced persons and refugees remains the real challenge. In this situation not only ordinary human solidarity, but also professional solidarity works, as our sociologist colleagues, their families from Kharkiv and Kyiv Universities, the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, other sociological centres are asking for help. There are indeed many such examples, especially of corporate solidarity. On the other hand, informing society about current challenges is also considered working for victory, because sociology, objective sociology, is also a weapon. The war, being a real challenge, changed the role of sociology in Ukrainian society, which, in turn, obliges us, sociologists, to provide true, reliable information. It is on this basis that key state decisions will be made.

Third reflection. Polish colleagues. On 2 March 2022, I received a letter from Professor Marcin Dębicki of the Institute of Sociology at the University of Wrocław. He informed about the initiative of his colleagues, which covered a very wide range of activities: from humanitarian to scientific and educational. Such an initiative became a turning point for our even deeper cooperation, which provides for a number of grant projects addressing refugee problems not only in Ukraine but also beyond its borders. Due to the fact that Poland currently hosts the largest number of Ukrainians who suffer from military operations (according to some data, today there are about 4.5 million of our compatriots in Poland, including economic migrants), the necessity of international cooperation in the field of scientific activities arose. Conducting such research will allow, in the future, to develop a number of practical measures for accelerated adaptation of refugees, their integration into the host society, to determine the degree of resistance to stress in life-threatening situations, to outline ways of forming and implementing effective mechanisms of re-emigration and internal migration as well as to accomplish interstate and voluntary initiatives. I would like to draw attention to the timeliness of such initiatives on the part of the Polish colleagues, because in such important situations you feel a need and have an opportunity to use your experience and scientific potential here in Ukraine, and to encourage our Ukrainian students to do their research work, perhaps the first in their lives, which will allow them to apply the latest sociological developments in the field, including qualitative research.

The war allowed for a new reflection on the experience of social capital formation. In such a historically disastrous situation in which Ukrainian society finds itself, the recreation and reconstruction of the capital takes place at an accelerated pace because there is little time for conventional considerations; every minute can equal the price of human life. While recently working on a monograph on the analysis of the social capital of Ukrainian labour migrants in Poland, I noted a separate study in which the emphasis is on the need to ‘break down’ the barriers of institutional order, so that the migrant does not feel discriminated against and oppressed in the receiving society. Today, Poland is a model for the whole civilised world in overcoming not only formal barriers, but also purely human barriers for Ukrainians seeking refuge from war and ruin. Today, social capital is a joint achievement of the Polish and Ukrainian peoples, who, desiring freedom and fighting totalitarianism, combine their efforts on the basis of mutual trust, emotional empathy and effective, constructive support. I will give just one example from my own experience, when my request for shelter for Ukrainian refugee women with a small child was heard by the family of my old friend, a sociologist at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw – Dr Leszek Buller. He and his whole family took care of the Ukrainian family, forgetting about all other current affairs. In spite of the language barrier, this family did everything possible to overcome the burden of the traumatic events and, at the same time, was as supportive as possible in the initial adaptation of the Ukrainian women in their new environment.

Reflection four. Victory. There is no doubt about it. Ukrainians have already won because the external enemy in the form of putin has accelerated the nation-building processes not on ethnic, but on political grounds. According to President V. Zelenski, it is putin and his imperialist ambitions that have done most harm to the russian language in Ukraine. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine took advantage of opportunities to strengthen its position among Ukrainian believers, who – and there are more and more of them – are moving away from the influence of the moscow orthodox church, which did not condemn the war. It has turned out that tactically and professionally, the Ukrainian army is better prepared than that of the aggressor, although it still needs the latest offensive weapons. Ukraine was able to convince the whole world, including European society, of its effort to fight for democratic values and to be a self-sufficient state that wants peace and the restoration of its territorial integrity on the basis of new security guarantees. So what else does Ukraine need today? I found one answer to this question in the words of my wife Iryna: “PRAYER. FAITH. ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE!!!”.

Lviv, 28.03.2022

1 The author of the article intentionally keeps using a lower case for such words and phrases as ‘Putin’, ‘Russia’,
‘Russian’, ‘Kremlin’, ‘Moscow Orthodox Church’, and this tendency has been saved in translation [translator’s note].

Published by: Agata Kreska

13 Apr 2022

last modification: 13 Apr 2022