Kateryna Chernii: Research trip to Ukraine through the Corona-lens (October 2020)

After more than four weeks in Ukraine, I feel tired but satisfied with what I have managed to do despite COVID-19. Surprisingly, through the Corona-lens I have discovered a lot about my own country. I was able to observe how people in different parts of the world react to the current situation. Furthermore, I have learnt how to navigate through such unusual circumstances. I have spent most of my time in Kyiv, plus five days in Odesa and three days both in Dnipro and in Lviv. During this time, I conducted interviews, made some useful contacts, managed to work with periodicals as well as visiting some archives in Odesa and Dnipro.

The pandemic did influence my research plans, however not as dramatically as I had feared. The Ukrainian government introduced a system of different zones of risk depending on the number of newly registered Corona cases. Every week Ukrainian cities, towns and rural areas are to be categorized according to the particular zones of risk (red, orange, yellow or green), which indicate the extent of restrictions in the area. Libraries and archives, however, do not strictly follow the rules of the constantly changing zones of risk. Some of the largest libraries such as the National Libraries in Kyiv and Lviv will remain closed continually at least until the end of the year, while others, like the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, reopened their doors for visitors following the new Corona-rules. Various archives, including the Lviv and the Dnipro city archives, continue to be closed for visitors. While others such as the Odesa city, Odesa oblast’ and Dnipropetrovsk oblast’ archives are open for visitors albeit with the time limitations and new regulations.

Needless to say, that personal connections played a crucial role when dealing with the constantly changing regulations regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Frequently, I had to call and ask the library and archive-workers for understanding and support. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not. The director of the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine allowed me to take photos of newspapers, which is prohibited under normal circumstances. I was working with the newspapers in the office of one of the library departments, in the meantime listening to stories about new Corona-cases among the library-workers. On my last day in the library, I heard that almost 1/3 of them got the virus or were on quarantine. It meant that the library experienced a shortage of workers. This was also the case in the Odesa city archive. When I first called them, they didn’t want to let me into the institution, but after some persuasion I thankfully was allowed entry. With the help of the Deputy Director and some of her colleagues, we managed to find some interesting documents connected to the FC “Chernomorets”. The Deputy Director was surprised how much property belongs to the FC “Chernomorets” in her own city: “Now I know who are the richest people in Odesa”. The workers of another Odesa archive – the Odesa oblast’ archive – allowed me to work with their documents even after they officially closed the reading room for visitors due to present regulations.

Compared to the handling of the pandemic in Berlin, I have to say that I did not feel safe in Ukraine. In Kyiv, people were following the rules more or less and were wearing masks. In Odesa, however, people were surprisingly careless towards any rules related to the virus. Sometimes I felt that I was the only one wearing a mask and was trying to avoid people, which was not an easy task in the crowded southern city. It was striking (and sometimes sad) to compare how people in different countries and various regions of Ukraine are dealing with the corona pandemic and all issues and measures connected to it. In my last week in Ukraine, I have experienced an increasing number of new COVID-19 cases, including some of my friends. I am going back to Berlin with mixed feelings of fruitful work and general tiredness of the last weeks. Nevertheless, I am thankful for being able to continue my research work even under such unusual circumstances.