From Ukraine With Love: 30 January – 10 February

David Livingstone, fifth from left, with the head of the English Philology Department, Professor Yakiv Bystrov, and some of his students. Photo: YB archive
Thursday 15 February 2024, 15:06 – Text: David Livingstone

My first week of teaching at Precarpathian University in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk ended prematurely this Friday when my students informed me that there was an air raid. I had been warned this might happen, but it was nevertheless unnerving. The students calmly packed their things and told me I should leave the building. When I asked if we would be coming back, they laughed and told me no. The head of the English department, Professor  Yakiv Bystrov, sent me a text checking in on me and confirmed that I should head back to my dorm room. I did as I was told, nervously looking up at the skies for a potential threat.

This state of affairs is sadly the norm even in Ivano-Frankivsk, in the south-west of the country, fairly distant from the front lines of the war. Formerly known as Stanyslaviv, Stanisławów or Stanislau, the city has been historically no stranger to upheaval. The layers of history in this city, of approximately a quarter million inhabitants, are evident when walking through the historical center. The Polish Potocki family founded the city in the seventeenth century, only for it to become part of Austria-Hungary from 1772 up until 1918. Between the wars, it was briefly the capital of the short-lived West Ukrainian National Republic, only to revert back to Poland until World War Two. During the war, the large Jewish population was liquidated and most of the ethnic Poles were expelled. The city was renamed Ivano-Frankivsk in 1962 after the writer Ivan Franko, an important figure in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ukrainian literature. Remnants of the former multi-cultural population are in evidence throughout the city including monuments to Franz Joseph and Adam Mickiewicz.  

Currently, Ivano-Frankivsk is a proud centre of Ukrainian culture and education, with a thriving literary and theatre scene. I have had the pleasure of attending two performances at the impressive Ivan-Franko Academic Regional Drama Theater, both of them packed with people of all ages. The city is home to a number of higher-education institutions, the largest of which (and my home for the next three months) is Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University, named once again after a prominent Ukrainian Modernist writer, one generation younger than Franko. The university was founded in 1940 and currently boasts twelve faculties/institutes. The University has also generously provided a (hopefully temporary) home to many members of faculty and administration from Kherson State University which has experienced not only Russian occupation, but heavy shelling and destruction. I am actually sharing my dorm with a number of Kherson staff members who have been living in exile for the last two years. As is the case with many Ukrainian universities, students only receive online instruction. 

I am currently teaching at the Faculty of Foreign Languages in the English Philology department. I will be spending the spring semester here and have been assigned two main courses, but will also be providing guest lectures for members of the department. I plan to visit universities in other cities and give talks at the various American libraries/centers located around the country. I will in addition be providing occasional online lectures to students from Kherson and from Karazin Kharkiv National University (also very much war-torn), one of our partners in the Aurora network. Professor Bystrov and his colleagues at the department have welcomed me warmly and I hope to develop cooperation with them on various levels, including academic scholarship and exchanges. 

The afore-mentioned air raid seemingly did little to faze my students and colleagues, being part and parcel of everyday life in Ukraine over the last two years. During my brief stay, I have heard, however, a number of heart-breaking stories. One of the students at the department just died in hospital after being wounded in battle. I have been shown the grave of the son-in-law of one of the ladies working in the dorm. I have heard accounts of people losing touch with family members who remained in Russian occupied territories of the country. Others have recounted having had to break off contact with family members living in Russia who have been brainwashed into believing the perverse narrative concerning the war propagated in Moscow. And, of course, almost everyone I have met currently has family members abroad, somewhere in Europe or even further afield. As if the direct military attacks weren't enough, psychological warfare is part of the daily reality here. Practically every day, warning sirens and bomb scares force schools and universities to evacuate the buildings, interrupting the educational process and taking a toll on people's mental health. And, I am in one of the safest parts of the country.

I expect to experience continued joys and sorrows, but do have a sense that the locals appreciate and value having me here and becoming, at least for a short time, part of their community and university. Until my next report, “Glory to Ukraine!”.   


David Livingstone, Department of English and American Studies, UP Faculty of Arts   


Privacy settings

We use cookies and any other network identifiers on our website that may contain personal data (e.g. about how you browse our website). We and some of the service providers we use have access to or store this data on your device. This data helps us to operate and improve our services. For some purposes, your consent is required to process data collected in this way. You can change or revoke your consent at any time (see the link at the bottom the page).

(Essential cookies enable basic functions and are necessary for the website to function properly.)
(Statistics cookies collect information anonymously. This information helps us to understand how our visitors use our website.)
(They are designed for promotional purposes, measuring the success of promotional campaigns, etc.)