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For decades now, the Herder Institute at Leipzig University has partnered with the Department of Germanic Philology and Translation at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. When Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine began in February 2022, the partners in Leipzig did their utmost to give Ukrainian teaching staff and students the best possible support: with success.

Dr Daria Kasianenko, lecturer for German language and literature and an interpreter, waited it out with her family in Kyiv for a week although the city had become a war zone overnight. She had seen her neighbours load their cars and flee the city. And to be safe she and her family left as well and went to their dacha, which is located 50 kilometres outside of Kyiv on a hill overlooking Butscha – a place the world has come to associate with horrific war crimes. “We hoped it would be quieter there.” But it quickly became clear that this was not the case. “We saw it with our own eyes,” Kasianenko said via Zoom from Berlin, where she now lives with her two children, in a house owned by a Lufthansa pilot. The contact was arranged by a friend of hers who works as a flight attendant. “Thank God we managed to get out of Kyiv and Ukraine – at night on a crowded train running with no lights because of the missile attacks,” she said. “The support and friendliness we have experienced in Germany seem incredible, and we can’t believe that everything worked out so quickly. I would particularly like to thank Leipzig University.” From Berlin, where her son goes to school and her daughter to nursery, she works on a project basis – organised through the Herder Institute – with the Institute of Applied Linguistics and Translatology (IALT) at Leipzig University. At the end of the summer semester, she was already serving as an examiner for professional interpreting in the module exams for Fachdolmetschen III.

After just a few weeks, Dr Daria Kasianenko, who did her doctoral dissertation on the translation of EU legislative acts, received an Erasmus grant. Along with three other colleagues, she then obtained support from the dean’s office through a visiting scholar agreement between the Faculty of Philology in Leipzig and Kyiv University. Dr Kasianenko also teaches courses online for Kyiv University, and has even taken over classes from colleagues who have left the University altogether.

Teaching continues as usual

Even though university operations have been severely affected by the war, teaching continues online – that is, when there is electricity and an Internet connection and missiles are not striking. “Two weeks after the war started, we had switched everything to online, and from that moment on we stuck to our schedule,” she said. This means that exams were held as usual in June, and preparations for the winter exams are currently underway. The examination regulations have even been adapted for this purpose. “If the exam has to be interrupted because of a missile attack, examinees are given another task after they return from the bomb shelter,” Kasianenko said. She added that the academic level shouldn’t be affected. “We continue our work and work on our front – the front of science and education.” The university building was badly damaged on 10 October, but now new windows have been installed.

Providing opportunities

“Back in March, it was simply a matter of helping people to get out of Ukraine and then creating opportunities,” said Professor Claus Altmayer, who holds a professorship in German as a foreign language with a focus on cultural studies. “Given the long-standing partnership between the institutes, an active network was already in place,” said Altmayer, who himself taught in Riga in the early 1990s, which was initially still Soviet and later Latvian. Julia Wolbergs, research assistant at the Herder Institute and coordinator of the Erasmus partnership with Kyiv University added: “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to act so quickly. Unlike other cases, when we have quite a bit of time to prepare stays, here immediate help was needed.” She is “very grateful for the many institutions we have at Leipzig University, but also personally for the colleagues here at the Herder Institute, from the front office and the mid-level staff to the professors, who provided accommodation and put together the initial furnishings for apartments,” Wolbergs said. The central figure in Kyiv and contact person responsible for coordinating the support activities is Professor Maria Ivanytska, the deputy head of the Department of Germanic Philology and Translation at Kyiv University.

One colleague from Kyiv University is now working at a high school in Gotha, and others have used further contacts to come to Germany or go to other countries.

A conference in February is expected to bring about further professional and networking opportunities – it will be hybrid so that male colleagues from Ukraine can join online. This is because most of them aren’t allowed to leave the country so that they can be drafted into the army if needed.

“For some time now, we have had the idea of also offering joint degree programmes in German as a foreign language with Kyiv University, but there are a number of reasons why this isn’t realistic at the moment. Right now, it’s more a matter of Leipzig possibly taking over some online courses as part of the partnership,” Professor Claus Altmayer said.

Students provide valuable assistance with translations

Leipzig University has also granted nine students an Erasmus+ scholarship for the summer semester 2022 at the Herder Institute, four of whom have decided to spend the winter semester here as well on a Georgius Agricola scholarship issued by the Studentenwerk.

Marharyta Hnativska is one of these students. She studies translation and interpreting at Kyiv University and takes modules for German as a foreign and second language at the Herder Institute. She explained that she has always been interested in becoming an interpreter, “but it was only here that I realized how important language mediation is.” She interprets for refugees from Ukraine, for example, at doctor’s appointments. When she has her bachelor’s degree from Kyiv Univeffrsity in her pocket, she wants to add a master’s degree – she doesn’t know yet whether that will be in Leipzig or Kyiv.

Oleksandra Nazarova is currently in her seventh semester. She is also studying German language and literature and translation at Kyiv University and taking modules for German as a foreign and second language at the Herder Institute. And she is using her language skills wherever she can. For example, at a school in Leipzig, she translates on a freelance basis and teaches Ukrainian children basic German. “It’s a good experience,” she said. She didn’t actually want to leave the country in April.
But her parents told her, “Just do it! It will be good for you.”

Professor Claus Altmayer will retire on 1 April of this year.


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