Fulbright Scholar headed to Ukraine

Ukraine declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, but has since struggled with issues of national identity due to the diverse cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of its population.

Lovina Tata ’12, a Russian studies major who has been fascinated with Ukraine, will get a chance to take a closer look at this struggle as a Fulbright Scholar there.

Her interest in Ukraine began during her senior year at Wheaton when she took Professor of Russian Studies Jeanne Wilson’s course “National Identity in the Post-Soviet Space.” It inspired her to choose Ukraine for her Fulbright research proposal.

The Boston resident plans to conduct research focusing on the controversy surrounding Ukraine’s language policy, and the attitudes of the ethnic Russian community toward the question of Ukrainian identity.

“Ukraine is an ethnically diverse state that struggles to integrate the Russian community into its society. I envision my project as a means to gain a better understanding of Ukraine’s attempt to construct a national identity,” said Tata. “This has implications not just for Ukraine, but also for ongoing efforts globally to integrate peoples and cultures.”

According to the 2001 Ukrainian Census, the nation has nearly 130 ethnic groups. Tata pointed out in her Fulbright proposal that the largest minority, Russians, currently constitute approximately 17 percent of the population. The divide between western Ukraine, which is overwhelmingly composed of ethnic Ukrainians, and the eastern and southern regions, which have a significant proportion of ethnic Russians, has been a chronic source of political contention during the past two decades. Recently, a bill was passed that gives the Russian language official status in schools, universities and state institutions in almost half of Ukraine’s regions. Even though the language bill was signed into law, there has been considerable opposition.

“What I hope to gain from my Fulbright experience is a better understanding of Ukraine’s attempt to construct a national identity. These issues are very compelling because they encapsulate so many different significant themes that are of importance to political and social life of any state,” said Tata. “These include questions of identity and the relationship between language and ethnicity.”

Growing up in a multi-cultural family, said Tata, fostered an interest these types of issues and sparked her desire to travel and learn more about the world. Wheaton provided opportunities to help her make that happen.

“When I came to Wheaton, I knew that I wanted a practical major that involved a foreign language, history, government studies, and one that provided me a chance to travel. To satisfy a language requirement, I decided to be adventurous and took Russian courses with Professor Thomas Dolack. I enjoyed learning the complex yet beautiful language, as well as discovering the cultural dynamics of such a vast nation. I soon found myself enrolling in more Russian courses, and enjoying the small, yet close-knit Russian Department of nurturing professors and animated classmates. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided that Russian Studies was the right major for me.”

While a student she pursued many off-campus learning experiences to make use of her Russian. As a Wheaton Fellow in 2011, she interned at the Russian American Cultural Center in Manchester, Mass., and worked closely with the former Soviet refugee and ethnomusicologist Eduard Alekseyev on preparing his fieldwork collection of Yakut ethno-music archives for donation to Harvard’s Loeb Music Library. She also taught English to refugees. She has been independently studying Ukrainian since September 2012.

After her year as a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine, Tata plans to return to the United States to work as a Russian and Ukrainian interpreter to gain more experience. She then wants to pursue graduate studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.