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‘I call family every days to see if they’re alive’ - UCC historian on how war has torn families of mixed Russian and Ukrainian heritage apart

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Dr Tatiana Vagramenko UCC . Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

Dr Tatiana Vagramenko UCC . Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

University College Cork students and staff gathered on the Quad today to show solidarity for the people of Ukraine. Pictured: Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

University College Cork students and staff gathered on the Quad today to show solidarity for the people of Ukraine. Pictured: Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

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Dr Tatiana Vagramenko UCC . Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

A Ukrainian historian in University College Cork (UCC) says she starts every day “calling my all my family to see if they are alive”.

Dr Tatiana Vagramenko arrived in UCC on Tuesday for her new job, but her first thoughts each day are with her family back home.

Her parents and sister live in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia six years ago.

“They currently live right beside the front line of the war,” she said.

In her heart-breaking calls home, she wants to know “what their night was like, did they go to a bomb shelter”.

Dr Vagramenko is an expert on Soviet-era repression of religious and ethnic minorities, in Ukraine, in neighbouring Moldova and elsewhere, but nothing prepared her for current events.

“I never expected this could happen today,” she said,

She says of her homeland: “There are so many mixed Russian and Ukrainian families. The war has torn my family apart.”

She said her father has a Russian passport so cannot leave.

Dr Vagramenko is a senior post-doctoral researcher in Ukrainian history and anthropology with the Study of Religions Department in UCC.

She arrived in Cork on Tuesday to witness a gathering of the college community standing in solidary with the people of Ukraine.

Her last post was in Spain and her family are husband and children are due to join her in Cork.

For the last number of years, she has worked with UCC lecturer Dr James Kapalo exploring the legacy of Soviet-era repression of religious and ethnic minorities in the region.

They have been able to access Soviet Secret Police archives from Ukraine that represent one of the most important windows into recent Ukrainian history.

While the former KGB archives in Russia are almost fully closed, these millions of archival testimonies from Ukrainian archives shed light on pages of Soviet history.

Her current research project is History Declassified – The KGB and the religious underground in Soviet Ukraine and is based on these KGB archives, It is funded by the Science Foundation Ireland Irish Research Council Pathway Programme.

“Through the archives I could hear their voices. You open a file and you see a love letter of someone who perished in the Gulag. You see their photos, their manuscripts, diaries. It is the most wrenching moment, this is history completely unknown.”

She said the Soviet era remained a dominant and painful stumbling block for both Russia and Ukraine.

“What we are witnessing in the current war is the forceful drive to control the pen of Soviet history,

“This history preserved in Soviet-era archives, is one of the underlying causes of the current war in Europe and peace cannot be achieved without understanding and coming to terms with this past,” she said,


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