Ukrainian poet & professor ‘fired’ from university post after sparking wrath of far-right online over support for Russian language

Ukrainian poet & professor ‘fired’ from university post after sparking wrath of far-right online over support for Russian language

A popular Ukrainian writer, translator and cultural studies academic has claimed she was dismissed from her job at one of the country’s top universities because of her “political dissent” and collaboration with Russian colleagues.

Evgeniya Bilchenko, who taught at the National Drahomaniv Pedagogical University, announced on Facebook on Tuesday that she had been “fired.” According to her, authorities “moved to eliminate her entire department” but were unable to cite any problems with “proficiency or immoral acts.” She presented a rating alongside her dismissal letter, in which she was ranked as the best educator in the faculty. Another post had been offered to her, she argued, saying this was most likely just a formality.

“I would like the world to know how political dissenters are treated here in Ukraine”, Bilchenko said. She has previously travelled around Russia, holding poetry recitals in the country and, in her words, arranging conferences and publications “together with Russian colleagues.” The academic has previously spoken out on what she sees as a stark choice between modern Ukrainian nationalism and so-called “European values,” slamming the “domineering of the far-right” in the country.

Because of her stance, she has reportedly become a target for online criticism from ultra-nationalists. Volodymyr Ishchenko, a postdoctoral researcher at Dresden’s Technical University, has accused Sergey Sternenko, a notorious far-right figure, of orchestrating “a hate campaign” over Bilchenko’s opposition to removing the Russian language from Ukraine’s public sphere. He accused the university of supporting Sternenko’s cause despite the activist’s convictions for kidnapping and his record of explosive rhetoric.

Bilchenko believes that a 2017 trip to Moscow and St Petersburg, in which she staged creative performances with other artists, led to her being blacklisted by Kiev’s security services and listed by ultranationalist forums as a target for abuse.

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Ukraine has tough laws restricting the use of the Russian language in businesses and in public life, as well as bans on airing Russian films and TV shows. Virtually all Ukrainians speak Russian proficiently, and the language is dominant in the south and east of the country. However, recent drives to increase the uptake and use of the Ukrainian language have seen it become dominant in politics and the public sphere.

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