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Back Talk — Bridges Over Troubled Waters

by | Jul 18, 2022 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Ann Okerson  (Advisor on Electronic Resources Strategy, Center for Research Libraries) 

Against the Grain V34#3

It has been quite the last couple of months over here on our side of Lake Wobegon.  The Ukraine war began on February 24th and many things started to happen and are still happening.

On a personal level, worried about their safety, I was in touch with my cousin Jaroslava, a maxillofacial surgeon in Kyiv, and her daughter Oksana (my goddaughter), a pediatrician there.  That concern was multiplied because Oksana at that point was seven months pregnant with her first child.  The weeks that followed are a blur of concern, communication, and anxious waiting for the next message saying they were all right.  In mid-March, they succeeded in leaving Ukraine by car and driving eventually through to neighboring Slovakia and on to Austria.  We were able to get them an air ticket at a point when Oksana was about a week short of the deadline past which airlines will not allow pregnant women to fly, and they landed in Arizona a month after the war began.  What a whirlwind, and it was only starting.

All is well in that regard, at least.  Cousin Slava, also a researcher and faculty member, teaches her medical students back in Ukraine (and scattered now in other countries) via Zoom every weeknight around 2-5 a.m., and Oksana delivered her healthy and beautiful baby daughter Marta on April 19.  About that next phase of the whirlwind there are many more stories to tell — renting a small furnished apartment, registering for emergency Medicaid services (which don’t cover anything related to maternity), dealing with many bureaucratic requirements, and just coping with the challenges of maintaining normal life in abnormal times.  Just now the question is cell phones, SIM cards, prepaid plans.  (Wouldn’t Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise just have a “burner phone” to use and throw away?  I couldn’t find a burner phone store at the nearby mall.)  Many friends have been wonderful in signing up for the baby’s registries at Target and Walmart and sending all kinds of goodies and well wishes.  Thank you!

That’s the personal world of the moment, and of course the professional world is changing rapidly as well.  At the Charleston-begotten Fiesole Retreat in Athens the first week of April, Quinn Dombrowsky of Stanford University Library reported on the galvanizing work of Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online (SUCHO), a multinational project she co-leads to identify and archive Ukrainian cultural web resources against the possibility of cultural vandalism.  That work continues and flourishes, along with other activities to support Ukrainian scientists and scholars, connect them to library resources, and sustain the legacy and future of Ukrainian culture with digital technologies and creative imagination.  

Our next Charleston step:  Charleston In Between, is a new online-only conference event scheduled for 11 May 2022, where we will have speakers reporting from Ukraine and about Ukraine-related initiatives.  That day will pass before anyone can read this short piece, but as I write this just ahead of time, I’m cautious about listing our speakers — events rush forward!  Things change.  Will Tetiana Yaroshenko, our Ukrainian Librarian speaker, actually be able to join us — possibly from a basement in Lviv as Russian missiles are aimed in that direction?

OK, deep breath:  There are lots of things about how this world is changing that are terrifying and appalling.  Even librarians can’t do everything that needs doing, but we can do some things and it’s impressive to see how well our community is rallying.  

Far outside of our spheres, this war has brought out the best in many people, as emergencies often do.  Stepping outside of the information communities, I’m sharing here the story of an unassuming businessman neighbor in our condo building.  Over the years, Mike has developed a huge passion for supporting those in need, starting with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti (220,000 people killed), where he and his partners served in rescue and rebuilding missions on the ground for extended periods of time.  This time, having already begun by bringing a few Ukrainian refugees to Romania and onward, he and his wife met my “ladies” (as he calls them), and they inspired and redoubled his and his partners’ fundraising efforts to bring out many, many more.  Let me end this short account by reporting his team’s efforts in this newly digital Against the Grain.  I’m linking the video he has made describing what this small group is doing – truly astonishing and worth the five minutes’ watch.  He’s already roped us into supporting the group that will be settling in the Phoenix area.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJuPt2E5SSI.  

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