On February 2, a doctoral candidate of the History Department of UCU’s Humanities Faculty, Tetyana Banakh, defended her dissertation to earn a doctorate in philosophy. For her four years of study, under the mentorship of Prof. Yaroslav Hrytsak, Banakh worked on the difficult but relevant theme “Polish-Ukrainian Historical Reconciliation (1989-2013).” Regardless of the fact that Ms. Banakh is blind, her reviewers commented on the high quality of her work.

Tetyana Banakh during her defense, speaking at a podium

Tetyana Banakh during her defense, February 2

Read further about her personal story, her research, and also the comments of her research director and readers.

“I felt the support of the community.”

Tetyana Banakh is from the Ternopil Region. She studied at Lviv Special Boarding School № 100 for Blind Children. She learned about Ukrainian Catholic University from its students, who for an extended time visited the school as part of their practicum or as volunteers. And so she became enthusiastic about entering UCU and chose history. It turned out that this was a field in which she could work comfortably and effectively.

“On the one hand, you can see blindness as limitations because of which I lose much time and energy for work or study. But, on the other hand, if I could see, I wouldn’t have studied at a specialized school in Lviv and, perhaps, not found out about UCU, not entered, and, probably, not become a graduate student. So, these circumstances to a certain extent influenced and continue to influence my life, but I wouldn’t talk about them as something that helps or hinders development. I also don’t take part in the rhetoric of pathos, when people emphasize that I achieved something ‘despite circumstances.’ For me these things are connected in a different way, not so dramatic,” explained Tetyana Banakh, who defended her dissertation.

Tetyana Banakh entered the bachelor’s degree program in 2012. Then she studied at the master’s level. But she was uncertain about a doctorate.

“On the one hand, I doubted my strength. I was also fairly tired upon completion of my master’s degree. But, on the other hand, I felt the support of the community, which was demonstrated both in large and in small matters. During all my years of study at UCU, they helped me with access to literature and the scanning of various sources, because I can ‘read’ texts only in electronic format or scanned ones. I think everyone helped me with this: professors, colleagues in the doctoral program, and other historians,” explained Banakh.

Tetyana Banakh, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Danylo Sudyn speaking

Tetyana Banakh, Yaroslav Hrytsak, Danylo Sudyn

The theme of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation remains relevant.

Regarding the theme of her future dissertation, Tetyana Banakh had been interested in Polish-Ukrainian relations since her third year of study and so she wrote two papers about it. One was about the Polish-Ukrainian conflict during the Second World War, and the other was about the deportations of Poles and Ukrainians from 1944 to 1946. At that time, her academic director was an assistant professor of UCU’s Department of the Modern and Contemporary History of Ukraine, Vasyl Stefaniv. It was he who advised her to write about Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation for her future master’s work. “At that time, I knew fairly little about these processes, but I liked the idea,” she said.

At that time, Tetyana was attending a master’s seminar conducted by Professor Yaroslav Hrytsak, and it was he who said that “it’s possible to write more than one dissertation about the theme of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation.” It’s worth mentioning that Yaroslav Hrytsak, as a public intellectual, was himself one of the main initiators of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation in the early 2000s. And so Tetyana Banakh, at the professor’s advice, decided to enter the doctoral program and had the opportunity to research questions of historical reconciliation more deeply; it is, in her opinion, perhaps the most difficult question in Polish-Ukrainian relations. Her mentor and academic advisor in this process was Yaroslav Hrytsak. Banakh also consulted with Volodymyr Sklokin very much while writing her dissertation, particularly regarding historiography.

Tetyana Banakh, a doctoral student of UCU’s Humanities Faculty, defended her dissertation to earn a doctorate in philosophy with a virtual panel shown on the projector screen and in person panel behind the podium

Tetyana Banakh, a doctoral student of UCU’s Humanities Faculty, defended her dissertation to earn a doctorate in philosophy.

“I was very fortunate to work with Prof. Hrytsak. He always provided me with consultation when necessary and believed in the success of my work at moments when it seemed to me that I would not manage to finish it,” she explained. “In the process of writing the work, I generally used sources accessible electronically and also conducted oral interviews. I talked with people who took part in these discussions and were creators of reconciliation. In my dissertation, in fact, the master’s work was published about reconciliation in the matter of the Polish Orlat Cemetery in Lviv in a fuller and modified version, and also two sections devoted to attempts at reconciliation regarding the massive murders of the Polish population of Volyn in 1943.”

Professor Hrytsak says that Tetyana Banakh’s scholarly research is important because it combines history and politics in a very relevant way and involves one of the most important themes in relations between Ukraine and Poland.

Academic advisor Yaroslav Hrytsak congratulates Tetyana Banakh with a hug

Academic advisor Yaroslav Hrytsak congratulates Tetyana Banakh.

“Ukraine and Poland have different experiences of their relations, but very often these involve conflicts and war. So it is very important that Tetyana Banakh analyzed discussions held around these questions in the Polish and Ukrainian societies and how they influence reconciliation: Do they improve or worsen relations between the two countries? It is also important that Tetyana did research based on a large amount of material and, in addition to articles in the press, she also interviewed the main participants of these discussions, which makes this work especially valuable. The conclusions of the dissertation have applied value. On the basis of achievements and failures in the policy of reconciliation which she analyzed, the researcher advises steps worth taking in order to strengthen the alliance of Poland and Ukraine and remove obstacles which could threaten these relations in the face of Russian aggression,” explained Yaroslav Hrytsak.

Tetyana Banakh plans eventually to write a book on the basis of her dissertation in which she will develop this theme even more deeply.

Yaroslav Hrytsak and Tetyana Banakh

Professor Hrytsak explained that he immediately noticed the high level of Banakh’s erudition, even when she was participating in his master’s seminar: “Tetyana is very calm, sometimes silent, but when she says something, each word has great value,” said the historian. “I was very interested in how a person so young could be so erudite. The maturity of her judgements is always impressive, so I suggested that she start doctoral studies. And it is my personal joy that Tetyana has finished her work.”

Prof. Hrytsak also emphasized that Tetyana’s example should become a good precedent for other people in Ukraine; her path shows what can be achieved if one has the will and the singlemindedness. “Also, we should not downplay the significance of the university where Tetyana studied and has now defended her dissertation, UCU. She was formed in a very friendly environment of master’s and doctoral students who are constantly in contact with each other, exchanging knowledge and experience.

“This is a community of young, civically active, educated people who know various languages and work together with noted world-class historians like Timothy Snyder. Our community continues to grow and gain recognition not only in Ukraine but at international levels. So it is very important that Tetyana has grown and been formed as a scholar in this very community which has a good image.”

Audience members watching her defense at the back of the classroom

During her defense

Reviewers’ comments

Her reviewers share comments about Tetyana Banakh’s work: Volodymyr Sklokin, with a candidate’s degree in history, assistant professor at the History Department of UCU’s Humanities Faculty, and Danylo Sudyn, with a candidate’s degree in sociology, assistant professor at the Sociology Department of UCU’s Social Sciences Faculty.

Volodymyr Sklokin emphasized that Tetyana chose an important theme for her dissertation, with unquestionable relevance for academia and for society and politics, and the work itself was carefully worked out. “The author correctly considers the concept of reconciliation in the wider category of ‘overcoming the past/Vergangenheitsbewältigung’ and looks for its intellectual roots in the processes of political integration and church reform in post-war Western Europe. It is important that in her research Tetyana relies on a fairly wide source base which includes leading opinion-makers of print media in both countries, historical and journalistic works, oral interviews, legislative acts, and decrees of parliament, statements and open letters of intellectuals, church activists, and politicians…”

Reviewer Danylo Sudyn explained that, with the fall of the socialist bloc, and then the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Poland should have built a new system of relations where the memory of the events of the 20th century would be one of the important elements. And Tetyana Banakh’s dissertation shows this important period of Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation after 1991.

“In the last few years, the media often recalls so-called ‘memory wars’ among various countries, about the instrumentalization of collective memory by politicians in the process of the struggle for power. If we speak of reconciliation, this is mentioned much less often. This is why reconciliation happened in Western European countries much earlier, while the countries of Central-Eastern Europe were more often not noticed, and research on reconciliation was done regarding processes outside Europe. But the case of post-communist Europe is very important for understanding how mechanisms of memory work, how a historical policy can be implemented to foster reconciliation, not eliminating or wiping away memory of tragic events in the history of neighboring peoples. For in Central-Eastern Europe, some historical discussions were artificially interrupted, or it was not possible to begin them, with the coming of communist power. In this way, tragic memory which divides peoples was also silenced. And so the process of reconciliation after the fall of the Soviet Union was complicated because, for some of the participants of political life, memory silenced by communism demanded a defense, with no step to reconciliation, to understanding,” said Danylo Sudyn.

In his opinion Tetyana Banakh in her dissertation mentions and develops all these difficult themes. “In particular, she shows two types of participants of the politics of memory, mnemonic soldiers and mnemonic peacekeepers. If the first totally defend their own version of the past, refusing to make concessions towards understanding with one’s neighbors, then the second look for bridges to understanding between societies, without their losing their own identity.”

In Danylo Sudyn’s opinion, yet another important aspect of Tetyana Banakh’s dissertation is a detailed description of the process of reconciliation of the Ukrainian and Polish societies, with the example of Polish soldiers buried in Lviv, for whom the name Orlat Cemetery was used, and also memory of the Volyn tragedy.

“This research will be a good base and obligatory reading for all those who plan to further research this theme. For Tetyana’s dissertation covers Ukrainian-Polish discussions to 2013. So one can only congratulate the Ukrainian humanities scholar with the completion of this research and hope that Tetyana Banakh publishes her dissertation as a book,” said Danylo Sudyn.