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On the bright side

Ukrainian Wikimedians during the war — three (more) stories

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By Anton Protsiuk and Vitalii Petrushko

As Russia's open invasion of Ukraine has entered its sixth month, the lives of Ukrainians – and Ukrainian Wikimedians – are still greatly affected by the war. In this edition, we cover three stories of people during the war – serving in the army, volunteering, and just doing their jobs.

Author, school principal and Wikipedian – Svitlana Diachok’s story

Svitlana Diachok in 2018
Svitlana Diachok during Wikimedia Ukraine’s general meeting in 2018
Svitlana Diachok at the award ceremony of the photo contest Wiki loves Monuments 2018

Svitlana Diachok is a teacher, PhD in literature, and the author of several handbooks on literature. She is also an active editor of Wikipedia and a member of Wikimedia Ukraine.

In January, Svitlana won the competition for the position of school principal in a school in the city of Khorostkiv in the Ternopil region – an educational institution with over 560 students and almost 50 teachers.

The next month, Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Today Svitlana combines administrative work, teaching, writing books and volunteering during the war. In an interview with us, she discussed her work and life in these hard times.

Education and volunteering during the war

Svitlana Diachok has dedicated her life to teaching. Throughout her career, she went from a primary school teaching assistant to the head of an educational institution – since January, she leads a school in the Ukrainian city of Khorostkiv.

When the full-scale war started, the educational process continued, but in an online format. It was a challenge, but the school was well prepared for distance learning since the beginning of the pandemic, Svitlana recalls. (Khorostkiv is located in the west of Ukraine, a part of the country that has been affected by Russia’s rocket attacks but has not seen on-the-ground fighting. Thus, it’s been a place for internally displaced persons from frontline eastern and southern regions).

At the same time, school employees and students actively engaged in wartime volunteering. They collected food and clothes for soldiers and internally displaced persons, wove camouflage nets for the army, and looked for medicines for maternity hospitals.

Some people who moved from other regions of Ukraine received shelter in one of the buildings of the school led by Svitlana. She says the school helps them with food and other necessities — but also involves them in local activities to help integrate into the local community. For example, they spent a week learning the region’s traditions before Easter.

At the same time, Svitlana continues other professional activities apart from administrative work. She teaches Ukrainian literature in several classes and also writes books.

How does she manage to combine everything? The secret to the correct allocation of time is “using every minute in your life productively”. For example, Svitlana’s daily half-hour commute is not wasted time, but an opportunity to think about an important work problem or make a phone call.

Svitlana says that she always tries to combine several tasks and responsibilities: for example, writing a book and at the same time thinking through ideas about school management.

Wikipedia in school — Svitlana Diachok’s experience

Svitlana Diachok has been an active Wikipedia editor for over six years and a member of the Wikimedia Ukraine NGO for four years. She is a co-author of the handbook “Using Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in school” and has organized many activities to involve students in the wikispace.

Svitlana says that she had many plans to integrate Wikipedia into the educational process when she became the head of a large school. Of course, the Russian invasion changed plans, so it hasn’t been possible to carry out everything planned.

Still, Svitlana singles out three achievements that she managed to implement this year. The first is the Wikimarathon for Wikipedia's birthday at the end of January. 12 people took part in a training session, many of them became interested in editing the online encyclopedia.

During the war, through distance learning, Svitlana used Wikipedia in lessons for the 5th and 6th grades. The lesson begins with students reviewing Wikipedia’s main page – students look at who was born on this day and choose one most notable person. For 10–11 years old children, it is important to be involved in the encyclopedia in this way, Svitlana says.

Svitlana also says that, as a teacher of literature, she actively uses Wikiquote – together with her students, they improve Wikiquote articles with quotes from literature works read in class.

If everything goes according to plan, from the beginning of the new school year, Svitlana’s students will also learn to edit and create Wikipedia articles.

Nature protection and battles at the forefront – Oleg Andros’ story

Oleg Andros (left) at an awards ceremony in 2018
Oleg Andros (center) at an environmental protest in 2014
Oleg Andros' photo that won a third place in the nomination “Human Rights and Environment” in the international Wiki Loves Earth round. The title is: “Don’t burn our houses!” Beavers' action to protect the forests of Polissia, Ukraine

Oleg Andros is a photographer, musician, environmental activist, and an active participant of the Wiki Loves Earth photo contest.

Before the war, Oleg was actively involved in nature protection. He lobbied for the creation of nature reserves in Kyiv, the preservation of Zhukiv Island, Lysa Hora and other protected areas in Ukraine. At the same time, he is fond of photography. Since 2000, he has amassed a large archive of photographs, which he periodically uploads to Commons.

In 2021, Oleg took part in the Ukrainian part of Wiki Loves Earth. His photos won all five prizes in the special nomination “Protection of nature sites”.

One of his photos also won a third place in the nomination “Human Rights and Environment” in the international Wiki Loves Earth round. It depicts a picket on November 22, 2013 against deforestation in Ukraine. The action included folk songs and a dramatic duel between a beaver and a lumberjack.

On the eve of Russia’s full-scale invasion, on February 21 this year, Oleg opened his fourth solo photo exhibition “The Touch of Otherworld” at the Little Opera in Kyiv. At the same time, he got a new job – Oleg is an editor at the Kyiv Youth Library.

On February 24, Oleg woke up at six am. His mother told him that the Russians were bombing Vasylkiv airport near Kyiv. He grabbed his essentials and headed to Bila Tserkva through traffic jams.

In 2015, Oleg Andros served in the Armed Forces of Ukraine fighting Russian-backed terrorists in the eastern Donetsk region. As a military reservist, he immediately went to the military office. On the first day of the 2022 Russian invasion, he was assigned to a unit that got sent to the frontline. Oleg's service takes place in various regions: from the Brovary district in the Kyiv region, back when Russian troops were near Kyiv, to Sumy, Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

“During the Anti-Terrorist Operation [war in eastern Ukraine since 2014] I didn't see much because I served in the brigade headquarters. But I compensated for it during the 2022 invasion. Now I know the sound of different artillery shells; I know what it's like to ride a combat vehicle a few hundred kilometers away”, Oleg Andros says.

Currently, Oleg’s battalion is defending the eastern Donetsk region. In his unit, he performs the duties of the personnel officer, handling administrative work. Oleg is constantly on the front line.

During the war, Oleg continued to participate in the activities of environmental organizations. In particular, in March, he helped evacuate 62 cats from the Kyiv Zoo. There are still 45 animals left in this cat shelter, they are helped by the NGO “Nature First”, co-founded by Oleg.

Oleg hasn’t had the time to contribute to Wikipedia during the invasion, but he found time to take some good photos. One of them was exhibited in a Kyiv library in the spring.

Read more about Oleg and his views on war and philosophy in the articles he published in April and July.

Covering the war on Wikipedia – Yuri Perohanych’s story

Yuri Perohanych in 2021
Yuri Perohanych delivers a lecture for the Maidan Open University, a civil initiative that emerged during the 2013–2014 democratic protests in Ukraine

Yuri Perohanych (user Perohanych) is a civil society activist, Wikipedia editor for more than fifteen years, co-founder of the Wikimedia Ukraine NGO, and former member of the international Funds Dissemination Committee.

Russian invasion caught Yuri in Kyiv, where he lives. After a sleepless night in a bomb shelter, he went with his 9-year-old son and wife to Ukraine’s west. The road from the capital to a village in the Lviv region some 600 kilometers away was difficult and took more than 60 hours without sleep (including 30 hours in the car).

Yuri says his family had planned to go to Poland, but they ended up deciding to stay in Ukraine. After the Kyiv region had been liberated, they returned from Western Ukraine to Kyiv.

In the first days of the war, Yuri doubled down on his Wikipedia activity. He quickly began covering the war on Wikipedia; on March 1, he initiated a thematic campaign with a goal to cover the invasion – which has been the most popular topic for Ukrainian Wikipedia readers – and prevent the dissemination of Russian propaganda on Wikipedia.

In the first two weeks, participants of the initiative created over 130 articles; within a month, the number reached 220. Thus, Yuri decided to convert the initiative into a permanent project called “Resistance to the Russian invasion of Ukraine”. Yuri also created a portal of the same name.

The project aims to collect and systematize all articles related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine from February 24, 2022; the armed annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas, which began in 2014.

Yuri says that this initiative has been the largest project he has ever implemented on Wikipedia. In parallel, he has taken on administrative duties on Ukrainian Wikipedia, receiving temporary admin rights to help with the project’s maintenance and fight vandalism at the time when many editors could not exercise their duties.

Also, Yuri has worked on the promotion of free licenses. Through his connections in the Ukrainian government, Yuri received multiple permissions to publish on Wikiprojects various materials from governmental media under the terms of a Creative Commons license.

In addition to working on Wikipedia, Yuri spends a lot of time on other volunteering. For example, he assists with the purchase and delivery of components for energy bars for soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defense Forces.

Yuri’s day job is director of the Association of Information Technology Enterprises of Ukraine. His work involves developing the Ukrainian IT sector and improving Ukraine’s business sector more broadly.

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