War on Ukraine 2022:
Perspectives from SDSU College of Arts and Letters Faculty and Students

CAL faculty respond rapidly, broadly, and with compassion to help students contextualize and understand the current global crisis.

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Ukraine War protestA collective community of scholars and experts on issues of war, Russia, and the Ukraine from CAL departments of European studies, political science, and history, the Jewish studies program, the Center for Human Rights, and the Center for War and Society, give students a chance to engage in critical conversations to help them understand the impacts of the current war on Ukraine. 

“Let us be united in our compassion for one another,” said Dean Monica J. Casper.  “And let us also do what CAL does especially well – apply our analytical skills to understanding the conditions and consequences of war.”

European Studies Department Takes Action

Daria Shembel, Russian studies director and adviser along with European studies program director Emily Schuckman-Matthews have both restructured their syllabi in order to help students contextualize and understand this war as well as work through the wide range of emotions they are all feeling. 

In Russian studies courses, Shembel discusses the modern history of Ukraine and the history of Russia-Ukrainian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the falsehoods used by the Kremlin to justify the war, the annexation of Crimea and War in Donbas of 2014, and the shift to total authoritarianism in today’s Russia. 

In European studies courses, Emily has replaced the regularly scheduled syllabus to have an open dialogue about the war while also offering a semi-structured lecture informing students of historical and contemporary dynamics in the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. These topics were already scheduled for later in the semester, but were recalibrated to meet the moment. Later in the semester, she plans to have students read war literature from Ukraine and learn more about Putin’s reign. 

Shembel said, “While the extreme force of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was surprising to even regional experts, we have been teaching about not only Russian/Ukrainian/Belarussian culture, history, and politics as part of our core curriculum for many years, but have been teaching specifically about Russia’s violation of Ukrainian (and other countries’) sovereignty since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.” 

“Our students have expressed gratitude that they already have an understanding of this region and the complicated dynamic involved.” Shuckman-Matthews said. One student who took the course Culture & Identity in Post-Communist Europe, emailed expressing his appreciation that this content was covered so deeply. 

“I have been thinking a lot about what we learned in our class last semester over the past months and especially the past weeks as the situation has gotten worse and worse in Ukraine,” the student wrote. “It has been really disheartening to see some of the images, especially of ordinary Ukranians trying to leave the country. I definitely feel that your class gave me a much better perspective of the situation and has made me much more informed throughout the crisis.”

Shembel and Schuckman-Matthews have both reached out personally to students they know who are more deeply impacted by recent events, expressing their support and letting them know that they are available to talk, should the students need to meet. 

One student replied: “Thank you for your email, I really do appreciate it. I'm hanging in there. Your support means a lot. I'm also thankful for the support from Russians protesting and am keeping those who are suffering from standing up against Putin in my thoughts.”

One of Shembel’s Russian language students grew up in the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S. This week she said how appreciative she is of the class and how it has become a unique place for her on-campus –– that of support, denouncing Russia's aggression, and sharing resources about the war. With Shembel’s guidance, she prepared a presentation on key events of Ukrainian history, highlighting the burden of Holodomor and WWII tragedies.

This week, students with no connection to the region, attended Shembel and Schuckman-Matthews’ office hours specifically to discuss the war and ask questions of someone they feel is knowledgeable. 

One of Schuckman-Matthews’ conversations lasted 45 minutes. One of her students broke down in tears because she is so fearful of what the war means for everyone’s future. Many students said how hard it is to concentrate on anything else but the war these days. 

CAL faculty are serving as both educators and vital support systems for students during this difficult time.

“Events in Ukraine have reminded much of the world what we have always known: Eastern Europe and Russia matter and understanding this region is essential in our globalized world,” Matthews-Schuckman and Shembel said. “Given our specific language and cultural expertise and transnational understanding of the region, we are particularly well-positioned to contribute to our students’ understanding of what is now a rapidly changing European and global landscape.” 

English Department’s “Poetry International” Creates a Folio: Voices from Ukraine 

Poetry International,” a publication of the Department of English MFA in Poetry program highlights voices from Ukraine in the Ukrainian Feature: Words for War. It has also gathered selected poems in a section called Eastern-European Poets on Poetry & War.

Marina Brown, an MFA in Poetry alum with family currently living in Ukraine, wrote a review of the poem Carbon: Song of Crafts.  

Piotr Florczyk is an MFA in Poetry alum from Poland, who just completed his Ph.D. at USC, wrote In Praise of Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021).


In the News

Pierre Asselin, the Dwight E. Stanford Chair in American Foreign Relations, appeared on TV, to disucss whether sanctions can stop Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
ABC Action News, WFTS Tampa Bay

Mikhail Alexseev, professor in political science and International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR), explains the history of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.
KNX- AM, Los AngelesCBS8

Alexseev was also interviewed in a report titled “Ukraine hit with Russian cyber attack during invasion, is the U.S. next?”  

Alexseev appeared on KUSI to talk about: “Should the U.S. be more involved in growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia?”

Gregory A. Daddis, director of the Center for War and Society was interviewed for an article titled “The Navy is training for a possible fight with China. Does Russia’s war make that more likely?”
The San Diego Union-Tribune

Daddis also published, “The promise and folly of war – why do leaders enter conflict assuming victory is assured?”
The Conversation



Wednesday, April 20, 1 p.m. in West Commons 220

Teach in: Perspectives on the Russian War on Ukraine

The Political Science Department and ISCOR invite you and your students to a teach-in on Ukraine representing a diversity of perspectives and approaches. This in-person features: SDSU Political Science Professors Mikhail Alexseev, Jonathan Graubart, Emanuele Saccarelli, and Latha Varadarajan; as well as Professor Volodymyr Dubovyk of Odesa Mechnykov National University who will join us virtually from Ukraine.

Black Radical Perspectives on Ukraine

Monday, March 21, 5 p.m. via Zoom

Our esteemed panelists will challenge the dominant US narrative of the conflict in Ukraine and provide a historical, political, and cultural corrective from a Black radical perspective.

Margaret Kimberley is Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report and the author of the book “Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents.” She is also a contributor to the anthologies “In Defense of Julian Assange,” and “Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.” 

Ajamu Baraka is an internationally recognized leader of the emerging human rights movement in the U.S. and has been at the forefront of efforts to apply the international human rights framework to social justice advocacy in the U.S. for more than 25 years. 

Imagine Europe Presents: Ukraine: Voices from Kyiv

Thursday, March 17, 9:30 a.m. in Storm Hall (SH) Room 123 and via Zoom

Check out the event recording.

Taras Mazyar and his family will join us to talk about their experience living under siege in Kyiv, including helping countrymates with evacuation efforts.

Taras Mazyar earned an M.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.He interned at the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of the European Union and worked as an assistant to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs researching issues of human rights protection, migration, minority rights and WTO-related issues. Additionally, he worked at the Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy,dealing with issues of democracy-building in Ukraine.

Discussion with Dr. Ibrahim Al-Marashi

Wednesday, March 16, 12 p.m. via Zoom

Please join us for this timely event as we welcome Dr. Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who taught in Ukraine in 2017 and will discuss the historical context to understand the current crisis, how national history has become a contested space in this war, and the fate of his history students there now.

Professor Gregory Daddis, the Director of the SDSU Center for War and Society and the U.S.S. Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History will serve as the respondent.

Discussion on the Politics in Eastern Europe

Thursday, March 10, 3-4 p.m., Nasatir Hall, NH-131

The Political Science Department invites Dr. Pawel Laidler, Dean of Faculty of International and Political Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. We'll have an informal open discussion about politics in Eastern Europe and think aloud about possible collaborations with his university.

Russia's War Against Ukraine: A Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Wednesday, March 9, 4-5:30 p.m. Music Room 120, SDSU

Join SDSU Professors Mikhail Alexseev (political science) and Pierre Asselin (history)  for the latest and most pertinent insights on these and related issues. Professors Emily Schuckman- Matthews (European studies) and Daria Shembel (Russian studies) will provide commentaries. Moderated by the director of SDSU’s Center for Human Rights Grace Cheng, this session is free and open to the public. 

This session is jointly sponsored by the Dwight E. Stanford Endowment, Center for Human Rights, Center for War &  Society/USS Midway Endowment, International Security and Conflict Resolution (ISCOR), and Departments of  History and Political Science. 

Ukrainian Jews and Putin's War on Ukraine: Making Sense of the Current Crisis

Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. via Zoom

Discussion and update with Dr. Natan Meir, Lorry I. Lokey Chair in Judaic Studies, Portland State University.

We are now hearing non-stop news reports about the unfolding situation in Ukraine, but what does it all mean? In this "explainer session," Dr. Natan Meir will provide historical and geopolitical context for Russia's attack on Ukraine. He'll discuss the complex historical relationship between Russia, Putin, and Ukraine, the ethnic and linguistic makeup of Ukrainian society, and the impact of all of this on Ukraine's Jewish community.

At the conclusion of the talk we will be joined by friends on the ground in Ukraine for a live update and Q&A session not to be missed.