The University of Iowa has a student-led Ukrainian Conversation Hour twice a week as the Russia-Ukraine war continues.
Oksana Hirchak, a first-year student from Ukraine, said she came up with the idea after tensions rose between Ukraine and Russia in February. The Center for Language and Cultural Learning approved the club and is hosting the meetings.
“Given what’s going on in Ukraine right now, during the war, I thought people would be more interested to know about Ukraine,” Hirchak said.
As the conflict continues, the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that as of April 18, there have been 4,890 civilian casualties in the country with 2,072 killed and 2,818 injured.
Hirchak said she went to the UI’s Center for Language and Cultural Learning at the beginning of April and spoke with director Claire Frances.
Frances said it is important to develop intercultural competence through learning languages inside and out of a classroom setting.
“We’re seeing a war unfold in front of our eyes in real-time on all of our social media feeds, on the news, or in the papers,” she said. “It is more critical than ever to try to understand those cultures that are at war,” she said.
After Frances approved the club, she and Hirchak took a week to advertise before the first meeting. The two used the Center for Language and Cultural Learning Instagram account and newsletter to promote the club.
Hirchak said Ukrainian uses the Cyrillic alphabet as its structure, and many of those who attended the first meeting already knew the alphabet.
“In the first meeting, I had five students,” she said. “Most of them use the Cyrillic alphabet, which the Ukrainian language uses and that’s because they studied Russian before or some of them are still studying Russian.”
RELATED: Ukrainian UI professor, student reflect on media use during wartime
Frances said Hirchak wanting to teach a language on campus is “flipping a switch” on the program the Center for Language and Cultural learning that is already in place.
“Through the program that’s advertised on our website, students can come to me and say ‘I’d really like to learn Hindi. I would like to learn Turkish. I would like to learn a language that’s not taught at the university,’” Frances said. “And then I do my best to try to find them a tutor or resource.”
Frances said the Center of Language and Cultural Learning is paying Hirchak to teach those who come to the biweekly meetings.
Hirchak said she is beginning the club by teaching basic phrases that can help someone start a conversation in Ukrainian.
“I started with like ‘Hello. How are you?’ like with those phrases in Ukrainian, if you had to tell about your mood like good, great and so/so and then ‘what’s your name?’” she said.
More than just students attend the class, Hirchak said.
“I had a person who works in the library, and I had a person who works at the hospital,” she said. “There was a man who came yesterday, and I didn’t ask him what he did or what he was doing, but he’s not a student.”
Hirchak said she plans to continue the club as long as she has students who attend.