Dr Iulia Buyskykh
Dr. Julia Buyskykh, a socio-cultural anthropologist affiliated with the Institute of History of Ukraine, the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and an NGO the Centre for Applied Anthropology in Kyiv. She had a post-doc at the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, University of Warsaw (2015 – 2016), and several research stays in Polish academic institutions (2014, 2015, 2022). She spent the academic year of 2019-2020 at Pennsylvania State University as a Fulbright scholar. Her research interests include lived religion (Christianity) in Ukraine and Poland, inter-confessional relationships, memory and border studies, Polish-Ukrainian shared history, ethics and empathy in qualitative research. Currently, she is a Sanctuary Fellow at the University College Cork, Ireland.
Lived Religion on Polish-Ukrainian Borderlands: Memories, Pilgrimages, Places and Silences
From 2015 to 2018 I conducted anthropological fieldwork in the multiconfessional rural communities of the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands, including those in Lublin province and Subcarpathian province in Eastern Poland, and also Ukrainian communities in North-West of Poland. Given the number of studies on this region (e.g. Brown 2004; Buzalka 2007; Follis 2012; Zhurzhenko 2013, Zarycki 2014), the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands initially looks like a well-researched area. However, my work reveals that this area holds considerable research potential on a variety of topics connected with conflicting memories, religious culture, nationalism, and routine survival strategies which respond slowly to the changing administrative nature of the border between Ukraine and Poland as an EU member.
Taking as an example Polish-Ukrainian borderlands, I am researching how collective memories reveal the asymmetries of power between the states, their local intellectual elites and the clergy of various denominations on the one hand, and people living in local communities on the other. The political challenges Poland and Ukraine as neighboring states have been experiencing through the last decade evoked several unsolved problems connecting Ukraine and Poland’s mutual history and traumatic memories. Rooted in the population and territorial shifts after WWII, and the silencing, censoring efforts of the Soviet state, these memories are used in political constructions of national narratives. The narratives about past traumas and the particular nation’s suffering are transmitted through liturgies, pilgrimages, and other religious performances.
The other form of communication on Polish-Ukrainian borderlands is silence that I was able to sense during an extensive participant observation. I argue that “silence" can become an anthropological tool for the study of vulnerable communities / post-traumatic / post-colonial experiences when it is impossible to record. Silence can be more vocal than transcripts of the interviews. Recordings are usually silent about body language: gestures, facial expressions, positioning and the whole multi-layered context of the field. On the contrary, human behavior, everyday rituals, emotions, hidden or expressed, and modes of vernacular religiosity can tell us a way more than a recorded interview. Thinking through “silence” is a form of communication that doesn't rely on words. It can be a key tool to study individuals and communities whose traumas are deep and unhealed, but revealing of their humanity.