Fear of a frozen conflict

The crisis in Ukraine lifted Lina Klymenko's research topic to the centre of world politics.

"I am puzzled by the sources of Russians' broad support for the annexation of Crimea, and I wonder why it is so difficult for the Russian leadership and population to come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent nation states thereafter," says Lina Klymenko, a postdoctoral researcher studying post-Soviet countries.

Working at the Karelian Institute, Ukraine-born Klymenko has lived abroad for a long time. The recent tragic developments in Ukraine made her realise to what extent her work as a researcher is influenced by her origin.

"At times, I have been engaged in heated debates with Russian and international colleagues on the violent conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia's involvement there. I realised how emotional I am about the topic of Russian-Ukrainian relations."

Klymenko hopes that the conflict can be solved and that Russians and Ukrainians will find common ground.

"But I remain pessimistic about the conflict area. I fear it will remain a zone of a frozen conflict for quite some time."

Georgia, Russia and Ukraine under the microscope

As a result of the events in Ukraine, Klymenko's own interest in studying Russia and Russians has increased. At the moment, she is working on an Academy of Finland project, which studies conceptions and opinions of Stalinism in contemporary Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, and how these have influenced the countries' democratisation processes.

"As post-Soviet transition countries, they share a common history within the Soviet Union and they have a more or less similar experience of Stalinism."

To some extent, however, the political regimes of the countries underwent different developments after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Coming to terms with Stalinism has been a controversial issue in each of the countries.

"In Ukraine, for example, commemoration of the victims of the Stalinist repressions and of the famine of 1932–33 known as the Holodomor takes place. In Russia, Stalin is associated with repressions and the Soviet victory in World War II," Klymenko says, by way of an example.
She reminds us that the efforts to honour Stalin in both Russia and Ukraine have been undertaken by the respective Communist parties.

Ambivalence to the role of Stalin

The data for the study is gathered through focus groups. This allows the researcher to identify common ways of thinking among the focus group participants and thus to determine reasons for observed social phenomena. There are no polished results yet.

"However, one might expect that Georgians, Russians and Ukrainians are still ambivalent about the role of Stalin in the history of their countries, both approving and disapproving of the dictator and the Stalinist regime," Klymenko suggests.

Attracted by academic culture

Klymenko obtained her doctoral degree in political science from the University of Vienna. After finishing her PhD, she did an internship at an international organisation. She soon realised how much academic work meant to her.

"I am confident now that research and teaching constitute the optimum choice in my professional life. Being in academia means having a particular lifestyle: meeting new people, reading and writing, teaching and learning, communicating and travelling. This is what fascinates me."
Klymenko admits that she ended up in Joensuu and at the Karelian Institute by chance.

"After my PhD, I applied for various postdoc positions in different countries, as probably most PhD graduates do. When I received the positive decision on my application to the UEF, I decided to take on the position."

The decision was made easier by her husband, who encouraged her to go and do research in Finland.

"He did a brief check on the climate and geography of Finland and concluded that despite the cold weather and the distance to the capital, you can survive well in Joensuu," Klymenko smiles.
She hasn't had any second thoughts.

"On the contrary, I even chose the UEF as the site of research for my Academy of Finland project."

In Klymenko's view, the UEF and the Karelian Institute provide a great opportunity for her professional and personal development.

"The UEF is a regionally and internationally renowned research and teaching institution. The Karelian Institute in particular offers broad expertise on the social, cultural, political and economic development of Russia and other post-Soviet countries. And this is the area of my research interests."

Text: Sari Eskelinen Photo: Varpu Heiskanen