Ukraïner shares stories of historical and modern Ukraine
The Google rabbit hole is one of my favourite places.
A few months back, I was looking for information about the lizhnyk, a traditional wool blanket from the Hutsulshchyna region of Ukraine. In January 2018, I was in Yavoriv, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast and visited the home of a craftswoman who makes these blankets, and though I took some notes, I still wanted more info (and also was probably procrastinating doing something).
So I searched around online a bit, and I came across an article, with accompanying video and photos, on a website called Ukraïner. After learning more about the lizhnyk, I dove deeper into Ukraïner’s site — I was hooked. And you will be too.
Ukraïner: The Expedition started as a group of people travelling through regions of Ukraine and documenting stories from the people they met along the way. So, basically my dream. The first “expedition” was from summer 2016 until fall 2018, but Ukraïner continues to explore and share stories from the country.
On the site’s about page, it notes how mainstream media doesn’t cover Ukraine very much, besides the “constantly negative representation of Ukraine.” Not only does this close off other nations from learning about Ukraine, but also Ukrainians themselves might not learn much about regions of Ukraine other than where they are from.
Ukraïner wanted to change this. Today, hundreds of volunteers from across the world contribute to the project. Some travel through Ukraine to collect stories, some make videos, some take photos, some write articles, and some translate articles and create subtitles for videos — besides Ukrainian, the site has articles translated into nine other languages, and counting.
After learning about Ukraïner, I dove right in, reading everything on the site, watching the videos, and scrolling through photos. It didn’t take me long to find the “work with us” page that has a call-out for volunteers. Not really knowing how I could help out, I filled out the form, explaining a bit about who I was to see if I could contribute in some way.
Someone from Ukraïner got back to me, saying they just so happened to be hoping to find a proofreader who had English as their native language. Though the stories are great, as are the translations, you can tell when the translator doesn’t have English as their first language, so maybe a phrase here sounds awkward or a word choice there isn’t the best.
After brief correspondence with the volunteer co-ordinator, I got to work on my first assignments — proofreading translated pieces. (One article I proofread is Swedish Carpets from the Village Liubymivka.)
While proofreading, it helped that I knew some Ukrainian, because even if I didn’t know what the exact right translation was, I could often tell when it was wrong. And sometimes I could get the gist of what they were trying to say. This was all a great way to practise my Ukrainian language skills, testing myself by comparing the Ukrainian to English articles. Plus, as a volunteer, I’m added into a Ukraïner Facebook group chat — and translating the non-stop conversation is a brilliant procrastination, er, practise tool.
Anytime I’ve worked as an editor, one of the most important things to me is still letting the writer’s voice shine through. There have been times when I’ve read a published piece of mine that I didn’t even recognize as my own since it didn’t sound like me due to over-editing.
This isn’t to say I think I’m some brilliant writer who makes no mistakes — those over-edited articles clearly show that something in my writing was off, and the editor thought they knew the best, or at least a better, way to word it. But there’s a way to balance editing someone’s work and rewriting it completely — if I’m editing something and see lots of room for improvement, instead of changing everything myself, I will offer suggestions to the writer and ask them to try reworking things.
And so, this is to say, some of the Ukraïner articles I’ve proofread still read a little awkwardly to me, but I think that makes it that much more charming. If proofreading and editing these articles was my full-time job, then yes, I’d work with the writer more directly so everything reads clearly and smoothly. But for me, the focus was to make sure everything makes grammatical sense, to the best of my ability, rather than focus on the elements of what makes a good story.
Not too long ago, Ukraïner released a book, in Ukrainian, with photos and shortened write-ups from its website. On the chance it was on the team’s horizon, I told the person I was in contact with that I’d love to help out in any way if they planned to do an English version of the book.
And next thing you know, I was proofreading a book — a real book by a real publisher — with a talented team of writers, translators, editors, and proofreaders on a topic that I so deeply believe in.
The English book is still in the production process, but keep checking Ukraïner’s site to see when it will be available. Or let me know because when it does come out, I’m sure I’ll be ordering a few copies, and I could add yours to my order! Also check out the rest of the site’s merch store. Some of the proceeds go toward covering the costs of further expeditions — meaning more exploring, more storytelling, and more love for Ukraine.
The dedication and passion among the Ukraïner team is inspiring, and I can tell it is an incredibly supportive group — each day in the chat people are welcoming in new volunteers, wishing happy birthdays, and sending invites for events across Ukraine.
To start exploring Ukraïner’s stories, scroll through 100 Photos of Ukraine — 2018 to see what stands out to you (likely every single one) and go from there.
Instead of giving a list of other stories to check out (because I can’t narrow it down to only a few), here are some links to Ukraïner articles about places I visited while in Ukraine and posted about on my blog and/or Instagram.