When Anastasia Tkach (MARS-REERS ’16) first arrived in Ukraine in July 2015, she intended to research apathy and disillusionment in the wake of Euromaidan. But while interviewing members of various activist organizations in Kyiv, she realized that few were either apathetic or disillusioned. “Activism was still happening,” says Tkach. “There were demonstrations on the streets and a lot of reforms passing.”
Tkach, who was in Kyiv for a month on a Harriman Institute Pepsico Travel Grant for Thesis Research, saw groups of young police officers-in-training patrolling Kyiv’s streets. The post-revolutionary Ukrainian government was in the midst of eradicating the old police system—an inefficient and rampantly corrupt relic of Soviet times—and implementing a new one, nationwide, with Kyiv acting as guinea pig for the reforms. “The new police officers don’t have much power yet,” says Tkach. “But their presence is supposed to be a factor in changing the city and changing the way people think about police.” Tkach sees the reform as part of a larger trend in Ukraine’s attempt to democratize physical space. “New police create a safer space for citizens,” she says.
Alongside police reform, the new Ukrainian government has passed legislation to eradicate any relics of communism from public life. Street names are being changed to remove any Soviet references, and the sale of Soviet paraphernalia to tourists will also be banned. “The laws are trying to transform physically the streets into something considered to be more democratic,” says Tkach, who is fascinated by the idea of transforming physical elements in order to change people’s mindsets. As a result of her trip, she has decided to switch the focus of her thesis research from apathy and disillusionment to the use of public space in post-revolutionary societies.
Tkach has been interested in Ukraine for a long time. Born in Lapeer, Michigan, to a Ukrainian father and American mother, she was always curious about her Ukrainian heritage—she wrote a report about Kyiv and presented it to her seventh grade class. As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, she started taking Ukrainian language classes and soon became interested in Ukrainian culture and politics. She majored in Political Science and visited Ukraine for the first time as a junior on a study abroad program.
In September 2014, three months after college graduation, Tkach started pursuing her Master’s degree at the Harriman Institute. During her first year, she attended every event she could fit into her schedule, interned for Freedom House’s Nations in Transit publication, and took a human rights class with Tanya Domi, adjunct professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, that sparked her interest in the Balkans. “One day I would love to do a comparison between Bosnia and Ukraine,” she says. This year, she took over the management of a biweekly peer review workshop for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scholars focusing on Eastern Europe. She also became a program assistant at the Harriman Institute, where she is organizing student events, and working on programming, and website maintenance.
Since starting MARS-REERS, Tkach feels she has learned a lot and, in the process, has noticed herself shifting away from political science toward anthropology. “I think many of us at the Harriman Institute have found something new that we’re interested in,” she says. “I’ve changed my focus and that’s the way it should be—you shouldn’t emerge from a two-year program with the exact same interests.”
To read more about our students visit Student Spotlights.