Scholars at Risk offers intellectuals refuge far from home.
As we finalized this issue’s story about Scholars at Risk—the international network that finds safe havens for intellectuals and artists who are in danger in their home countries—I had the opportunity to meet Oksana Maksymchuk. The award-winning poet and translator spoke to me on campus one October afternoon.
Maksymchuk left her native Lviv, Ukraine, in February 2022. Lviv, she says, is known for being very Ukrainian in a war that aims to stamp out Ukrainian cultural identity. The killings of poet Volodymyr Vakulenko, in the early months of Russia’s invasion, and of conductor Yuriy Kerpatenko, the following fall, stay on her mind. For the occupiers, she says, being an artist is a predictor of resistance.
After more than a year moving from place to place in Europe, Maksymchuk arrived at the University of Chicago in July. She knows Chicago well, having completed her philosophy PhD at Northwestern about 10 years ago. Some aspects of her life now are “normal”—her son is going to school, she is writing poems, there are no air raids.
Safer does not mean easier. Maksymchuk feels the isolation of someone who, in her words, “is permanently dealing with troubles at home,” where family and close friends live amid warfare. When we spoke, her heartbreak at being away was apparent. But in Ukraine right now, as in too many places around the world, intellectuals and artists like her are especially vulnerable to targeting.
No two scholars placed through Scholars at Risk share the same circumstances for leaving their countries. Their individual stories all command our attention. What they do have in common is being under threat for speaking, for writing, for thinking. Welcoming places where these activities are fiercely protected continue to be needed in our world.
Joining the masthead
The Magazine welcomes Armin Afsahi as publisher. Armin joined the University in April as vice president for Alumni Relations and Development and quickly became a friend and partner of the Magazine, with ideas and enthusiasm in abundance. He previously worked as a senior leader at universities including the University of Denver, UC San Diego, Georgetown University, and Harvard University. We are delighted he’s now a UChicagoan—and a Magazinian.