Narratives of War shares wartime testimonies of 1,500 Ukrainian civilians

Narratives of War shares wartime testimonies of 1,500 Ukrainian civilians

Note: This blog reposts an article on McMaster Library News by Matt Ines-Leroux, McMaster media relations, with files from Tina Depko, McMaster library. Sherman Centre staff and affiliates supported the project with consultations on data stewardship, the use of the Omeka S digital exhibit platform, and dedicated participation by Myron Groover.

A collaboration between McMaster University and Ukrainian researchers has collected firsthand accounts of war from more than 1,500 civilians affected by Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The project was motivated by media coverage that lacked voices of ordinary Ukrainians impacted by the war, says Victor Kuperman, professor of linguistics and languages at McMaster.

“These are authentic stories from real people that show the full scope, severity and conditions of what they have experienced,” he told the Hamilton Spectator. “They remove the filters we are otherwise exposed to in the news.”

Researchers from McMaster’s Centre for Advanced Research in Linguistics (ARiEAL) and Lesya Ukrainka Volyn National University in Lutsk, Ukraine, spent more than a year collecting and translating anonymous 300-word accounts of the war. The testimonies are available online through the Narratives of War portal.

Olga Dvorova, a master’s student in McMaster’s Gender and Social Justice Program, says the testimonies include searchable data, such as participants’ ages and rough geographical locations.

“It’s really interesting because you can see how the war is divided by regions,” Dvorova told the Hamilton Spectator. “You can see people mentioning the same tragedy because they’re in the same places.”

Dvorova, who came to McMaster from Taras Shevchenko National University of Ukraine last year as part of a program for displaced scholars, is one of four Ukrainian researchers who worked on the exhibit.

The project affirmed her belief that no family in Ukraine has escaped the war unscathed, and that residents in the western regions of Ukraine, far away from the frontlines, are “constantly afraid,” she said.

screenshot of map from Narratives of War

“The testimonies show how they don’t know what will happen next,” Dvorova said. “They also show how people’s priorities change during war and what’s important to them now, like family.”

McMaster University Library facilitated several components of the project. Staff from the Lewis and Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship provided advice and support on data stewardship.

Myron Groover, archives and rare books librarian in the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections, was part of the project team itself. His work contributed to the digital architecture of the portal and the archival preservation of the testimonies.

“All of these testimonies are fully indexed and text searchable, and the site permits multiple modes for engaging with the underlying project data,” said Groover. “Moving forward, these testimonies will serve as the foundation of an ongoing digital curation and storytelling effort.”

Researchers say the exhibit documents both the suffering and the unwavering hope of the Ukrainian people.

Kuperman noted: “Suffering and trauma, hope and resilience — both sides emerge in every story.”

Learn more

Narratives of War digital exhibit 
Digital exhibits (Omeka) library resource webpage

Related Space

The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections
Lewis & Ruth Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship