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Zaangażowanie na odległość. Wielostanowiskowa etnografia reakcji diaspory ukraińskiej na wojnę.

Słowa kluczowe: diaspora, ethnography, etnografia, metody wielozmysłowe, multi-sensory methods, political transnationalism, transnacjonalizm polityczny, Ukraina, Ukraine

Rodzaj grantu: Opus NCN

Jednostka przyznająca grant: Narodowe Centrum Nauki

Narodowe Centrum Nauki


[SUMMARY IN POLISH, for ENGLISH scroll down]

Rolą projektu ENGAGE jest zrozumienie reakcji diaspor ukraińskich w Stanach Zjednoczonych, Izraelu i Polsce na inwazję rosyjską na Ukrainę. W obszarze zainteresowań będą zarówno indywidualne i zbiorowe gesty solidarności, materialne formy wsparcia, uczestnictwo w protestach, ale też działania bezpośrednie jak wolontariat na granicy czy włączenie się do działań militarnych.  Badanie będzie realizowane z wykorzystaniem innowacyjnych technik badawczych – wywiadom biograficznym „podążającym” za badanymi towarzyszyła będzie etnografia wizualna oraz wielozmysłowa obserwacja uczestnicząca mająca na celu uchwycenie jednostek i grup w działaniu oraz elementy etnografii cyfrowej badającej aktywność diaspor w mediach społecznościowych. Wyniki badania pogłębią naszą wiedzę na temat zaangażowania diaspor w politykę krajów pochodzenia i krajów przyjmujących.


The war against Ukraine waged by Russia in early 2022 has inflicted a major humanitarian catastrophe on the Ukrainian nation – taking innocent lives, injuring others, destroying their livelihoods, and forcing as many as 14 million Ukrainian citizens to flee (UNHCR, June 2022). It has also come as a severe shock for millions of Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent living in the diaspora.


The goal of the research will be to understand how the Russian invasion of 2022 affects the Ukrainian diaspora’s relationship with their ancestral homeland and with the countries of their current residence. The project will map different responses to the war, paying particular attention to various acts of political and civic engagement, understood in the broadest possible way (Siim et al. 2019). As such, the research will explore symbolic acts such as putting the Ukrainian flag on Facebook profiles, various material forms of support such as donations, participation in protests and support rallies, and more direct actions related to volunteering to support refugees or even taking part in the combat.


Taking into account the diversity of Ukrainian diasporic trajectories the project will consider the role of the host country in shaping relationships with the ancestral homeland. To this end, it will be carried out in three diverse research locations which all have a significant Ukrainian diaspora, yet of a very different migrational character:


  • The United States of America – one of the oldest diasporic locations for Ukrainians and home to over 1 million Ukrainians of various generations. The USA has been supporting Ukraine militarily and financially, yet their engagement has stood short of direct combat. For the sake of methodological cohesion, the research will focus on those, who arrived in the US during the Soviet times and their children.


  • Israel is home to app. 1 million Russian-speaking Jews who arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union from the territory of Russia and Ukraine (Bagno-Moldavski, 2017). Jewish migration from different parts of the world, including that of Ukrainian Jews, has been conceptualized as aliyas, a ‘return home’ from the diaspora. Jews of Ukrainian origin in Israel may be seen as a diaspora au rebour, yet they do maintain ties with the old homeland. They have been affected by the 2014 invasion as well as the 2022 invasion (Bagno-Moldavski, 2017). Israel’s ambiguous position towards the invasion and reluctance to issue a straightforward condemnation of the invasion has provoked frustration among many Israelis of Ukrainian origin (Haaretz, 2022).


  • Poland – one of the newest destinations of Ukrainian migration, which until recently has had a mainly temporal and circular character. Poland can be considered a research site in which the diasporisation processes have only begun. It constitutes a case of a diaspora in the making. Poland has been host to approximately 1.55 million Ukrainian refugees, on top of 1.35 million Ukrainian migrants who lived in Poland prior to the invasion (Duszczyk and Kaczmarczyk 2022).


The research will also consider the generational specificity and will involve the first-generation migrants, who left Ukraine as young adults in particular socio-political moments and depending on the host country’s context (following Mannheim, 1952, see the table in the methods section), and the second generation, understood as people born in the country of emigration with at least one parent coming from Ukraine.


Four specific research questions will be asked:

Q1. What affective reactions has the war triggered among different generations of the Ukrainian diaspora?

Q2. What is the impact of the war on the relationships with the ancestral homeland and with the host country among the Ukrainian diaspora living in the US, Israel and Poland? 

Q3. What forms of local and long-distance engagement have emerged in response to the war, and what are the online and offline means that mediate this engagement?

Q4. What are the theoretical implications of the findings for understanding the political and civic engagement of diasporas?


While the existing body of research explores the importance of past conflicts in the formation of diasporic identities, the answers to these questions will make an important contribution in terms of understanding how new and recurring conflicts inform and, possibly reinvigorate, diasporic engagement with the ancestral homeland and how they shape the dynamics in the countries where the diaspora reside.


Long-distance engagement of diasporas. Most researchers agree that around 15 million Ukrainians abroad maintain some form of Ukrainian identity (Reshetchenko, 2014). The long-standing character of Ukrainian migration, its diversity in terms of trajectories and maintenance of different forms of identity, make it plausible to see Ukrainians of different generations who live abroad as diaspora (Clifford 1994 and 1997, Levy and Weingrod 2007). Early theorizations of diaspora assumed that with the passage of time, links with the ancestral homeland among immigrants will be weakened. Recent works, however, recognize that the second and subsequent generations of diaspora continue to have relationships with the ancestral homeland (Levitt, 2009). Yet, the intensity and character of these links, especially for the second-generation, remain less understood and are theoretically underdeveloped (King and Christou 2010). Little is known as to what transforms the awareness of one’s heritage into a more active relationship in the present. Some works highlight the role of intergenerational transmission in maintaining a relationship with the country of origin (Mavroudi 2007, Levitt 2009). Others explore other factors that activate the relationship with the homeland, such as recurring violence and war (Matar 2006).


Tracing the political connections of diasporas with homeland politics, Anderson (1992) has coined the term ‘long distance nationalism’ which recognizes the continuous political engagement of members of a diaspora in the politics of the country of origin.  This engagement has often been seen as more radical and dogmatic than the political stance and values of the local politicians (Schiller and Fouron 2001; Skrbis 2001; Conversi 2012). Van Hear and Cohen (2017), emphasise that some diasporas have been seen as ‘war-mongers’ and ‘peace-wreckers’ of conflict-resolution in countries of origin. Some argue that the main audience of the long-distance political engagement of diaspora are the host countries rather than the homeland, and are more modest in recognizing its impact (Skrbis 2001). Emerging scholarship acknowledges existence of other forms of transnational political and civic engagements which involve various reconciliatory initiatives and post-conflict reconstruction (Hall and Kostic 2009, Orjuela, 2008). In tracing the political engagement of second-generation Palestinians, I have coined the term ‘long-distance post-nationalism’ to highlight the fact that diaspora engagement in homeland politics may be driven more by a struggle for justice and human rights and less driven by support for a particular nation-building project (Blachnicka-Ciacek, 2018).


Waldinger reminds us that ‘researchers have yet to develop systematic comparisons of the many forms – state seeking, regime-changing, philanthropic, ethnic lobbying’ – taken by migrant long-distance politics (2013:770). The research offers a significant contribution in terms of proposing a systematic analysis of the impact of war on the social and political mobilisation of the Ukrainian diaspora understanding how different forms of political engagement shift a diaspora’s sense of connection with the ancestral homeland and with the host-land.  It will bear general theoretical significance by putting forward a systematic typology of different types of local and long-distance mobilisation taken in response to the ‘unsettling events’ (Kilkey and Ryan 2020).


As recognized by Koinova (2018), there is a scarcity of research that focuses on the spatial and temporal aspects that shape the political and civic mobilisation of diasporas.


The innovative nature of the project lies in taking into consideration:

  • how different socio-spatial contexts inform mobilisation differences. It will contribute to the emerging research that engages analytically with the relationships of diaspora with the host countries and the host country’s politics towards the ancestral homeland.
  • how the generational history of migration impacts different forms of engagement with the ancestral homeland in particular of the under-researched second-generation. Finally, it is related to
  • the innovative methodological approach of combining the multi-sited research with multi-sensory methods, which will contribute to a development of a research methodology of diaspora that is more attentive to people’s experiences social suffering, which in Wilkinson’s words, are often ‘left outside’ the literature of social science (2005:3). The aim here is to develop sociological methods better crafted to account for the sense of loss, fear for others, reaction to violence, isolation and anxiety that migrants of different generations are affected by, especially in the context of war and displacement.


The impact of the project results on the development of the research field and scientific discipline

The above-discussed contributions of this project will bring significant advancement of knowledge in the field of migration, diaspora studies and political sociology. It will advance our comprehension of the role of unsettling events in mobility contexts and develop the discipline’s understanding of the use of multi-sensory methods in conducting social research that is more attentive to social crises  and their affective and embodied consequences on personal and social lives (Das, 1997, Bourdieu, 1999).


This research will be completed over a period of 36 months and will be delivered in 5 work packages. Mindful of Clifford’s (1992) suggestion of conceptualizing research as a ‘travel practice’ to recognize the dynamic and differentiated character of the studied subjects, it will therefore be consciously designed as a multi-sited ethnography which, in the words of Marcus ‘moves out from single sites and local situations of conventional ethnographic research designs to examine the circulation of cultural meanings, objects and identities in diffuse time space’ (1995:96). It will be based on multi-sensory research that goes beyond the interviews and attempts to understand the research participants’ embodied and affective experiences in different contexts of their lives. As such, the key goal of the research will be to follow the narratives, connections,  practices, and socialites  (see Falzon, 2009). In order to achieve this, a range of qualitative multi-sensory methods will be used encompassing life-history interviews (WP1), visual ethnographies (WP2), multi-sensory participant observation (WP3),  and digital ethnographies (WP4).  Detailed manuals outlining the role of each research component, and the recruitment strategy and recruitment  back-up plan, the discussion guide, notes on reporting and preserving and anonymising the data will be developed ahead of the start of each of the research packages. The research tools (the guides) and approaches will be piloted and amended if necessary.



This multi-sited research is planned as a chain of methodological practices that will be repeated in three research locations – the US, Israel, and Poland. In each site, it will begin with the life-history interviews (Wengraf, 2004), seen as ‘meaning-making’ events (Gunaratnam, 2009:23) and conducted as part of WP1. They will serve as the starting points for further research tasks in other work packages. After the completion of the interviews from WP1, the researchers will follow participants in their political and social Ukraine-related practices (WP2), accompanying them to social events (WP3), and learning about their online activities (WP4). Each of the work packages will give insight into different aspects of participants’ lives and will be in dialogue with each other. After completion of each stage of the fieldwork, a partial analysis of data will be performed, and a holistic analysis of data between the sites and between the components will be undertaken as part of WP5.



Life-history interviews exploring the relationship with the diasporic homeland before and after the Russian invasion

Aim: This will be the starting component of the fieldwork in each of the three locations, and will consist of life-history interviews with participants from the first and second-generation (where available – see the table below) in three research locations (Wengraf 2004). The role of this component is to get to know (1) the personal and familial trajectory of migration, (2) to understand the relationship with the country of origin/the Ukrainian heritage prior to the outbreak of the 2022 war and in the context other significant/unsettling events and social crises and (3) their relationship with the ‘host’ country.  Against this background, the role of the interview will be (4) to understand the ways in which the participants have been dealing with the ‘violent presence’ in terms of reactions, feelings and responses to the ‘unsettling event’ of the 2022 war and how it has shifted their relationship with the home and host country. Ethical consent will be sought (see the ethics plan). The interviews will be analysed using biographic analysis (Wengraf 2004) and taking into account generational differences.


How: The overall size of the sample in WP1 is N=72 with approx. N= 24 in each research location, and N= 12 per generation in each location (see the table below). In each country, the research will take place in at least two sites with the largest Ukrainian diasporas. The sample will be balanced in terms of gender and education. The recruitment will involve a mixture of convenience and purposive sampling to ensure generational, gender, and socio-economic diversity. A snowball sampling strategy will be developed, beginning the recruitment from different sources such as personal networks, social media ads, and migrant organisations to ensure a broad cross-section of respondents (Bryman 2015), and will subsequently follow the chain of referrals from different respondents.


Location/generation US Israel  Poland 
First generation 12 IDI

Ukrainians who arrived in the US in Soviet times

12 IDI

Ukrainian Jews, who arrived in Israel as part of ‘alyia’ in the early 90s.

12 IDI

Those who arrived prior to 2014

Those who arrived after 2014, but before 2022

36 IDI in total
Second generation  12 IDI

Children of the Soviet exiles born in the US

Subsample: Grandchildren of the Soviet Exiles

12 IDI

Children of the Soviet aliya generation or those who arrived as children (young enough to go to the IDF- army)

IDI 12 Where possible: 1.5. generation – those who were children when they arrived in Poland 36 IDI in total
24 in total 24 in total 24 in total 72 in total

The grid of the life history interviews by location and generation



Multi-sensory ethnography of forms of long-distance engagement

Aim: The next step in the chain of methodological practices will be to ‘follow’ the individual forms of social and political activism directed towards Ukraine, in order to deepen the knowledge about the motivations behind these practices and the role they play in participants’ lives. The focus here is on doing and getting to know different forms of action. The audio-visual tools (film) will be used to go ‘beyond’ the narrative and understand more dynamic forms that reveal embodied and affective practices emerging in response to the war (Jackson, 2012) and provide insight into the ‘texture’ and detail of personal political and civic engagement (Rose, 2007; 247). The visual material in the form of footage will be seen as ‘specified generalisation’ (Becker, 2002) rather than a piece of evidence for researcher’s arguments. As such it will become a complementary material for interpretation and thematic analysis  (Rose, 2007: 246). The material will be edited to produce an ethnographic film developed in mind with the academic and general audiences.


How: This part will involve app. N=15 audio-visual explorations (5 per research location), and the content of each exploration will be discussed and agreed beforehand with the research participants.  The recruitment strategy will involve purposeful sampling from the pool of respondents in WP1. Only those who maintain some form of engagement with Ukraine will be invited to take part in WP2, and only those who feel comfortable with taking part in the audio-visual part. In case, it will be insufficient to recruit only from WP1, the snowball sampling based on the chain of referrals will be in place. The generational divide of the sample will be kept where possible.  Additional ethical consent will be sought as well as permission to disseminate images  and the final cut of the footage will be shown for approval.



Participant observation of ‘social scenes’ of diaspora life 

Aim: This role will be to engage in participant observation of ‘social scenes’ of diaspora life. Social scenes are defined as sites and moments that offer connections with others and where people feel at ease with themselves and able to find intimacy within a larger public sphere (Puwar 2007:253). These social scenes allow us to engage in different types of conversations without feeling the pressure, to understand the diaspora’s collective dynamics in everyday situations, to grasp details that might be ‘taken for granted’ or difficult to talk about in the interview. The goal here is to accompany our respondents to the diaspora-related gatherings, both those with the explicit aim of supporting Ukraine, but also, to other social events of a broader cultural or recreational character and linking various communities.


How: this part will involve app. N=15 ethnographic participant observations (5 per site) where we accompany the participants to earlier agreed social events.  Following Pink (2009) the participant observation will be conducted with attention to all different senses and mindful of cultural meanings attached to various sensory practices. In case, it will be insufficient to recruit only from WP1, the snowball sampling based on the chain of referrals will be in place. The generational divide of the sample will be kept where possible. After each observation, detailed notes will be produced and subsequently coded to undertake thematic analysis (Bryman, 2015).



Digital ethnography of online social networks 

Aim: When thinking about migrants’ connections with diasporic homelands, it is crucial to acknowledge the existence of the online tools that mediate contacts with fellow co-nationals left in the homeland, among fellow co-nationals in the diaspora and elsewhere, and among other people. The online world has become a site for manifesting and nurturing diasporic belonging, enabling migrants to sustain bonds and remain in constant touch, express feelings of intimacy, and closeness despite the territorial distance. Ponzanesi highlights how online communication serves not only as a medium, but also the site of meaning-making for a diaspora, arguing that ‘the coexistence of virtual and embodied sleeves creates new possibilities for reinterpreting migration, not as a mere territorial dislocation, but as being part of imaginaries on the move’ (2020: 982).

How: In WP4, we will undertake a digital ethnography of online connections in relation to participants’ interests/activities concerning the war in Ukraine. We will use the qualitative ego network analysis (Arnaboldi et al 2012) or an alternative tool to map online connections important and relevant for participants’ engagement with the situation in Ukraine. The temporal and spatial aspects will be of special importance here in trying to establish how online networks have changed after the outbreak of the war and to what extent these connections are bounded within the ‘host country’ and ‘home-country’, or linked to other spatialities. A qualitative online social-network analysis (or equivalent) will be conducted (Hertz, Altissimo, 2021). The generational divide will be kept where possible. In each location, the aim is to conduct an social network analysis of N=10 research participants, N=30 in total.



The role of WP5  will be to undertake cross-sectional, comparative and thematic analysis across different research components and sites to provide a holistic synthesis of the findings and to develop theoretical implications stemming from the project. The interviews will be transcribed and translated (where necessary) and together with detailed field notes and footage will be coded using specialist software (Maxqda) to ensure a rigorous and systematic analysis. The synthesis will take place on the micro-level of individual trajectories, meso-level of the diaspora, and on macro-level developing theoretical implications for diaspora and migration studies and political sociology. A detailed typology of different forms of political and civic engagement will be developed taking into account the diaspora’s relationship with the host country, generational differences,  different forms and means of engagement, and unfolding war situation. The WP5 will also critically assess the methodological implications deriving from the project enabling replications and advancement of multi-sensory approaches in diaspora research.


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