‘It’s about surviving. It’s about continuing our work.’

Written by
Denise Valenti, Office of Communications
Dec. 14, 2022

Huddled with her mother beneath old blankets and broken furniture in a basement in Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, under siege by Russian troops and with bombs exploding on the residential streets outside, Yana Prymachenko felt the eerie resonance of her World War II scholarship.

Prymachenko is a Ukrainian historian of Eastern Europe, World War II and the Holocaust. “I have read a lot about this,” she said. “Now I also have this real experience. I’ve read the diaries of people who survived the war in World War II, and I knew exactly what was going on.”

After 10 days in Chernihiv — which was besieged by Russian troops almost immediately after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine — and five harrowing days living in a neighbor’s basement to avoid Russian shelling, Prymachenko and her mother escaped, finding safety in Poland. Concerned primarily with her survival, Prymachenko did not know at the time how she would continue her scholarly pursuits as a senior researcher for the Institute of the History of Ukraine, part of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine.

Fortunately, Prymachenko had friends in Poland who helped her and her mother get settled. Then one told Prymachenko about Princeton University’s efforts to provide scholars like herself with safety, stability and an academic home amidst the war and persecution resulting from the invasion.

“I was suggested to this position in Princeton — it was incredible,” she said. “I said, ‘Wow, what do I need to do?’”