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Former visiting scholar teaches journalism from a bomb shelter

Iryna Domnenko

Iryna DomnenkoBy Sarah Baxter

A visiting fellow from Ukraine has revealed how she shared lessons from Stony Brook University with students while sheltering from Russian attacks. Iryna Domnenko was lecturing journalism students on March 16 at the VG Korolenko National Pedagogical University in her home town of Poltava when air raid sirens sounded and her class was forced to take refuge in a bomb shelter.

“When I asked the students if they wanted to wait out the air raid or if we could adapt and continue, they said, ‘Let’s continue,’” Domnenko wrote on Facebook. The students had been learning about “Media literacy and disinformation: How Russian colonial and imperial narratives still play with our minds.” 

Domnenko developed this training module while at the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting last semester on a 2023 US state department and Irex community solutions program. She participated in classes, gave presentations and shared her experience of Russia’s war on Ukraine with students and faculty at the School of Communication and Journalism.

During her impromptu air raid shelter class, Domnenko also drew on the work of Ecaterina Miscisina from the anti-disinformation group, WatchDog, Moldova, a 2022 visiting Colvin Center fellow. At Stony Brook, Miscisina wrote a paper on Russian president Vladimir Putin’s false narratives about the war and devised a “spot the difference” quiz comparing Putin’s statements with those of former Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson.

“Our exercises about Putin and Tucker Carlson were heard by everyone who was with us in the bomb shelter,” Domnenko said. The shelter was shared with children dressed in carnival costumes from a party at a nearby school. “So in the background, children dressed as foxes, bunnies and hedgehogs were running around.” 

The pace of Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians has intensified. “Because they can’t win on the battlefield, Russians are choosing the tactic of shelling civilians to take revenge, to undermine the mental stability of the military who are defending us on the frontline but are worried about their families back home,” Domnenko said.

Two years have passed since the outbreak of war. On March 12, Ukrainians experienced their 1000th air raid alarm. “I vaguely remember how it feels to study without a potential missile threat,” said Kateryna Glavatskikh, a second-year journalism student. “I try to keep myself busy with something, like learning English, reading books, writing texts. Because when you’re bored and anxious, negative thoughts are always in the background.”

Anna Bida, another second-year journalism student, added, “If we get hysterical every time, if we worry too much, we will simply go crazy. Studying in such anxious conditions brings us closer and builds a horizontal student-teacher relationship. Yes, we are scared, but when I traveled to neighboring countries, I realized I wanted to live in Ukraine. This is my home. My family, my three cats and dog live here.”

Domnenko is an accomplished dancer, who attended classes in New York City last fall. In Poltava, “I find ballroom dancing is very good at relieving stress,” she said. “I have rituals, nice things that I do. I run a podcast with a close friend, and our conversations are something like psychotherapy for the two of us and our listeners. I support local small businesses. I go to coffee shops, cinemas and craft stores. I also study and read.

“I do everything to make my life meaningful, so that even if I die tomorrow from a Russian missile, I have lived my best life.”

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