Wartime volunteering and social change in postsocialist Ukraine
Jarymowycz, Christina Olha
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Within societies at war, the source of social change is not confined to the front lines of battle or the political leadership, nor are the sole effects of warfare the violent loss of life and political upheaval. War also leads to shifts in social relations and narratives through processes driven by civilian actors. In this dissertation, I examine how social life was transformed during war through the case of civilian volunteering in the Donbas conflict by drawing upon feminist scholarship on war, the sociology of gender, postsocialist studies, and the sociological literature on volunteering. This study is grounded in qualitative research conducted in Kyiv, Ukraine from September 2015 through June 2016, including eighty-two semi-structured interviews with volunteers, participant observation in volunteer networks, and secondary data derived from social media, news organizations, and government releases. My research expands what it means to study wartime change by bringing civilians’ lives and experiences into the center of such research. As volunteering entered the forefront of social life in Ukraine, it became a site for reimagining state-society relations alongside ideals of civic engagement and state care. I argue that the hybrid discourses of volunteers reflected a combination of neoliberal concepts and socialist demands that were characteristic of a borderlands, where multiple cross-cutting discourses are negotiated by local actors. The central role of volunteers within the war effort in Ukraine also brought visibility and status to the contributions of women, who are often invisible or constructed as secondary within wartime narratives. In effect, volunteering marked a space of gendered change during the Donbas conflict. I argue that women’s volunteering both challenged and reinforced hierarchical gender structures while creating a societal space for experiencing human connection amidst conflict. My research contributes to the global study of gender and war by investigating paths towards transforming gender hierarchies. I further work to shift the feminist focus to the local realities of wartime actors, and not just questions of women’s empowerment.
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