Manchester is well known as a city steeped in the history of protest and mobilization, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the city has come together in support of Ukraine over the past few months. But Manchester’s support means more to some city residents than many realize.
Dr Olga Onuch is a lecturer in politics at the University of Manchester. Onuch is of Ukrainian descent and has spent a lot of time in Kyiv. Although based in the heart of the city, she has been advising governments on Ukraine for years – including now, at a time when the need to understand Ukrainian politics and national identity has never been more relevant.
Onuch came to the UK to pursue her postgraduate studies at the London School of Economics (LSE), where she had planned to focus on Latin American politics. But she moved in the year after Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and as someone with ethnic roots in the country, she said it became “weird” for her not to study the protests.
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After working for his doctorate at Oxford, his expertise led to jobs including advising the Ukrainian government. She decided to take up an academic position at the University of Manchester – a place she said seemed “appropriate” for someone studying political engagement.
“It’s a place steeped in the history of people power and protest against engagement,” she said. “It’s so fiercely local, fiercely proud. It’s a place full of people from all over the world from different backgrounds, different races, religions, ethnicities.
“It’s a place where, while the Mancunians have this fierce sense of being, you can very quickly become a Mancunian. That’s, I think, why I stayed here for so many years.
Onuch spent his time at the University of Manchester studying protest and mobilization in Ukraine, including asking the question “When there is discontent, why do some people protest while others cross borders?”. While the world is focused on the country now, hers has been for years, making her an invaluable source of knowledge and understanding of the country.
Speaking to the same Ukrainians over a number of years, his research has drawn some fascinating conclusions about why some Ukrainians are more willing to protest than others.
“There seems to be an effect of people who are more supportive of democracy, who see it as the only system for their country, and who generally have these liberal democratic views, while being actively engaged in the politics of their country,” said- she explained.
“Those who have participated in mass protests are the most likely to say they are ready to protest against the government if necessary. The difference between these people who are ready to migrate but who do not protest is that they themselves do not have this history of commitment. Or they don’t have a strong sense of democracy as the only system for their country.
Onuch said the patterns seen in those staying in and fleeing Ukraine today align with the findings of his work.
“We see that what motivates them is still this sense of civic duty. the things they think are their civic duty, or may be very small in our eyes, not a civic duty at all – the civic duty to stay and take care of that museum, that café, that garden.
She said those who most often chose to flee were those who had children, who told her that if they didn’t have children, they would stay.
Onuch has also been involved in a project with a number of other academics that functions as an early warning system to alert journalists or policy makers to displacement events, major human rights abuse events, major humanitarian needs events and major civilian events. resistance.
The system uses social media to track certain keywords and images in the regions, which means the team is often aware of incidents in the field several hours before mainstream media. Onuch was asked to join as an expert on Ukraine and says she has been working there “day and night” with her team since the week after the war began.
“We, along with our colleagues and bellingcat and other places, will hopefully be able to contribute to what is an extremely sad and depressing yet rigorous and detailed systematic account of these events,” she said.
Onuch called the research work some of the most “difficult and depressing” she had ever done, saying some parts had been “extremely traumatic” – especially for those with family and friends in Ukraine.
“Using your professional background to do this is one thing,” she added, “but researching human rights abuses when that’s literally where I spent New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve, literally where I would go on weekends, for brunches with friends at their house…it’s a whole other level.
When she had a particularly difficult day, Onuch said it was the city and the people of Manchester who got her through – often without even knowing it.
“At many times, this research becomes extremely personal. And in those times, you actually have to step away from your computer, your laptop, and your laptop and you have to face reality to bring yourself back. You just need to see happy people having a pint on a Saturday to help you cope.
“All these Mancunians who have no idea that when I go to buy my flowers or my coffee speak in the North Quarter that they help me out and allow me to continue my research in a very strange way” , she said. “And more specifically, when you enter the northern district, you see people taped Ukrainian flags everywhere. It really helps.
As she discusses the more personal side of her research, Onuch’s love for the city in which she has built her life becomes apparent. The conversation is moving but hopeful, and as we both pause to reflect on the weight of her work, it’s clear that Manchester has become a treasured haven for her.
Onuch took photos of all the Ukrainian flags and street art around Manchester and sent them to Ukraine, which were then broadcast on television in the country. His message to the city was one of deep gratitude.
“Thank you Manchester,” she said with a smile. “It’s really corny, but it’s true. Just yesterday I went to my local florist and now they know I really want yellow and blue flowers and they put them aside for me. It’s the little things. That’s how people are here.