"During difficult times, it is important to turn to science"

17. January 2023 Alumni
Oksana and Tymofiy Havryliv from Ukraine, two successful OeAD alumni who have established themselves in Austria, talk about the impact of the war in Ukraine and how they deal with it from afar. Oksana is a Germanist and researches Viennese and cursing (verbal aggression and verbal violence) at the University of Vienna. Tymofiy is a writer and has just published his fifth novel.

Our team conducted a moving interview with both of them at the OeAD House. Here you can find the first part of this long conversation.


Oksana and Tymofiy, what are you currently doing to maintain your mental health?

Oksana: The first months after 24 February were difficult for everyone. We worried about our parents who stayed there even though we invited them to join us. My parents were often here and know this city, but especially in these difficult times they wanted to stay in Ukraine, also because of the other relatives they care for. At first I should have signed a contract for a popular science book, but then I said I cannot write a funny book about cursing now. I could only write a text for the newspaper DiePresse (note: "Language in wartime: Damn you! Die a miserable death! Croak!") and only deal with the subject of language and violence, language and war. And that was like being in a frenzy, spring was passing, suddenly the magnolia was in bloom. "What, the magnolia is blooming already?" Then when I communicated with my friends on Facebook, I saw that many felt the same way and wondered at the market about strawberries in March, for example, and then realised "My goodness, it's already June!" This spring was somehow like being stolen, that's what many said. It was only in the summer that many came around, and it was the same for me, the whole spring just went by.

Tymofiy: The real asset of Ukraine after the fall of communism and independence was peace. That was the greatest value for us, because we had difficulties in the economy, in the social sphere, altogether quite big upheavals. It was not so easy to say goodbye to the Soviet system and its structures. Even if you were talented, you were quite strongly influenced and affected by this Soviet reality. And subsequently, peace was what Ukrainians really valued, and Putin took that away from us. In other words, this is the real and greatest crime.

In this situation, it is important to always stay in contact with relatives, acquaintances and friends and to help as much as possible. Keeping in touch, talking, that helps and supports quite a lot. But also targeted help, as far as it is needed, that is also quite important. One should not close oneself off, not disconnect oneself from the world. On the contrary, work is a very good way to educate oneself and to be scientifically active. It's very supportive and gives you strength.

Oksana: I was torn at first, I wanted to help everywhere. I translated for the refugees and organisations and also organised various appointments for people privately. Then I saw that many people felt the same way. On the social platforms of Ukrainians in Austria, someone wrote: "Guys, we each have to do what he or she can do best, otherwise it will be a mess." And then I thought to myself that since I deal with issues like verbal violence, with the connections between verbal and physical violence, and see war as the highest form of physical violence, I decided to deal with it and write texts and give interviews on TV programmes, like Barbara Stöckl. I thought I would concentrate on this "information front". Verbal violence is, after all, not just savage insults and disparagement, it can also be done in neutral language, such as by spreading false rumours. Kremlin propaganda does nothing but spread false rumours. It is this verbal violence that led to the war and continues to accompany it.

Returning to life

Many people, both here and in Ukraine, felt guilty about doing certain everyday things. In April, someone on the Facebook page of Ukrainians in Austria asked if anyone could recommend a good manicure in Vienna. Then comments like: "Manicure? There is a war going on in Ukraine!" popped up immediately. People had a guilty conscience about doing something for themselves. From summer onwards, this changed to "We have to get back to our lives". An acquaintance of mine is a musician, he is funny, never spares with curse words and wrote: "Guys, we won't let the ' *******' (Note OeAD: curse word, which we do NOT publish here.) get us down. I bought such cool shoes in winter and didn't dare to put them on because of the war. But now I'll put on these shoes, now I'll play music and I'll dance on the balcony. Because life has to go on." From one extreme to the other.

Tymofiy: Out of defiance towards the situation. I am sure that Putin and Russia have already lost. They have failed because of the solidarity of Ukrainians with each other, and the world with Ukraine and Ukrainians. It will also fail militarily, in my view, but for me the failure is important because of this solidarity. That is to say, it is not as he imagined it. The intimidation has not helped. Even these cruel brutal bombardments of the infrastructure, they only bring people closer together. They sit there without light, but they find each other, approach each other, talk to each other and also help each other.

Oksana: I discovered photography as a hobby during the pandemic. For me, it's a package together with Nordic walking in the Türkenschanzpark. That's where I take photos. I specialise in herons. There are two herons and my favourite photos are the moment when they fly up. I wait until they fly away and it's totally relaxing. I see the heron, I fix it with my camera and I feel like I'm in a daydream, everything else becomes unimportant.

Tymofiy: Discovering nature is a remedy in this situation, quite an important one.

Oksana:  It calms me down a lot. I didn't do it all spring. But then in the summer, when people said, "We're going to get manicures again! We'll put on new shoes! We're dancing to the music!", I took my camera, went to the park and finally took pictures again.

What advice would you give to students who are here now and perhaps have a guilty conscience?

Oksana: They should work on themselves and their own education. All skills and knowledge will be needed for the reconstruction of Ukraine and will benefit the country.

We were OeAD scholarship holders during difficult times for Ukraine. In the 90s, people didn't get paid wages for months and were also without electricity, although you can't compare that with now. It was difficult times then in a different way, and in difficult times I think it's important to turn to science and work on your personal development. Because the difficult times will end, and then we have to rebuild Ukraine. The people who are in Austria now come back with this knowledge and the country needs these qualified people. I was not a Franz Werfel scholar (note: like Tymofiy), but I almost feel like one. In the course of the 90s I had short-term scholarships three times, Tymofiy has had a longer scholarship and we managed to do that, I don't know if it was allowed, but there were two of us with one scholarship (editor's note: on the part of the OeAD it is allowed to stay afloat with one scholarship for two). We managed to get by here with an OeAD scholarship for two, working in the libraries on our dissertations, working desperately.

The 90s were hard times

And the 90s were really hard times. Wages were not paid. Or if you worked in a factory, you were paid with what you made. For example, Tymofiy's father's company made household appliances. Then they switched production to umbrellas, which he used to get his wages for a while. I still have this umbrella, I've had it for 10 years now, it can withstand the Viennese wind. A student friend of ours, for example, worked as an interpreter at a lamp factory in Ukraine, then received masses of lamps and had to sell them on the market.

In any case, Tymofiy describes these times in his new novel "ACETON". Someone gets his wages in the form of children's toys. The novel was published in Ukraine in November, but should have been out by the end of February. It was already printed in a printing house in Kharkiv, but the first edition was bombed.

Tymofiy: A Russian missile directly hit the printing house, I don't think there were any employees there, thank God, but everything was destroyed. Then it took the publisher half a year to bring out a new, second edition in another printing house. The novel also has references to Vienna. One of the cities in which the story takes place is called "Weinberg". Vienna was the model for this city, where the protagonist, a surgeon, made his career.

We currently have a lot of Ukrainian scholarship holders. Is there a message, a tip or something similar that you would like to pass on?

Tymofiy: I would advise the students now to study hard, to be curious, to awaken interests in themselves and in others. And always stay in contact with Ukrainians, through conversations, but also through concrete help.

Oksana: I remember, our older son went to primary school in Ukraine, and there the school year starts on 1 September. In 2014, we were in Ukraine on 1 September and we went to the school he used to attend. There is always a nice party in the schoolyard on the first and last day of school. It was the first year of the war then, and the headmaster said that in difficult times it is best to acquire knowledge, and I agree with him. In difficult times one should concentrate more on education. Because we will need this education after these difficult times.

Now another sad story comes to mind: On the last day of school, the whole school gathers in the schoolyard. There are speeches, poems, music and singing. Now in this school year 2022 there was already war, and in Kharkiv everything was destroyed. There were such touching scenes of a Kharkiv school all in ruins. Students gathered in the courtyard for the Leavers Ball, and they danced in the courtyard of this destroyed school.

Did you ever plan to go back to Ukraine?

Oksana: Yes, I came to Austria with the Elise Richter programme for four years. I remember that we signed the lease for four years instead of the usual five. We definitely wanted to go back. And then after the four years we had to extend and we are still in the same flat. We want to go back, of course, but when is not yet certain. Tymofiy has actually lived more between the two countries, I have been in Austria more in these 10 years.

Tymofiy: I've been back and forth between Ukraine and Austria quite often. Most recently I worked at the Academy of Sciences in the literature department. It worked out with the commuting, because with my research work I am not so strongly tied to a particular workplace.

Oksana: I would also like to say that I personally and the Ukrainian academic community would like to express our sincere gratitude for the OeAD's solidarity with Ukraine and support for Ukrainian researchers within the framework of the special "Ernst Mach-Ukraine" programme. A big thank you also to the University of Vienna, which also actively supports Ukrainian students, teachers and researchers, and other institutions with special programmes for Ukrainian researchers (FWF, ÖAW).

We thank you very much for your time.


Tymofiy Havryliv studied German, literature and philosophy in Ukraine and Germany and came to Austria with a Franz Werfel scholarship. In addition to writing numerous books of his own, he has translated many Austrian authors such as Nestroy, Celan, Trakl, Roth, Bernhard and Jelinek into Ukrainian. His fifth novel has just been published.

The former OeAD scholarship holder and Germanist Oksana Havryliv researches Viennese and cursing full-time and teaches at the University of Vienna. Her latest book, "Schimpfen zwischen Scherz und Schmerz" (Cursing between Joke and Pain), was published by Picus-Verlag in 2022 as part of the "Wiener Vorlesungen" (Vienna Lectures).