Ukraine and Decolonial Thought: History, Culture, Political Economy

Publication date 15.12.2023



Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has prompted many to reconsider Ukraine’s relationship to the question of what it means to “decolonize.” This present-day revaluation of Ukraine’s complex imperial inheritances has centered primarily on Ukraine’s historical relationship to the Russian Empire (and the Russocentric Soviet Union), often to the exclusion of Ukraine’s Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and other imperial inheritances. This tragic moment of reflection raises a number of bedeviling questions. How do we narrate a decolonial history of Ukraine? Is it possible, or desirable, to disentangle Ukrainian culture from empires of the past and present? Can we imagine a future political and economic order for Ukraine that is not wholly dependent upon more powerful global and regional actors?

This course juxtaposes the arguments of influential decolonial theorists against case studies in Ukrainian history, culture, and political economy. Students will gain exposure to texts written by African, Indian, South American, Indigenous, and Eastern European thinkers on the subject of decolonization. In parallel, we will study key Ukrainian artistic, political, and social movements from queer decolonial activism to calls to redefine the canon of classical music, art history, literature, and cinema. We consider debates about “decommunization,” the racialized dynamics of migration, and what it means to call oneself Ukrainian after 2022. Students will design and carry out independent and collaborative research projects related to the course themes.


Does Ukraine Have a History?

Class 1: Introductions

In class:

Read and discuss: Sophie Pinkham, “The Playful Propaganda of the History of UkraineThe New Yorker (2020)

Class 2: Lecture by Prof. Moynahan

Read before class:

  • Anderson, “Imagined Communities”: read as much as you can but at least pages 5-7
  • Graeber and Wengrow, excerpt from The Dawn of Everything

von Hagen, “From Imperial Russia to Colonial Ukraine,” p. 173-180.

Decolonial Theory: Key Concepts

Survivance, Resilience and Resurgence

Settler Colonialism

Land Ethics

Ukraine and the Politics of Representation

Contested Narratives of WWII

Ukraine and the Empire of Capital

Ukrainian Revolutions

Institution Building

Trauma and Testimony

Responses to the War in Poetry

Responses to the War in Music

Responses to the War in the Visual Arts / Queer & Feminist Activism

Civic Activism! / Against ‘Resourcification’

Civic Activism: Present and Future!


We acknowledge that our class takes place on the sacred homelands of the Munsee and Muhheaconneok people, who are the original stewards of this land. You can learn more about Bard’s engagement with the original stewards of this land, and read the College’s official Land Acknowledgement developed in cooperation with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, at this link:


Participation – 25%
Weekly Discussion Posts – 25%
Analysis of an Artwork- 20% [collaborative]
Final Projects – 30% [collaborative, and please note that this percentage will include the incremental assignments that lead up to the final project]


These are short descriptions of the assignments. We will circulate more detailed prompts ahead of each deadline in class.

Weekly Discussion Posts

By 9:30 AM before our Thursday meetings, you will post a short response on Brightspace.  Choose a brief quotation from one of the assigned texts. Ideally, it should be just one or two sentences. Please copy the quotation at the top of your post and include the page numbers. Then, explain why you chose this passage: did you find it helpful or confusing, striking and elegant ,or just plain wrong?

The explanation should not be longer than 1-3 sentences. Each of these will be graded on a 2-point scale, in which 2=you did it; 1=you barely did it; 0=you did not do it.

Analysis of an Artwork

In pairs: please pick one work of art by a Ukrainian artist working in any medium. It can be a single song or an album, a painting, a short film, an installation, etc. that appeals to you. Devise a creative response to the work that you’ve chosen in a medium that feels comfortable to you. Then, in individually authored 2-3 double-spaced pages, discuss whether the original work you chose is doing any kind of decolonial work, and how your response may be enacting a decolonial critique as well. Be as detailed and precise as possible. Make sure to engage in close analysis of the work’s form and not just its content. How is it using the affordances of the medium? What makes it work as a song rather than a video, etc.? Full assignment prompts will be distributed and discussed in class.

Collaborative Final Projects

We will ask you to design a virtual exhibition on Ukrainian art and decolonial practice. We will ask you to curate the objects you want to include and write short texts to accompany each one. Projects should include creative and interactive components. You will work on the exhibition both in small groups and workshop as a whole class. We will devote substantial time in the second half of the semester towards conceptualizing and developing these final projects.


You do not need to purchase any texts. All course materials will be available as PDFs on our Brightspace course site.



This class will benefit greatly from your thoughtful, sustained, and enthusiastic participation. To be optimally prepared, readings and other assignments should be given sufficient time.

“Participation” comprises a large portion of your final grade and includes not only adding your voice to class discussion, but also listening and responding to your peers to enhance class discussions–and doing the same in online fora.

Please come to class with at least one passage from a reading that you would like to discuss, or a question from one or more of the readings. If you need support in gathering the skills or courage to participate in real time, please come to office hours, so that we can strategize together. The following is a rubric that outlines how participation will be graded:

A: You contribute to nearly every class meeting, raising questions or problems that demonstrate your deep engagement with the readings and assignments. You are able to respond to the comments of others and contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be substantially less productive.

B: You contribute sometimes, with comments that demonstrate good preparation. You are able to respond to the comments of others and contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be less productive.

C: You contribute rarely, offering comments that demonstrate some preparation. You rarely respond to the comments of others and only occasionally contribute to the flow of discussion. Without your participation, our discussion would be about the same.

D: You contribute very rarely or not at all, making it difficult to evaluate your preparedness. Without your participation, our discussion would be unchanged.

Also D: You contribute to discussions frequently but your comments demonstrate unsatisfactory preparation and do not enhance the flow of conversation.

Office Hours

Office hours are a great time to come get acquainted, ask questions about things related to our class, or discuss topics related to your academic life more generally. We strongly encourage each of you to schedule a time to meet with one of us during the first month of the semester.


We have a limited number of class sessions, so your presence and participation are critical. Everyone is allowed two unexcused absences. You do not need to email us if you choose to avail yourself of these. Beyond that, absences are allowed only in the following three circumstances: serious illness, family emergency, or religious observance. In all three cases, please email or come see your section leader to let us know what is going on.


Please refrain from using your computer or any other devices for any purposes during class sessions unless you have accommodations from the Office of Student Disability Access Services at Bard. Being present is the best way to show respect for the professor, for your classmates, and for the task of learning.


Please submit all work by uploading it to the relevant place on Brightspace and, when asked to, be prepared to bring a hard copy to class. Late work will result in half a letter grade reduction for every day it is overdue. Work will be accepted up to one week after the due date. It’s almost always better to submit less-than-perfect work than to delay.


Academic integrity is something Bard  takes very seriously, and ethical practices are at the heart of a course like ours. So, to put it simply: when in doubt, cite. If you paraphrase, cite. If you are borrowing ideas, cite. We will cover some of the basics of how to cite in class. If specific questions about attribution of ideas or intellectual property arise, please bring your questions to me or raise them in class. Below is Bard’s official policy on plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

All members of Bard’s community are expected to follow the College’s policy on Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty. Please review the policy here:

Plagiarism—any instance of passing off someone else’s ideas as your own—will carry severe consequences. This extends to use of ChatGPT for assignments.

To plagiarize is to “steal and pass off as one’s own the ideas, words, or writings of another.” This dictionary definition is quite straightforward, but it is possible for students to plagiarize inadvertently if they do not carefully distinguish between their own ideas or paper topics and those of others. The Bard faculty regards acts of plagiarism very seriously. Listed below are guidelines to help students avoid committing plagiarism.

  • All work submitted must be the author’s. Authors should be able to trace all of their sources and defend the originality of the final argument presented in the work. When taking notes, students should record full bibliographical material pertaining to the source and should record the page reference for all notes, not just quotations.
  • All phrases, sentences, and excerpts that are not the author’s must be identified with quotation marks or indentation.
  • Footnotes, endnotes, and parenthetical documentation (“in-noting”) must identify the source from which the phrases, sentences, and excerpts have been taken.
  • All ideas and data that are not the author’s must also be attributed to a particular source, in either a footnote, endnote, or in-note (see above).
  • Bibliographies must list all sources used in a paper. Students who have doubts as to whether they are providing adequate documentation of their sources should seek guidance from their instructor before preparing a final draft of the assignment.


Bard College is committed to providing equal access to all students. If you anticipate issues related to the format or requirements of this course, please email us. We would like us to discuss ways to ensure your full participation in the course. Together, we can plan how best to support your learning and coordinate your accommodations.

Students who have already been approved to receive academic accommodations through disability services should share their accommodation letter and make arrangements to meet as soon as possible.

Have a learning difference or disability – including mental health, medical, or physical impairment – and are not yet registered? Please contact Disability Support Services at [email protected]. The Coordinator will confidentially discuss the process to establish reasonable accommodations.

Campus Resources

  • Stevenson Library [] The Stevenson Library’s mission is to be an active partner in the intellectual work of Bard’s students, faculty, and staff. We deliver one-on-one research support, host collaborative study spaces, and develop collections of books, journals, and periodicals that help all users become more resourceful, more independent and more original scholars. We take a campus leadership role in thoughtfully applying emerging media to the task of turning information into knowledge. Librarians can help you find scholarly and non-scholarly sources, help you focus your research questions, etc.
  • Bard Counseling Center [] The Bard Counseling Service is here to support you during your time at Bard. We offer individual short-term counseling as well as a variety of talks, workshops, therapy and support groups, walk-in counseling options, trainings and 24/7 crisis services. We also serve as a referral source for students to regional experts in areas such as psychological testing, eating disorder programs, addiction services, long term therapy and psychiatric services. Our counselors are highly experienced, licensed professionals, each of whom brings specific areas of expertise, experience and passion to our community.
  • BRAVE [] BRAVE is a professionally directed student-service organization whose members provide anonymous and confidential crisis intervention, supportive counseling, advocacy, and ongoing education to the Bard community. Although BRAVE staff members receive particular training in issues relating to sexual assault, sexual harassment, relationship violence, and sexuality, BRAVE counselors also receive training in eating disorders, depression and suicide, sexual orientation, loneliness, isolation, anxiety, and social and academic issues. BRAVE services are available on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis. To contact a BRAVE counselor, call security at ext.7777 and ask to speak to a BRAVE Counselor.
  • Learning Commons [] The Learning Commons is Bard’s inclusive, socially-structured space for sharing your learning process with peers and extending learning beyond the classroom. We are home to Bard’s writing center, and our tutors can coach you in person in the related practices of reading, writing, and revision. Your First Year Seminar section may have a Learning Commons-trained writing tutor (Writing Fellow) assigned to it. The fellow will work with you one-on-one at any stage of your writing process to help take your writing to the next level and to develop your skills in college composition and revision. We also provide collaborative peer writing support.
  • Bard Chaplaincy [] Spiritual Life at Bard College actively promotes and develops a richer understanding of what we believe and how to use our beliefs to transform the world. The Chaplaincy department offers spiritual support for all students and members of the Bard community, providing ways to explore faith academically, often with a focus on social issues, and always with an emphasis on diversity and openness. The Chaplaincy’s staff consists of a Christian (Episcopal) chaplain, a Rabbi, a Muslim chaplain, and a Buddhist chaplain. Each chaplain offers religious services and/or opportunities to deepen students’ faith and build community. We are also available for pastoral counseling and conversation. For more information, contact Mary Grace Williams, Chaplain of the College, at [email protected]