Spotlight on Presidential Scholar Award Recipient Oleksii Rudenko

Oleksii Rudenko is a third-year PhD candidate in Comparative History at CEU. His doctoral dissertation focuses on the classical tradition and emergence of the myths of 'national' origins in East-Central Europe in the 15th-17th centuries, which became one of the pillars of future nation-formation in the region.

Rudenko completed his Bachelor’s degree in History at the Kyiv National Shevchenko University in Ukraine with training at the University of Regensburg (Germany) and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), and completed the Erasmus Mundus Joint Degree in Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow, University of Tartu and Jagiellonian University in Kraków. Since 2016 he has led an NGO project of night theatrical tours devoted to cultural heritage and the history of Ukraine, called "Night at the University" in Kyiv. Currently Rudenko volunteers for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.

What does this honor mean for you?

First of all, it's a recognition of my activities in both academia and civil society. It is also a sign of support for the Invisible University for Ukraine (IUFU), where I have been mentoring and coordinating since the spring term of 2022. In other circumstances it would be also a chance to be physically together with a network of scholars, but at this moment I must be at a distance from Kyiv. I hope in the future I will have that option.

Can you say more about your experience participating in the Invisible University for Ukraine?

This was one of the first responses from the CEU community to the outbreak of the war to mitigate endangered education for students in Ukraine. My work there is to teach, mentor and communicate with the students, and also coordinate the mentoring part of the program, which, according to reviews of the program, was particularly helpful for the students coming from Ukraine. I gained a lot from these discussions too and I see how motivated and educated our students are! This impressed me, and I noticed that we have contributed to the development of their research interests through the persistence by the IUFU.

Education has to continue even – or especially – in times of war. For me it was a great chance to listen to other professors, and to meet people even if virtually. I am very happy that CEU has launched this enterprise and that I have been able to contribute and apply the knowledge I have acquired at the university.

What was your route to CEU?

When I began to look for PhD programs, I was beginning my studies in Estonia. I had read a lot about CEU and the professors I contacted in advance helped me to identify that it was a good fit. Later, I applied for a conference that was at CEU’s Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies and it was one of the best conferences I've ever attended with a friendly community in Budapest. It was the end of May, 2019, and I appreciated the attitude, intellectual pursuit and the relations between people at CEU that I noticed there. I'm extremely happy because this choice is well suited for me.

What drives you in your work?

In academia, intellectual curiosity is the primary driver. I aim to bring Ukrainian historiography into the academic debate to writing that is mostly in English. I can see with my research that I can integrate different methodologies and apply them to Eastern and Central European contexts in civil society. I have a sense of duty and justice in my work, especially for the cause of Ukraine.

What advice do you have for other applying to the scholarship?

Since academic achievements are not the only criteria, one must be active in several other forms of life and service. So, the broader your horizons, the more chances you might have for such a scholarship.

What else would you like to express?

Two things have been on my mind over the past eight months. First is that every institution such as CEU is a corporation (in its medieval sense) where we all have to develop and keep a sense of belonging to the community, with shared ideals as an institution and collaboration of everyone.

Second, I would like to use this opportunity to remind everyone that unfortunately the war in Ukraine has not stopped yet and we depend on the support a free democratic world more than ever - by sharing information, donating or helping in some way, everyone can now participate in something that will be noted later in the history textbooks. This is an opportunity to become a part of history that is unfolding in front of our eyes. This is my main message and another driving force for me in my activities.

The Presidential Scholars Fund was established by Michael Ignatieff and Zsuzsanna Zsohar. It supports four Presidential Graduate Research Awards for exceptional master’s and Doctoral students whose research shows promise for the next generation. The Fund also awards two scholarships per year to incoming bachelor's students demonstrating exceptional academic credentials and leadership promise.