Outdoor portrait of professor Eric Martin

Bucknell Professor Teams with Ukrainian Colleague to Study Ukraine’s Civic Response to War

April 19, 2022

by Mike Ferlazzo

Freeman College of Management Professor Eric Martin previously served in the Peace Corps in Poland and worked in Ukraine examining the EuroMaidan protests of 2014. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

At the start of February, Bucknell Freeman College of Management Professor Eric Martin had been collaborating with Kateryna Zarembo, a lecturer at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine, on why Ukraine ranked so low in traditional measures of civil society. But on Feb. 23, their focus changed with the Russian invasion.

As bombs dropped and Russian troops made their first advances into the country, Martin and Zarembo — who remains in the warn-torn nation — note evidence of civil society suddenly emerging in Ukraine.

Kateryna Zarembo

Kateryna Zarembo had left her Kyiv home in the middle of the night to travel to relative safety in Western Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Zarembo

"With one of us seeing it on the ground in Kyiv while the other watched on CNN, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine exposed countless acts of heroism," Martin says. "Starting on Feb. 24, Ukraine became a unified defense-oriented civil society machine. Ukraine's armed forces and territorial defense units provided primary protection, but 'ordinary' citizens bolstered their efforts in countless ways."

Measures of civil society refer to activity that takes place in the space between the state and the individual, according to Martin. It is the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and is typically measured in terms of memberships, donations and volunteering with officially registered non-governmental organizations. It also includes the actions of businesses, civic groups, associations, teams and clubs.

Martin and Zarembo now see Ukrainian military success resulting, in part, from a unified civic-minded behavior that cannot be captured in polls and surveys.

That certainly wasn't the case before the Russian invasion.

"One of the reasons Ukraine had ranked so low before the war is that traditional measures of civil society are generally low for post-socialist places," says Martin, who researches civil society, post-conflict transition and refugees. "The logic is that the government does most of the stuff, so you don't have as much volunteering. And nonprofits or nongovernmental organizations tended to mean 'anti-government' organizations — not like here in the U.S."

Martin and Zarembo had been working for three weeks on ways to capture better measurements of civil society before the invasion. When war broke out, Martin didn't hear from Zarembo for four days until she communicated again, reporting that she had left her Kyiv home in the middle of the night to travel to relative safety in Western Ukraine. Once there, she urged Martin to continue their research by documenting how a more unified Ukraine was providing civic resistance to the advancing Russians.

"We've documented individual acts of bravery that inspire us and will be etched in our collective consciousness marking the power of Ukrainians at war," Martin says. "Meanwhile, prominent Ukrainians channeled their popularity in support for the resistance. Throughout the country, ordinary citizens, as well as businesses and other establishments, all seem to be leveraging their skills and resources to support their fellow citizens."

Those acts include some by Zarembo, who found shelters for displaced people, even as she became one of them herself. She remains in the country while fundraising, assisting evacuations and telling her country's story to media outlets across the globe.

"She is not alone. From her perspective on the ground in Ukraine, everyone is busy seeking, organizing or fundraising for ammunition, gear and humanitarian aid," Martin says. "We find these examples compelling because they represent collective action, examples of what scholars refer to as a sense of community responsibility. Community settings often evoke a sense of duty and obligation. We also feel responsible to the communities of which we are members."

The researchers report that in a matter of days, Ukraine experienced a complete unification of volunteers, NGOs, businesses, the military and the government. The traditional lines that normally separate formal and informal, state and private have blurred. They have found public, private and nonprofit entities to be working together towards the same end.

"The space between family and the state, the classic definition of civil society, is almost completely aligned," Martin says.

"This calamity awakened a fierce sense of civic responsibility to defend community and nation," wrote Zarembo. "The sense of responsibility that Ukrainians have for each other and for their country, which we are witnessing today at an all-time high, fascinates us as civil society researchers and has changed our thinking about what constitutes civil society and how we and others have underestimated the strength of Ukraine's civil society. That civic strength provides the foundation that, coupled with fierce military resistance, has impressed the world, and bodes well for the future of this struggling nation."

Martin previously served in the Peace Corps in Poland and worked in Ukraine examining the EuroMaidan protests of 2014. He hopes to visit the region soon to study the Ukrainian refugee crisis and continue the current line of work on civil society.