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Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

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Winona State University's Newspaper since 1919

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Ukrainian Identity Paid for by Blood: Keynote Lecture with Lev Golinkin

People file into the SLC auditorium on October 18, 2023. They buzz with excitement as they find their seats. Then, the person who they are all there to see takes the front of the room, and everyone falls silent. The author of the common book, The Backpack, A Bear, And Eight Crates of Vodka, Lev Golinkin, came to Winona State University to discuss both his book and his childhood as a refugee.

The Common Book program has been in place at Winona State University (WSU) for the past 18 years. It has been used to explore current even topics and bring together the WSU campus and the Winona community. This semester’s Common Book was a memoir written by Lev Golinkin that explore his life as a child, having to flee Ukraine during the final decade of the Soviet Union. It also talks of how Golinkin retraced his family’s history through multiple different countries to understand his past by finding the people who fought for his freedom.

This book has world-wide recognition and was used as the common book to explore both the political climates around the world relating to the crisis in Ukraine. It also related to college students with a story about self-discovery.

The Director of the Common Book program at WSU is Andrew Higl, an English professor here at WSU. Higl found that this common book was going to make a significant impact on many people at WSU and in the Winona community.

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“For so many of our students, making the big transition from high school to college, they are figuring out who they are as well (even if it is on a smaller scale for many),” Higl said. “I think the book also helps us develop empathy for international students and immigrants in our community who are trying to wrestle with the same “who am I” questions while also negotiating cultural differences and language barriers.

Author Lev Golinkin did a 15-minute speech where he talked about how topics and things he has gone through relate back to students in WSU. This was followed by a 45-minute Q + A where both students and community members were able to ask Golinkin questions about his book and about his life. Though there were questions that mended the two together.

Golinkin found that writing this memoir about his life and experiences had helped him and his family in unexpected ways.

“An unintentional impact of the book was that it helped me understand my parents and it helped my parents understand me,” Golinkin said. “That was a really helpful thing for me. It helped my sister because she was like me. She did not want to talk about the past, and there is a lot of immigrants who feel that way. She did not talk about it to her kids and her kids wanted to know, so she gave them the book.”

He had also seen how his book impacted more than just the people he was immediately surrounded by. Golinkin has seen not only his family brought together but other families and whole communities. He talks about a community from Kentucky who was going to be adopting two families from the Congo and how they read his book to help better understand their experiences.

Golinkin also talked about a particular experience that helped him understand how much his book has impacted people from different walks of life.

“One of the fulfilling things to me is that when somebody from the former Soviet Union was like, ‘yeah. You got this. I connect with this.’ That is one of the biggest compliments I have gotten,”  Golinkin said.

Not only did Golinkin talk about how his book has impacted people that he has seen, but he is also conscious of the unseen impacts that come with reading his book. As it is a memoir about his life as a refugee and an immigrant, he is conscious how the book can influence people’s views even though he is only one story of many.

“I’m fully aware that the next time you guys see either a refugee from easter Europe or an immigrant, my book is going to impact how you view them,” Golinkin said. “Even though I only speak for myself, it is still going to influence you. So I was very careful with that.”

With the current conflicts that are going on the world, between Ukraine and Russia as well as Palestine and Israel, the topics of being a refugee, immigrant and conflict between countries is as relevant as ever. Golinkin discussed how it was only recently that people started to truly embrace being Ukrainian and some people even only recently recognizing it as a separate place from Russia.

“There’s been an emergence of a Ukrainian Identity paid for by blood,” Golinkin said.

After he discussed how only recently, Golinkin started to learn how to speak Ukrainian. This was the case with many people. With Ukraine fighting for independence from Russia yet again, it has led many people to embrace Ukrainian culture further. This includes even the author of a memoir discussing Ukrainian identity.


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About the Contributor
Alayna Majkrzak
Alayna Majkrzak, News Reporter
Alayna Majkrzak (she/they) is a first-year at Winona State University and is a news reporter here at The Winonan. Majkrzak is a CALT (Communication, Arts, and Literature Teaching) major and is minoring in theatre.   In their spare time, they enjoy crocheting, reading and writing. Though, all these activities are preferably done in a comfortable sweater while listening to their favorite playlist or watching Ghost Adventures. Back at home, Majkrzak was involved in their school newspaper for four years, and they are incredibly excited to continue their passion for honesty through journalism in college.  

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