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US blogger learns Ukrainian, exposes Russian imperialism on Instagram

The notion of Ukraine and Russia as “brotherly” whitewashes centuries of imperialism that American Alison Rochford aims to reveal.
How Ukrainians are similar and different to Americans
Alison Rochford at Ukraine Action Summit in Washington, DC, in October 2023. Credit: albyroch/Instagram
US blogger learns Ukrainian, exposes Russian imperialism on Instagram

In an interview with Euromaidan Press, American blogger and journalist Alison Rochford explained how learning the Ukrainian language and culture inspired her Instagram platform of over 46,000 followers to advocate for more aid to Ukraine.

“My life has been very enriched by learning the Ukrainian language and about Ukrainian culture,” says an American blogger, Alison Rochford, after almost two years of studying Ukrainian. Coming from a communications background, she’s been doing independent reporting and sharing valuable resources on helping Ukraine on her social media since 2022. Alison’s Instagram blog has gained a 46,000 audience, shifting towards becoming more Ukrainian-centric the more she shared about her learning journey.

“My intention was to share lesser-known aspects of the war with an American audience. One of my major goals for 2024 is to find new ways to center Ukrainian voices with an American audience,” shares Alison, admitting that it might be challenging with most of her audience coming from Ukraine.

Alison started learning Ukrainian following the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine. She wanted to understand President Zelenskyy’s daily addresses and first-hand news reports to close the gap between foreign media coverage and the accounts of people directly impacted.

 
 
 
 
 
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Допис, поширений Alison | Американка, яка вивчає українську 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@albyroch)

Starting with language-learning apps like Duolingo to learn the basics of the alphabet, Alison then began studying Ukrainian with a teacher. The biggest challenge was to find the right resources, like TV shows, podcasts, or books. “But overall, I’ve found that Ukrainian people are so proud to share their culture and language that if you know where to look, there is a treasure trove of information,” she says.

Uncovering Russian imperialism

“There aren’t a lot of thorough representations of Ukrainian people or culture in American media. A lot of American awareness of Eastern European culture is heavily influenced by Russians and Russian culture,” Alison explains.

Her mother’s Jewish family came to the United States in the 1930s from the USSR-controlled part of Eastern Europe because “it was not safe to be Jewish in the Soviet Union.” Learning more about Ukraine helped Alison unpack that personally, using the experience of her family, who lived under the domination of first the Russian Empire and then the USSR, to highlight the larger picture: Russia is not this great, mysterious nation but a colonizer.

“One thing that a lot of Americans don’t understand is that Ukraine is a nation that has shown incredible strength and resilience in the face of an imperialistic threat. There is this idea that Ukraine and Russia are ‘brotherly nations’ that are having a little bit of a ‘dispute’ about where their border is. And Americans just do not understand the larger context and hundreds of years of history of Russian imperialism impacting Ukraine. And it’s something that I’m still learning about myself,” she shares.

Misconceptions about aid to Ukraine in the USA

Alison’s activism impacted some of her fellow Americans and their views on Ukraine. After sharing resources on helping Ukraine and contacting their representatives, she’s had American family and friends tell her that they could reach out to their elected officials and advocate for more aid on behalf of Ukraine. But she gives most of the credit to Ukrainian activists. “It’s not so much that I’m sharing about Ukrainian culture. It’s what the millions of Ukrainians in this country share about it,” she says.

The most common question Alison receives about Ukraine is regarding the US aid to the country. There are a lot of misconceptions about what this aid is, making it a challenging series of misinformation to dispel. “We have, you know, a lot of people who are struggling to put food on their tables in the United States. And they say, why is my tax money going to this country I hadn’t heard of two years ago? But it’s not taking money or resources away from Americans and gets much oversight once it gets to Ukraine.

“Putin expressly states that if he has victory in Ukraine, he’s not stopping there. He has full intentions to move on to NATO countries, which would get Americans involved in a land war. So it’s such a small investment in our future security,” she explains.

How Ukrainians are similar and different to Americans

Alison’s Ukrainian language teacher gave her a vyshyvanka, Ukrainian traditional embroidered shirt. Credit: albyroch/Instagram

“Ukrainians just seem still very connected to the world around them,” Alison answers the question about the differences between Americans and Ukrainians. She met a lot of Ukrainians at support rallies and the Ukraine Action Summit last fall.

I remember walking through Washington, DC, with a group of Ukrainian women back in October, and they were noticing what flowers they could smell in the air. I never would have been able to do that. And I found that connection to nature to be really beautiful. Of course, you can’t generalize 44 million people, but in the people that I have met and befriended, that’s a quality that I have found to be consistent.”

Since 2022, Alison has been working with Ukrainian media and marketing companies as a freelance editor. She has enjoyed this experience, having Ukrainian priorities “aligned” with hers.

“Sometimes with American companies that I work with, there is a tendency to act like some project or email is the most important thing in the world and nothing else matters. And Ukrainian people that I work with understand that it’s not. Life still has to go on during the war, and we’re still going to produce this piece of media, but we understand what a life-and-death situation is. And this email is not a life-and-death situation.” She also called Ukrainian developers “some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met.”

Message to Americans about Ukraine: “time to do something is now”

In Alison’s opinion, everybody has the power and skills to help the Ukrainian cause. “Maybe it’s too late for a New Year’s resolution, but yours can be to use whatever skills you have to raise awareness and make a difference.” Fearing the “critical time” for Ukrainians and the potential impact on Americans, she calls: “The time to do something is now.”

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