Olha Aleksic felt terrified and powerless when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February with missile and artillery attacks and tens of thousands of troops. She feared for the safety of her mother and sister in Lviv and dreaded that her native country might be gone forever in the aftermath.
Many of her colleagues at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute (HURI) and Harvard Library’s Americas, Europe, and Oceania Division wrestled with similar feelings. “The first thing we were asking was, ‘What can we do?’” she said.
Knowing how quickly the war could escalate with the destruction of buildings, neighborhoods, or entire cities, Aleksic, the Petro Jacyk Bibliographer for Ukrainian Collections, launched a project to document the war in real time. She began building the “Russia’s War on Ukraine” digital archive, capturing news stories, videos, data trackers, and social media posts from organizations and media outlets on the ground.
She and HURI colleague Kostyantyn Bondarenko, the project’s technical lead, partnered with web archiving service Archive-It to build the collection. Aleksic plugged instructions into its automatic capture system — such as download this organization’s webpage once a week or capture that media outlet’s tweets every day. It was important to capture data regularly and often because the situation was changing so fast. And in the first days of the war, Aleksic said, any day could be the last day that some part of Ukraine had digital infrastructure.