Ukrainian at Flanders : internship at IFFM


One of The European Commission (EC) buildings in Brussels.

Roman Nekoliak was working as an intern at the “In Flanders Fields Museum” Research Center , Ypres (Ieper), West Flanders, Belgium. The museum research center is powerful think-tank dedicated to studies in the social and cultural history of First World War and post war conflicts.

In Flanders Fields Museum

Research center IFFM, first floor of the Ypres Cloth Hall (Dutch: Lakenhal or Lakenhalle). Second floor houses the In Flanders Fields Museum.

IFFM situated in a heart of West Flanders in the city of Ieper (Ypres) encircled by dozens of cemeteries and monuments dedicated to a generation that fall, varnish a century ago in the times of the Great War, a war of total annihilation.

The In Flanders Fields Museum presents the story of the First World War in the West Flanders region (Ijzer front, Ieper front, Messines front, Western front).

The Research Center provided me with an increasingly independent working environment which enables me the opportunity to bring literature and art to my studies of Great War.
Battlefields in Flanders represents this War in general. “As a war that was both senseless and ineffective” (Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius), the war with no decisive victory and Ieper as symbolic place for FWW commemoration, It’s a city of Peace like Hiroshima, it witnessed destructive power of modern warfare and it was rebuilt after the war.

  • Museum exhibition focusing on events of the war in Westhoek region. Special input is given to testimonies. A personal stories, human experience as a universal experience – of a soldier, civilian, refugee regardless of army and nationality.
    More than 2500 personal stories added to the IFFM database (2013).
  • We lost the generation of FWW witnesses but the landscape still wears scars of war. IFF Museum put a lot of deal to study and preserve the history through present day landscape in order to show the effect that FWW has on the region.

The museum exhibition is dynamic. Lately, a new temporary exhibition was opened to the public – 1917. Total War in Flanders . Also, Museum present exhibition of American artist Wilmer Wilson IV (b. 1989) “Fire Bill’s Spook Kit”

Before opening of Artist in residence Wilmer Wilson IV exhibition (In Flanders Fields Museum), 20 June 2017 © In Flanders Fields Museum


The museum participated in a grand event, commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele in Ypres on October 12th, 2017.

  • Research Centre is unique places for Great War researchers. Here one of the largest library devoted to the study of war are situated. It’s archives consist of a significant number of photos, letter and diaries from war times.
  • The logic of war is the logic of conquest, of massive mobilization. The term itself, a term of utilitarian mind “man power” emerged during the war. Belligerents use all man resources at their disposal to create a large army and overthrow the enemy. Colonial armies stepped into Flanders and vanish at Flanders. Distances had shrunk and the world had become smaller. Also, this war is characterized by widespread use of POW (prisoners of war) work as well as hostile civilians.

What fascinates me most is the ability both to work and to study simultaneously.

One of the most courageous and perennial projects of the Research Center called the Names list .

de Namenlijst

Province of West Flanders and the In Flanders Fields Museum aimed to create a global and exclusive list of all victims of the war in Belgium.

The Names List – is a tool, a database designated with support of IFFM with the aim to commemorate all victims of the Great War in Belgium – combatants and civilians. Such work has a great symbolic meaning not only in local context but also on international level. It’s remarkable because Firstly, it forgets about the dividing logic of commemoration and equally recognizes and commemorates both Belgium and German and French and British soldiers– from colony to metropolis. Secondly, it’s educational mission, Names List aims to educate EU citizens in the understanding of European history and search for common values.

Every day for four years of the war (1914-1918, 2014-2018) the names of the people that died exactly a hundred years ago as a consequence of the First World War on Belgian territory are projected in the In Flanders Fields Museum.

In the framework of the Names List project Roman research the history of Russian presence in Belgium. Solders of RIA (Russian Imperial Army) experienced captivity in occupied by Germans Belgium. Germany sent captured Russian prisoners to carry out forced labor on the Western Front both at the Etape zone under exclusively military control of the German army and at the main land of occupied Belgium (the region called Government-General with center in Brussels). These reprisals marked a significant escalation in prisoner of war mistreatment.

Roman create a list of Russian POW (Prisoners of War) which will become a part of Names List database. A list registers the individual name, origin and date (of death and/or remembrance). Also, any other relevant information which may be used for further research.

Even so, the list will never be complete IFFM stuff want to achieve historical reality as closely as possible.

American Field Service

AFS logo

Roman internship become possible because of mediation of American Field Service  and constant support of VIFF organization.

As a volunteer, I have a unique opportunity to visit academic and non-formal events both at the museum and the Flanders region overall. For some of them I was not only a participant but also an organizer.

AFS was found in April 1915 by A. Piatt Andrew as humanitarian aid organization, unarmed, none combatant group of medics and drivers, Americans who lived in pre-war France – inelegant, motivated man who won’t fight for moral reason but will help man of both armies in attempt to state the idea of peace in the world of madness, world on the eve of total destruction.

Currently, AFS Intercultural Programs is well-known not-for-profit exchange, volunteer organization.

Wilmer Wilson IV

 During Wilmer Wilson IV and Ms. Heather Holmes (Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia) public presentation. 30 June 2017

Wilmer Wilson IV (b. 1989, Richmond, Va.) arrived at Ieper as it’s residence artist.

The result of his stay was opening of his new exhibition “Fire Bill’s Spook Kit” dedicated to the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.

The exhibition opening was featured with the release of Wilmer art book headlining texts by Ladi’Sasha Jones and Mashinka Firunts, as well as the artist in conversation with Heather Holmes (Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia).

Roman contribute to Wilmer Wilson IV art project was his work as Wilmer temporary assistant.

As an intern he both study the First World War as a global and multicultural conflict, and complete assignments given me by supervisors (compiling the “Name List” project in particular), help to organize cultural events to mark the anniversary of the First World War.

Among other Roman help with the research of personal stories, give assistance in preparing temporary exhibitions, preparing reports on the research question, assist and participate in educational, art events and workshops.

Roman get training working with Commonwealth War Graves Commission Register, Belgian War Dead Register and the Names List databases, museum and archives databases. On a regular basis, he was engaged in social media event-reporting on the activity of the Research Center.

Results of Romans work featured in two publications for VIFF magazine (№ 61).

VIFFmagazine_61_26-29 VIFFmagazine_61_24-25

IFFM Research Center is not only a museum, a library or an archive it’s truly a knowledge center, a dynamic think-tank driven by motivated scholars and educators under the supervision of Piet Chielens, director of the IFFM.

IFFM Research Center commit to peace to deeper understanding of Great War, the horrors it brought and the value of human life.

All photos are from the author’s personal collection, unless otherwise stated.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres, Belgium, Feb 2017

“Overall, I found this experience significantly useful both personally and professionally. I was able to use my previous studies and international experiences to fulfill work assignments and to feel confident and open in the multicultural social environment.

Having worked in an intercultural and multilingual environment where everybody speaks English, Dutch and French I boost my knowledge of languages.

I have learned how to adjust to new environment, to set a priority and administer his projects with regard to deadlines.

The traineeship provided me with the opportunity of attended high-ranking conferences in the field of memory politics and reconciliation.

What is more important, I find new friends, like-minded volunteers from other countries and new professional connections. I had the honor to speak with excellent scholars of Great War – Dominiek Dendooven, Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Piet Chielens, Wim Coudenys.

Working for several weeks I understand that the IFFM environment matches my skills and the reality of research work overcome any of my courageous expectations.

I wish to thank my supervisors Dominiek Dendooven, Annick Vandenbilcke, Pieter Trogh for their invaluable critical and moral support, and to Ann-Sophie Coene, Wouter Sinaeve for their encouraging guidance at various aspects of my work. I am eternally grateful for the constant support of VIFF organization.

I want to express my gratitude to Prof. Wim Coudenys (KU Leuven) and Prof. Sophie De Schaepdrijver (Penn State University) for intellectual eagerness and inspiration which they share with me.

I am grateful to Ms. Bilitis Lauwers (AFS Intercultural Programs) for extra time and effort put in my project.”



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