Interview with Nat Tymkiv – Ukrainian Wikipedia

Photo credit: Lantuszka Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

How, when this big adventure Wikipedia started?

As usually happens, I was reading Wikipedia long before I started editing it. In 2009 I felt an urge to correct a mistake I saw in the English Wikipedia, so I registered an account, edited the page, previewed how the corrected version will be looking like… And I got really scared: my edit will be visible to everyone everywhere in the world. And my edit will outlive me. So I closed the page without saving my edit for… two years 🙂 In 2011 I learned about Leonid Terekhovych,  a Ukrainian poet I had never ever heard about, and his life and works moved me so much that I decided to write about him. Writing on my personal blog felt so inadequate, that I started a Wikipedia article about him. Then I decided to turn all red links in the article about him into blue ones. That is how I ended up creating a page about… Criminal code of Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1960 (Terekhovych ended up in prison for writing a letter to Radio Liberty about the fake elections in his village) and other exciting topics like this. Editing Wikipedia is like an addiction for me, and I treat it as an addiction – if I have something very important in my real life going on, I try not to edit Wikipedia at all, as I cannot guarantee that “just one edit” will not turn into a few hundred a few hours later…

And how do your friends and family welcome these activities? Do they support and understand the meaning of this volunteer work?

I am not sure this hobby can get a lot of understanding or support even from people around me, unless they themselves are into it. A few months after I had started editing (and could stop only for my day job!), I broke up with my boyfriend. He just did not get it. And it was becoming a very essential part of me as a personality, and my life style. My family started editing as well, but they are not so “head-over-heels” in love with editing; they create an article per year to celebrate the Ukrainian Wikipedia birthday, so they understand how it is done, and they think it is important to write in Ukrainian about all kinds of things… But this has not (so far) became their hobby. And they are still unhappy when my hobby is prioritised over “real life” commitments. My friends who are not editing think I am just weird in general, and editing Wikipedia is as weird as it gets 🙂 But they do complain to me about mistakes they discover while reading…

Tell us a bit more about Wikipedia Ukraine?

Wikimedia Ukraine, as an affiliate, was founded in 2009, so this year we have our 10th anniversary 🙂 We are going to celebrate it with a cake and… working on our first strategic plan. And this is quite a huge step for a volunteer-based organisation.

Wikimedia Ukraine, like all affiliates, exists to provide support for the activities of volunteers; for example, official letters to support our work, official permission to use trademarks on souvenirs, more easily finding like-minded people, providing a legal channel to receive grants without taxes etc. Of course, this model depends on the legislation of each country, so this “tool” – the registered non-profit national-level legal entity – might be not as useful in other local contexts.

And your personal role in the development of Wikipedia Ukraine, the team and the projects you run?

I have joined Wikimedia Ukraine at the end of 2012, and I became a Treasurer, according to my professional background as an accountant. Later I became a volunteer executive director of the organisation. Wikimedia Ukraine moved from planning for individual projects to annual budgets and plans. After I was selected and approved as a board member of the Wikimedia Foundation, I resigned from Wikimedia Ukraine’s board and stayed involved in the affiliate as a regular member and volunteer. To some extent I am still involved in the majority of the projects, like Wiki Loves Earth, Wiki Loves Monuments, Wikipedia Education Program etc.

Among the projects I am currently seriously involved with are the projects aimed at having more content created about women or increasing participation of females in the projects. In 2017 I was among the initiators of a Ukrainian version of Women-in-Red month – back then female biographies in the Ukrainian Wikipedia were only 13,69% of all biographies. Around 400 articles were created since. That project helped to get in contact with other people and organisations, and this year a teacher at a university gave her students a task to write articles in Wikipedia on their course topic – Introduction to Gender Studies. The project resulted in around 100 new articles during the course; and a lot of information they added was available in Ukrainian for the first time ever – until then, they were reading it in English or Russian. Currently we are organising an article contest about Women in STEM – to showcase that STEM is also for females. So far more than 300 articles were created or improved. I hope to continue working in this direction, and make a change some day – change how women’s roles are perceived in society itself.

How important is it, in your opinion, to have Wikipedia in our own languages and for the development of our countries, I mean the CEE countries mainly.

Well, no surprises here, I believe that having a Wikipedia in our own language is extremely important. I also think that not all languages should have a Wikipedia, as the main reason for having an encyclopedia is to document and share the encyclopedic knowledge, and not all languages have the infrastructure (like Universities, academics) to have the encyclopedic knowledge presented in reliable sources. So the (different) function of preserving the language can be achieved via other projects: Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikimedia Commons etc. Having a Wikipedia in our own language helps countries to pay more attention to what is (not)represented in its language, how things are covered by sources (and foreign sources as well). It helps to broaden the horizon for people – they can not only read about something in their own language, but also see how it is covered in other sources.

The CEE region has over 30 spoken languages and a very complicated history. Wikipedias help us to learn more about each other and preserve and develop our languages.

What does Wikipedia give you? And what does it take?

Wikipedia for me is a hobby, but a life-changing one. I would never ever be able to look at pictures of modern Ukraine and not see there copyright violations (as we still do not have a freedom of panorama law)… I remember refusing to eat a cake as it was decorated with a still copyrighted picture. I understand that this is extreme, but I cannot help it. I would say that Wikipedia gives me freedom to write and learn about things I want to (not because of my work, for example, or obligations, but because of my interests), but it took away my ignorance about copyright, so I cannot fully enjoy modern art in those countries where it is still copyrighted… It (of course!) takes lots of time and effort… But it, in a way, creates a space for my own priorities. It is also a way to get friends “after the university” – and all around the world.

Your greeting to all wikipedians, who will read this interview 🙂

I wish you all a pleasant and meaningful journey in Wikipedia and other wikiprojects. I am thankful for the articles you start or improve or delete, for mistakes you are making – so other people cannot stand it… and decide to correct. I believe that sometimes making mistakes is as important as being right. And try to concentrate on things we share, not on things that divide us. Like Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons, said: “Pick big fights with your enemies, not small fights with your friends”. Balance your real life and your hobby – having too much of either of them is not good 🙂