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Journalism graduate Bogdan Lytvynenko is Concordia’s newest Rhodes Scholar

‘The unbelievable support I’ve received has made me realize that I will always remain part of the Concordia family’
December 5, 2023
By Ian Harrison, BComm 01

Bogdan wears a blue, striped button-up shirt, and has short dark hair. Bogdan Lytvynenko, BA 23, is Concordia’s newest Rhodes Scholar

Concordia’s Bogdan Lytvynenko, BA 23, has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and one of the most prestigious graduate fellowships in the world. He becomes the 12th Rhodes Scholar in Concordia’s history and the first since 2021.

A native of Ukraine, the recent Department of Journalism graduate moved to Canada at the age of 12. Lytvynenko now joins a select cohort of more than 100 scholars from around the world — with only two from the province of Quebec and 11 from Canada — who will embark on graduate studies at the University of Oxford in 2024.

“The accomplishments of our students help mould our reputation locally and globally,” President Graham Carr told assembled alumni at Concordia’s fall convocation ceremonies on November 28. “Congratulations, Bogdan!”

Adds Andrea Hunter, chair of the Department of Journalism: “We are so proud of Bogdan. He was an all-around outstanding student and Concordia community member. He was consistently at the top of his class, recognized by his professors as intelligent, compassionate and dedicated. I remember one professor calling him a ‘star’ and I agree wholeheartedly. He is interested in people and their stories, and his strengths lie in his empathy and passion for storytelling.”

Fresh off the Rhodes announcement, Lytvynenko sat down to discuss his journey to Concordia and to Oxford, and his plans for his postgraduate education.

Bogdan Lytvynenko, Rhodes Scholar. How does it feel?

Bogdan Lytvynenko: I will never forget the phone call when I broke the news to my family. The first thing I said was, ‘We did it!’ I consider this my entire family’s achievement as they were my number one supporters on this journey to Oxford.

At nine years old I studied at a summer language school in the U.K. and brought home a grey Oxford hoodie as a souvenir. Little did I know that, 14 years later, I would become a Rhodes Scholar-elect from Quebec and return there again!

It took a few days for the news to sink in, but the immediate reaction from Concordia was heartwarming, to say the least. I’ve received a lot of support from faculty and individuals who played a crucial role in helping me reach this point. Specifically, I want to express my gratitude to Aphrodite Salas [MA 99], Andrea Hunter and Kristy Snell from the journalism department. They guided me throughout this process and contributed significantly to achieving this key milestone in my academic and professional journey.

I also want to acknowledge the support I received from Graham Carr and Julie Foisy, director of the Student Success Centre. Their involvement underscores how Concordia is dedicated to preparing its students individually, providing coaching and advising to guide them in applying for scholarships. Even though I’m now an alumnus, I still feel a strong connection to the community. The unbelievable support I’ve received over the past few months has made me realize that I will always remain part of the Concordia family.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and childhood?

BL: I was born and raised in Dnipro, Ukraine, where I spent my childhood until the age of 12. My upbringing played a crucial role in shaping my character.

First, ballroom and Latin dancing was a significant part of my life, culminating in reaching the European championship finals and becoming a bronze medallist in the Ukrainian national championships with my dance partner. That spirit of competitiveness, the adrenaline you feel and the unwavering encouragement of my family also translated into academic success and helped me overcome many obstacles. However, in 2012, due to widespread corruption and security risks to my parents’ business in Ukraine, they decided to send me to Canada, where my older sister already lived.

At the age of 12, I flew from Dnipro to Ottawa alone, starting a new life and experiencing a four-year separation from my parents. When we finally reunited in the capital region, and eventually became Canadian citizens, it marked a significant achievement for all of us.

What led you to enrol in the Department of Journalism at Concordia, and what were some formative student experiences that proved decisive for the Rhodes committee?

Bogdan stands in front of a camera with a microphone in hand. Lytvynenko was awarded a Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship in 2023.

BL: My interest in the United States elections in 2016, particularly the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, sparked a fascination with the responsibility of journalists. The power they had in informing the public and asking tough questions to hold politicians accountable intrigued me.

Attending Concordia’s open house then solidified my decision. Meeting David Secko, the former chair of the department, and seeing the hands-on experience offered, such as a real-world news-anchor desk and radio recording booths, played a key role in my choice. Montreal’s vibrant student life and the unique mix of European and North American influences further motivated my decision to study in the city.

As a student, my experience at The Concordian newspaper was pivotal. Starting as an assistant news editor, I moved up to editor of the news section, discovering a passion for international journalism. Interviewing an Afghan student trapped in Kabul during the Taliban takeover emphasized the power of journalism in informing the world. Building a connection with her, documenting her escape and doing a follow-up story for CTV highlighted the impact journalism can make.

In my final year, as managing editor of The Concordian, I aimed to bring meaningful change for future generations of aspiring journalists. After negotiating with the board, I managed to successfully renovate our workspace, provide brand new technology, and also organize our talented team’s plane journey to NASH85 in Hamilton, Ontario, the largest conference for student journalism in Canada. These initiatives were integral to my Rhodes candidacy.

What are your plans at Oxford, and beyond?

BL: My aspiration at the University of Oxford is to pursue a master’s degree in international politics, specifically in European politics or international relations. The catalyst for this interest and urgency to delve deeper into the subject was the war in my home country, Ukraine.

While studying on exchange at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid in the capital of Spain, I enrolled in a course called International Organizations out of pure curiosity. Initially focused on theoretical components, we explored what the international community, including organizations like the United Nations and its Security Council, is capable of preventing, as well as its responsibilities.

One month into the course, theory collided with reality. At 4 a.m., I received a phone call from Ukraine, where my aunt informed me that the war had started, and I could hear air-raid sirens in the distance through the phone.

This moment prompted me to recognize the need for more personal contribution. It ignited my interest in international relations, motivating me to research how the U.N. Security Council can be reformed to prevent atrocities amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, where millions of lives are at stake. As a Ukrainian Canadian who has spent half of my life in Ukraine, it is my personal duty to contribute to ensuring peace and security to the best of my abilities.

Screenshot of a story that Bogdan wrote for the CBC. Lytvynenko reports on Ukrainian refugees’ experiences for CBC News. “As a Ukrainian Canadian who has spent half of my life in Ukraine, it is my personal duty to contribute to ensuring peace and security,” he says.

You still have family and friends in Ukraine. How are they?

BL: Thankfully, my family in Ukraine is doing relatively well considering the war conditions. In the early months of the full-scale invasion, many of them found safety in the European Union — and we are grateful to all the nations hosting millions of refugees and providing lifesaving aid to this day.

On my end, I continue to report on Ukrainian refugees’ experiences, including those who narrowly escaped Russian bombardments, forced to build a new life from scratch far away from home.

Amongst my relatives, most of them have now returned to Dnipro, my hometown. Despite ongoing bombings over the past year and a half, they stand strong and are committed to rebuilding the economy. Their resilience and unity, in the face of daunting challenges and risks, continues to inspire me as I begin another crucial chapter of my life.

Bogdan Lytvynenko’s journey as a Concordia undergraduate was also facilitated by the Stephen Halperin Scholarship for Journalism, established by Campaign for Concordia donor Stephen Halperin, BA 72, in 2016.

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