Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Geschichte Osteuropas

Hanna Lehun

Hanna Lehun


1993           Born in Vinnytsia, Ukraine

2010–2014     Kyiv-Mohyla Academy University, Kyiv, Ukraine, 

                         Bachelor degree: Cultural Studies

2015–2019     Humboldt University of Berlin, Master's degree, Cultural Studies

2018–2019     Scholarship at the Exhibiting Contemporary History programme of

                        Europäisches Kolleg Jena "Representing the 20th Century"

Since 2018    Doctoral studies at the History of Eastern Europe Department

                        of the Humboldt University of Berlin

2019               Fellow of the German-Ukrainian Historical Commission

Since 2019    Research Assistant / Archivist at Arolsen Archives


Dissertation/research project:

"I'm doing very well". On the contemporary and memorial-political significance of private letters and photographs of Ukrainian forced labourers from 1942-1943

The phrase "I am doing very well" was code for the statement "I am doing badly" in letters from Eastern European workers to their home countries, while the phrase "I am doing well" rather meant that the person writing was actually doing well - this is what Cistov & Cistova discovered in their book (1998, «Fliege, mein Briefchen, von Westen nach Osten...») about "folklore" in Eastern workers' letters. These codes represent attempts to communicate with the homeland under the gaze of letter censorship. Such and many other paraphrases are contained in the writings and pictures I will examine in my doctoral project. It draws upon a previously unknown, unpublished and unprocessed corpus of material from the secret holdings of the State Archive of the Vinnytsia region (Ukraine), the collection "Letters of Soviet citizens from Nazi captivity" (about 13,000 postcards and a few letters, about 500 of them with photographs), which has been withheld for a long time. These sources represent unique private testimonies of forced labourers from Eastern Europe, of which hundreds of thousands worked in the German Reich during World War II. In this particular case, they were people from the region of Vinnytsia who wrote home to their relatives and friends. In addition, the cards and letters were written also by people who died before they returned to Ukraine. They provide new insights into the events of 1942 and 1943 from the perspective of the forced labourers.

The central question that emerges for me is their contemporary significance and the current dimension of remembrance culture. I would like to examine these testimonies from two perspectives: Firstly, the history of the collection and the provenance of the cards should be established as far as possible - because it is not yet known how the postcards of the eastern forced labourers were gathered and consolidated into the secret archives of the NKVD (political secret police) and why they were not destroyed. Secondly, I would like to examine the letters and cards in terms of their content in relation to their statements. On the one hand, this will focus on the representations of life circumstances and historical events, and on the other hand on the use of "camouflage language" under the system of letter censorship.  I am planning to examine these and other documents of “Ostarbeiter” for the question of forms of communication about traumatic experiences under conditions of severe censorship.




Lehun, Hanna (2020): Zensiert, beschlagnahmt, geheimgehalten. Privatfotos ukrainischer Zwangsarbeiter_innen aus der Sammlung im Winnyzja Regionalarchiv. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Available online at:

Lehun, H. (Легун Г.), (2013). Litopys stanowlennja i wysnannja (Entstehungs- und Anerkennungschronik). Originaltitel (Ukr.): Літопис становлення і визнання. In L. Didur (Дідур Л.) (Hrsg.), Winnyzkyj kraj u switlynach. Retrospektywnyj pohljad (Region Winnyzja in den Fotografien: ein retrospektiver Blick). Originaltitel (Ukr.): Вінницький край у світлинах. Ретроспективний погляд (S. 5-7). Winnyzja, Ukraine: Edelweiß und K (Едельвейс і К).

Lehun, H. (2019). "Germany and Ukraine in the Second World War".: Fourth Annual Conference of the German-Ukrainian Historical Commission, Munich, 22-24 October 2018. Conference report. Retrieved from