Dr. Korros on the Russia-Ukraine war and more

By Sophie Boulter, World News Editor

According to Dr. Sandy Korros, retired professor at Xavier, the Russia-Ukraine war has put us in the middle of history.

In an exclusive interview with Newswire, Korros discussed her upbringing in a Russian-speaking household, her years teaching history at Xavier and her thoughts on the current war between Russia and Ukraine.

Korros was born to parents who lived through the Russian revolution. Her mother was born in Gomel, a city in what is now Belarus but was at the time the Russian Empire. After leaving her city for Vienna, her mother pursued a Ph.D. in chemistry. 

“Women weren’t supposed to be chemists, but her qualifications were incredible,” Korros said. 

Korros’ father was born in Rovno, a city in what was then Poland but is now called Rivne in Ukraine. Her parents spoke Russian at home. 

Not only was Russian her first language, but she also spoke with a Russian accent at the height of the Cold War.

“People would constantly ask me where I was born, so I would say Russia,” Korros admitted with a laugh. “But, I was born in (the) Manhattan General Hospital. My mother insisted that I memorize that.”

Her father would encourage her to read Russian. Her upbringing led her to develop an interest in Russia. After studying history at Cornell University, she pursued a Ph.D. at Columbia, specializing in Russian history.

“I was always interested in Russian history… and it was very fashionable to study Russian history at the time,” she explained.

To complete her dissertation research, she studied in the Soviet Union. Academics like Korros were afforded privileged status and access in their studies. 

She studied in close proximity to Vyacheslav Molotov, — “as in the cocktail,” she added, — who served as the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

After completing her studies, Korros worked in Israel and then went to teach at Miami University. 

She came to Xavier soon after and stayed for 31 years — the first woman to be a full-time professor in Xavier’s history department. She retired in 2017.

“The consequence of my being hired is (that) we had an increasing concentration of female majors in history,” she noted. 

Korros directed the University Scholars program. She also taught every Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) first-year student until she retired through a block course with Dr. Paul Colella. She noted that the course underscored the interdisciplinary nature of the University Scholars and PPP programs.

“(Colella) taught Philosophy 100 and I taught History 133,” she said. “I don’t know how to do history without referring to philosophers or literature.”

According to Korros, understanding history is integral to understanding the Russia-Ukraine war. As an example, Korros drew parallels with Russia’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. 

“One of the reasons that the Russians were pressured to get out of Afghanistan… (was that) the mothers of these soldiers mounted a campaign to get them out,” she said. “(Russia) probably lost several thousand soldiers already in the 12 to 13 days since this invasion has gone on. It took them 10 years to lose that many in Afghanistan.”

Korros recounted a time during Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea when one of her students asked her why he should care about Russian militarism.

“I remember saying to him that the reason that we have to care is that this has been the international order in Europe since 1945, and if you let one state violate it, it is going to happen again. And it has, and it’s the same violator,” she said. 

She expressed hope that, despite the tragedy of war, things are different now. 

“The destruction of unity in western Europe, of democracy… It works in Putin’s favor. But he overstepped now. And the consequences of what he’s done have brought the Western alliance together,” she said.

Nonetheless, Korros is reluctant to make any concrete predictions for how the conflict may shake out.  

“It isn’t history yet,” she said.