March 26, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


Zoom Webinar

The United States has honored Women’s History Month since 1987. This year, the Middle East Institute’s (MEI) Frontier Europe Initiative celebrates women’s research in Black Sea regional studies by hosting a panel discussion with three women fellows of the first generation of Frontier Europe fellowship of Black Sea research. Our program is proud to support the next generation of women researchers from the Black Sea region who are building their careers studying and contributing to Black Sea security and dialogue. This panel discussion will explore three women fellows’ Black Sea security research agendas, their work supported by the Frontier Europe Initiative’s fellowship, and their planned contribution to Black Sea studies as Frontier Europe alumni.


Maryna Parfenchuck
Maryna Parfenchuk is a young professional working on Eastern Europe and researching the Black Sea region from a Ukrainian perspective. Being herself a Ukrainian national, Maryna has acquired considerable experience working with Ukrainian and international civil society organizations addressing human rights violations in conflict areas. Amongst her previous experiences, Maryna worked with the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Brussels, where she acquired a European understanding of Eastern Europe, and conducted a fellowship at the Middle East Institute, which added up a transatlantic angle to her work.  Currently, Maryna is a part of the Humanity Research Consultancy group, offering her insights on the challenge of modern human slavery in conflict environments in Eastern Europe. After the Black Sea security fellowship at the MEI, Maryna anticipates to continue writing and contributing to the contemporary debates about the future of Ukraine and the Black Sea security through her PhD research at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and other future projects.  

Maryna’s research deals with the role of Ukraine in the Black Sea region and promotes regional perspectives through targeted policy recommendations. It explores such topics as the maritime industry of Ukraine, Ukraine’s cooperation efforts with regional neighbors, Russian influence in Ukraine and its implications for the region, the Three Seas Initiative and its relation to the Black Sea security, as well as the role of the US in the region. In her final research she focuses on the interdependency between the COVID-19 health crisis in Ukraine and Black Sea (in)security. Maryna plans to continue researching an ongoing military conflict between Ukraine and Russia, as well as its impact on the Black Sea region and wider geopolitical trends.

Natia Seskuria
Natia Seskuria is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). She also serves at the Office of the National Security Council of Georgia and is a lecturer in Russian Politics. Natia’s research focuses on Russia’s domestic and foreign policy  (in particular Russia’s relations with its neighbors and strategic approach to occupied regions), as well as on conflicts and security in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea region. Natia also holds an advisory role at Chatham House’s Panel of Young Advisers. Prior to her current roles, she served at the Ministry of Defence of Georgia, worked for the Foreign Editor of The Sunday Times of London, and has acted as an independent consultant in London, advising private sector companies on political and strategic risks. Natia holds an MA in Politics, Security and Integration and a BA (Hons) in Politics and East European Studies from University College London (UCL).

At MEI, Natia’s research focuses on Georgia’s role and positioning within the Black Sea security framework. Her publications have explored Russia’s increased militarization in the Black Sea, the role of the West, the challenges of Six-Country Regional Cooperation platform for Georgia, NATO-Georgia relations and the impact of Russia’s use of hybrid warfare tools. Her policy paper explores Georgia’s black sea security strategy and priorities for the US-Georgia strategic partnership under the Biden administration. She intends to widen her research scope and further research opportunities and challenges for littoral states in light of conflicting interests between Russia and the West.

Rusudan Zabakhidze
Rusudan Zabakhidze is a coordinator of the International Conference of Europeanists at the Council for European Studies at Columbia University. Rusudan has recently completed the Policy Designers Network fellowship at the German Marshall Fund of the United States where her contributions focused on the future of the Eastern Partnership. Previous to these experiences, Rusudan has briefly worked at the Open Society Foundation’s Eurasia Program in London, UK. She has also completed a visiting research fellowship at the Embassy of Georgia to Ireland, and GLOBSEC. Rusudan obtained MSc in Security, Intelligence and Strategic Studies from the University of Glasgow, Dublin City University, and Charles University in Prague.

Throughout the fellowship at Frontier Europe Initiative, Rusudan has studied the outcomes and prospects of the US and NATO military cooperation with Georgia and Ukraine. Her research has looked at the effects of the military partnerships over the enhancement of Georgian and Ukrainian defense capabilities, as well as the civil-military professional development opportunities. In her final policy paper, Rusudan puts the US military cooperation with two strategic partners into the broader perspective by exploring the avenues for increased U.S. presence in the Black Sea region through advanced military partnerships with Ukraine and Georgia. Rusudan plans to continue researching the democracy and security nexus in Georgia, as well as the transformation of Georgian strategic culture through EU and NATO integration processes.

Iulia Joja, moderator 
Iulia-Sabina Joja is a Senior Fellow for the Frontier Europe Initiative and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. lulia’s research and teachings focus primarily on European and Black Sea security. 

Prior to this, Iulia served as an adviser to the Romanian President and as a deputy project manager at NATO Allied Command Transformation in Virginia. She has worked with the Romanian delegation to the United Nations, the European Parliament, and the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. lulia was also a visiting scholar at the Center of Military History and Social Sciences of the German Armed Forces in Potsdam/Berlin and a DAAD post-doctoral fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

Iulia’s PhD thesis on Romania’s strategic culture was published by Columbia University Press in 2019.

Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images