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Oleh Shostak is a nuclear physicist by education and a financial manager by profession. His favorite volunteer activity, though, is contributing to Wikipedia.
Known as user Mr.Rosewater in the community, he made over 370,000 edits in Ukrainian Wikipedia over the past 13 years – more than any other editors. Oleh is also an administrator and “bureaucrat” on Ukrainian-language Wikipedia edition; so apart from writing articles, he also works on the project’s technical maintenance.
Oleh grew up in Mykolaiv – a port city in southern Ukraine that found itself close to the frontline since last year’s full-scale military invasion by Russia – but for many years he has lived in Kyiv. He spends most of his free time contributing to Wikipedia.
We asked him about his motivation, which Wikipedia articles he’s worked on are particularly memorable – and what advice he has for newcomers.
(The interview was edited for length and clarity; originally it was published in Ukrainian on Wikimedia Ukraine’s blog)
- Tell us about yourself “in real life” – where do you live, what is your main job?
I was born in Mykolaiv and lived there for 17 years, and for the past four decades I have been living in Kyiv. I received a degree in nuclear physics here, and after university I went into business with my university friends. Today I work as a financial director in one company and a chief accountant in another. The former is manufacturing awards [e.g. trophy cups and diplomas], the latter supplies and maintains radiation dosimetry equipment.
- What do you mostly focus on in your Wikipedia work?
I spend most of my time on Wikipedia contributing to articles.
I write mostly about topics that interest me – succulent plants (this is a hobby my father passed to me; for 30 years he was the head of the club of cactus growers in Mykolaiv and used to have a collection of 10,000 plants); sports (I used to be involved in various sports); scientists, particularly female scientists in STEM fields; history, my native Mykolaiv region and its people.
I am an author of several “good articles” on Ukrainian Wikipedia, including about lithops, a genus of succulent plants; the battle of Penang that took place during World War I; and legendary American wrestler Rulon Gardner.
I’m also an administrator and “bureaucrat” on Ukrainian Wikipedia [editor’s note: on Wikipedia, bureaucrats are senior functionaries who have more technical rights than administrators]. I used to get a lot of suggestions to nominate myself for these rights and had refused for some time because it’s difficult work, but finally I ended up agreeing to help support the project. I perform administrative actions from time to time, in “stints” – for example, closing discussions on articles deletion and undeletion.
Wikipedia is my main hobby. I have a flexible work schedule, and as soon as I have free time, I do something on Wikipedia. For example, it is convenient to edit Wikipedia during my commute to work – the trip takes a long time, which I can use to work on minor improvements such as categorization and fixing typos.
- You are one of the most active users in the history of Ukrainian Wikipedia. What has motivated you to spend so much time developing the project?
I like to learn something new and write about things that suddenly spark an interest or have always interested me – plants, sports, history, scientists. Seeing something written incorrectly or incompletely is especially motivating.
I started editing Wikipedia, because I realized that there was no article about my favorite plant – haworthia. This was my first article.
- Is there a particular article you worked on that stood out to you most?
The most memorable cases were when creating an article about a subject helped open it up to a wider audience.
One example – the article about Gregório Bondar, Ukrainian-Brazilian biologist. He fought in World War I, then fought against the Soviets and had to leave Ukraine. When I was writing the article on Ukrainian Wikipedia, there was practically no information about him in Ukrainian-language sources, and I used sources in English and Portuguese. After I created the article, Bondar began to be covered in Ukrainian sources, particularly local history studies.
Another example is the Rotmistrivka crater, one of few impact craters in Ukraine. I got interested in this topic because I have relatives who live in this area [editor’s note: Rotmistrivka is a village in central Ukraine]. But the crater was little known, among the locals. I came across some information about it in an old magazine, gathered information, photographed the location and wrote an article on Wikipedia. After that, people in Rotmistrivka started paying attention to this object and even made it a local tourist attraction.
- How has Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine impacted your life and your Wikipedia activity?
As for everyone else, the war affected my life, especially at the very beginning of the 2022 invasion. After February 24th I hadn’t contributed to Wikipedia at all for a few weeks; I had neither the time nor the energy for that.
After that, I started to contribute to Russian-language Wikipedia; I thought it could help convey the truth about the war to the Russian people and would eventually impact their attitude to their country’s military aggression. But I soon saw that it had no results.
Today I focus only on Ukrainian Wikipedia.
- What would be your advice to newcomers on Wikipedia or to people who are only thinking about whether to join?
Join Wikipedia – it’s interesting, useful and will help your self-development.
My only advice is to work independently – not to translate from other language editions, such as from the Russian-language Wikipedia. One of the problems of Ukrainian Wikipedia is when poor-quality articles are translated: without sources or with low-quality sources. Sometimes one gets the impression that even the translators themselves do not read them. It is better to look for and verify the information yourself.
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