If you don’t recognize the name Dr. Kateryna Rietz-Rakul, chances are you’ve still heard her work — unless you’ve stayed off social media the past week.
The Ukrainian-German interpreter went viral on social media after breaking into tears while interpreting a press conference by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. For many both inside and outside the language industry, the vulnerable moment was a reminder of the often-difficult circumstances interpreters endure to do their jobs.
Last night, MultiLingual Live had the exciting opportunity to host Rietz-Rakul in conversation. The result was a revealing, charming, and open discussion that sheds new light on the role of interpreters during wartime.
According to Rietz-Rakul, her skills have been in high demand. That’s thanks to her particular combination of language specialties, which are all vital as the Russia-Ukrainian war unfolds.
“It turned out there are only two interpreters who can do simultaneously a combination of English, German, Ukrainian, and Russian,” she said. “It’s often needed, and it’s just two of us.”
She was as surprised as anyone when the wave of emotion overcame her on a hot mic. A seasoned professional, she is typically adept at separating herself from the situation. But in this case, Zelensky’s words hit too close to home.
“Of course I know how to distance myself,” she said. “But sometimes you just can’t because it’s too much.”
After she shed the tears that caught the world’s attention, Rietz-Rakul assumed officials would consider her unfit for the difficult work. In fact, the opposite was true.
“I just thought, ‘Well, I lost it, and they’ll say it was nice working with you, but obviously you’re not fit for the job,’” she said. “So I sat there, and the woman responsible for the broadcast ran to me. She hugged me, and she said, ‘I’m so sorry, and I feel with you. You are doing a great job. It’s OK, we all know how you feel.’”
Rietz-Rakul wasn’t alone in her situation. Only days later, another interpreter choked up while working at the European Parliament for another Zelensky speech. Her heart goes out to him and everyone else working a difficult job under difficult circumstances.
“My support goes out to him and to everybody who is in this job, and also to journalists who are covering it,” she said. “I suppose we will all meet in post-trauma psychological seminars after the victory of democracy.”