Saturday, March 25, 2023

Ukrainian scientists see work amid war as an act of defiance

Anton Vlashenko often hears gunfire outside his office in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, not far from the front lines of the war. He also occasionally sees smoke rising from Russian tanks hit by missiles.

But the 40-year-old zoologist continues his work, dissecting and labeling bat tissue as he investigates the disease ecology of flying mammals. When news of the war surrounds him, he says, it helps to have some familiarity with his hands.

He also sees it as a defiance.

“Our stay in Ukraine, continue to work – this is some kind of resistance to Russian aggression,” Velashenko said via Zoom, a barrage of gunfire audible in the background. “People in Ukraine are ready to fight together, and not just with guns. We don’t want to lose our country.”

His resolve is not unique. Like other Ukrainians whose labor is not essential to the war effort, scientists and academics want to continue their important work where they can.

A common refrain is that they want to stick to their scholarly community, which provides normalcy amidst anarchy and violence, and “keeps alive the light of Ukrainian science and the humanities,” said Yevnia Polishchuk, who lives in Kyiv. Teach at National Economic University.

As vice-chairman of the Council of Young Scientists in Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, Polishchuk conducted an online survey of academics to assess their situation and needs after the February 24 invasion. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 scholars had left Ukraine by early April – mostly women with families – but about 100,000 stayed.

Most who went abroad wound up in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, obtaining temporary positions in European institutions. Some scientists have received grants from the Polish Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences and other organizations.

Polishchuk, now in Krakow, Poland, with her children and husband, is a visiting professor at a university for May and June, but says she hopes to return to Kyiv when the fighting stops.

“We don’t want war to result in a brain drain from Ukraine,” she said.

While Ukrainian scholars are appealing to international scientific bodies for assistance – including opportunities for remote work and access to journals, datasets, archives and other materials – the war has to be permanently taken away from the country’s academic and professional ranks by bringing talent and momentum. There is also a desire to stop reducing. , which will need to be rebuilt after the fighting stops.

“Most of our scholars do not want to go abroad permanently; They want to stay in Ukraine,” said Polishchuk.

Shortly after the war broke out, 34-year-old astronomer Ivan Slyusarev helped the director of the Kharkiv National University observatory move computers, monitors and other materials to the basement, which contained equipment and historical artifacts, when Nazi forces attacked the city. was captured. second World War.

The main telescope of the observatory is located in an area in the Russian occupied territory, about 43 miles from Kharkiv on the road to Donetsk. Slyusarev said he did not know its position, but thinks that Ukrainian forces blew up a nearby bridge to stop the Russian advance.

It relies on scientists from outside Ukraine to continue its work. Astronomers in the Czech Republic have sent him observational data from their telescopes so that he can analyze the properties of metallic asteroids.

He can also see data from a small robotic telescope in Spain’s Canary Islands. He operates mostly from a home office on the outskirts of Kharkiv.

Slyusarev, who says he became an astronomer because of his “romantic” ideas about stars, finds refuge in scientific discovery. Astronomy “gives only positive news” and is a welcome respite from daily life, he said.

“This is very important in times of war,” he said.

After the war broke out, theoretical physicist and astronomer Oleksiy Golubov left Kharkiv to live with his parents in Batkiv, a village in western Ukraine.

Although the buildings at the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology were “bombed and shelled and virtually destroyed,” Golubov said, the school continues to offer some remote classes. He has been in contact online with students in Kharkiv, in western Ukraine, and in Poland and Germany.

The 36-year-old scientist is also a coordinator and coach for Ukrainian students preparing to compete in the International Physicist’s Tournament, a competition to tackle unsolved physics problems in Colombia this month. Students taking online training met in Lviv for the first time this week – after train travel delays due to war.

“We still want to participate and prove that even inconveniences like war cannot stop us from doing good science and getting a good education,” he said.

Golubov, who had been refused to join the military due to a paralyzed arm, submitted a paper to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics in March and wrote in acknowledgment, “We are grateful to the Ukrainians who are fighting to stop the war.” so that we can safely conclude this review.”

Some scholars, such as Ivan Patrilyak, dean of the Department of History at Kyiv’s Taras Shevchenko National University, have listed. Eighteen months ago, he was hosting a speaker series on the legacy of World War II and giving lectures about the Holocaust. Now, he is with a regional defense unit in Kyiv.

Igor Lyman, a historian at the State Pedagogical University in Burdiansk, had to flee when Russian forces captured the port city at the start of the war. Before leaving, he had seen soldiers break into dormitories to interrogate students and teach administrators in Russian instead of Ukrainian, and to use a Moscow-approved curriculum. He said the directors “refused and resigned.”

He later settled in a camp for internally displaced persons at Chernivtsi National University, living in a hostel with academicians from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Kherson and other cities.

“Each of these families has their own terrifying war story,” he wrote in an email. “And everyone, like me, dreams of our victory and coming back home.”

He added that the Russian military is “doing everything possible to impose its propaganda.”

Kharkiv zoologist Vlashenko wanted to save the 20 bats he had under his care from shelling, so he took them to his home about an hour’s walk away. It also helped to preserve his valuable research, which could not be easily replaced, even if buildings and laboratories could be rebuilt after the war.

“Everyone who decided to stay in Kharkiv agreed to play this dangerous and potentially deadly lottery,” he said, “because you never know in which areas a new rocket or a new shell will hit.”

As he scrambles to record data and protect his rare specimens, he sees it as part of his mission — “not just for us, but for science in general.”


Follow Christina Larsson on Twitter @larsonchristina and Associated Press’s coverage of the war Feather


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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