Ukrainian scientists see working in the midst of war as an act of resistance

Anton Vlaschenko often hears shelling outside his office in Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkov, not far from the war front lines. Sometimes he even sees smoke rising from Russian tanks that have been hit by missiles.

But the 40-year-old zoologist continues his work dissecting and labeling bat tissue while investigating the disease ecology of flying mammals. If the news of the war overwhelms him, he says, it helps to have something familiar with his hands.

He also sees it as an act of resistance.

“Our stay in Ukraine, our continued work – it’s a kind of resistance to the Russian invasion,” Vlaschenko said via Zoom, a barrage of shelling audible in the background. “The people of Ukraine are ready to fight, not just with guns. We don’t want to lose our country.”

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

A common refrain is that they want to stay connected to their scientific community, which offers a touch of normalcy amid the chaos and violence, and “keep the light of Ukrainian science and humanities alive,” said Yevheniia Polishchuk, who teaches at Kyiv National Economic Economics. University.

As Vice-Chairman of the Young Scientists Council at the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, Polishchuk organized an online questionnaire of academics to assess their situation and needs after the February 24 invasion. By early April, an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 scholars had left Ukraine — mostly women with families — but about 100,000 remained.

Most who went abroad ended up in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and were given temporary positions in European institutions. Some scientists have received grants from the Polish Academy of SciencesAmerican National Academy of Sciencesand others organizations† Polishchuk, now in Krakow with her children and husband, will be a visiting professor at a university in May and June, but says she hopes to return to Kiev when the fighting ends.

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

While Ukrainian scholars are turning to international scientific bodies for help — including remote work opportunities and access to journals, datasets, archives and other materials — there is also a will to prevent the war from permanently sapping talent and momentum from academia. and the country’s professional ranks, which will be needed to rebuild after the fighting has stopped.

“Most of our scientists don’t want to move abroad permanently; they want to stay in Ukraine,” Polishchuk said.

Shortly after the war began, Ivan Slyusarev, a 34-year-old astronomer, helped the director of the Kharkiv National University observatory move computers, monitors, and other equipment to the basement, which had sheltered equipment and historical artifacts when Nazi troops were attacked. occupied the city during World War II.

The observatory’s main telescope is located in a field in Russian-occupied territory about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Kharkiv on the road to Donetsk. Slyusarev said he does not know his condition but believes Ukrainian forces blew up a nearby bridge to stop the Russian advance.

He relies on scientists outside Ukraine to continue his work. Astronomers in the Czech Republic have sent him observation data from their telescope so that he can continue to analyze the properties of metallic asteroids. He can also see data from a small robotic telescope in the Spanish Canary Islands. He mainly works from a home office on the outskirts of Kharkov.

Slyusarev, who claims to have become an astronomer because of “romantic” ideas about the stars, finds refuge in scientific discoveries. Astronomy “produces only positive news” and is a welcome change from everyday life, he said.

“It’s very important in wartime,” he added.

After the outbreak of war, theoretical physicist and astronomer Oleksiy Golubov left Kharkiv to join his parents in Batkiv, a village in western Ukraine.

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

The 36-year-old scientist is also a coordinator and trainer for the Ukrainian students preparing to participate in the International Physicists Tournament, a competition for tackling unsolved physics problems being held in Colombia this month. The students, who had trained online, met for the first time this week in Lviv — after train journeys delayed by the war.

“We still want to participate and prove that even inconveniences like war can’t stop us from good science and education,” he said.

Golubov, who was rejected from joining the army because of a paralyzed hand, served a paper in March to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, writing in the acknowledgments, “We are grateful to the Ukrainians who are fighting to end the war so that we can safely complete the review of this article.”

Some scholars, such as Ivan Patrilyak, dean of the history department of the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kiev, have applied. Eighteen months ago, he presented a series of speakers on the legacy of the Second World War and lectured on the Holocaust. Now he is with a territorial defense unit in Kiev.

Igor Lyman, a historian at Berdyansk State Pedagogical University, was forced to flee when Russian troops occupied the port city early in the war. Before he left, he had seen troops break into dormitories to interrogate students and order administrators to teach in Russian instead of Ukrainian, and 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, where he lived in a dormitory with academics from Kiev, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Kherson and other cities.

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

He said Russian troops are “doing everything they can to force their propaganda”.

Vlaschenko, Kharkov’s zoologist, wanted to protect 20 bats under his care from the shelling, so he carried them to his home, a walk of about an hour. It also helped preserve his valuable research, which could not be easily replaced even if buildings and labs could be rebuilt after the war.

“All the people who decided to stay in Kharkov agreed to play this dangerous and potentially deadly lottery,” he said, “because you never know which areas a new missile or new grenade will hit.”

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

Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina and AP’s coverage of the war on

The Associated Press Health & Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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