The situation in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has worsened since Stefan Weichert’s article “Professors at Bombed Kharkiv University Struggle to Continue Their Work” was published on June 2, 2022 in The Scientist.,
In professor Nikolay Mchedlov-Petrossyan’s office at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in eastern Ukraine, several windows are covered with wood, letting only a little sunlight in. It’s been this way since March 1 , when a missile hit the nearby administrative center, blowing out the windows on several surrounding buildings. Another attack, this one on March 2, destroyed the university’s economic department.
Kharkiv has been gravely damaged by Russian shelling, but while many professors were forced to flee the university, some have stayed behind. Mchedlov-Petrossyan, the head of the department of physical chemistry, is one of them. He recently returned to his office, where he teaches online and works on his research as best he can.
In May , Russian forces withdrew from the edge of Kharkiv, but they remain close by, carrying out daily shellings [sic] of the suburbs. Mchedlov-Petrossyan acknowledges that the risk of death persists, but says he doesn’t want to be controlled by fear. Like other faculty and administrators at the university, he is striving to continue his work and plan for the future amidst the war.
“I had a PhD student from Iraq several years ago, and he showed me a photo of his native city, Mosul. It was completely destroyed. I hope that we will avoid this fate,” he says.
V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University was founded in 1804 and is the second-oldest university in Ukraine. Three Nobel prize winners have attended the university over the years, including Élie Metchnikoff, who won the prize in physiology or medicine in 1908 for his discovery of immune cells that engulf pathogens.
Now, rector Tetyana Kaganovska fears that the war will deal a massive blow to the university. Not all research can continue on campus, she says, noting that “there are fields of science like physics, chemistry, and biology where . . . scientists cannot do their research online. And now the main task is how to help them to prolong their work,” she says.
…, in the astronomy department, professors conduct research at home, probing databases to analyze information gleaned from “astronomical satellites, NASA satellites, European satellites, Japanese satellites,” and the Indian Space Research Organisation, says Vadim Kaydash, who heads the department. The department’s large telescope is located outside Kharkiv in an area now controlled by the Russian troops, limiting their ability to collect their own data.
Kaydash adds that the department’s computer equipment has been moved to a basement for protection, similar to what was done during the Second World War. “Astronomers of that generation, our scientific—how to say—fathers and grandfathers, they did the same as I do now. They put all valuable equipment in the same shelter [as] when Germans were here,” he says, pointing out that this department is more than 200 years old and has survived a lot.
Shabanov [Dmytro Shabanov, the deputy dean for science and a biologist] says he’s especially worried that fleeing students and staff will not return. While men aged 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country, “right now, a lot of workers, especially women scientists, are just getting stolen from here to other universities abroad [emphases mine],” he says. “Personally, for them, it is nice because it gives them new perspectives. But if it is prolonged for us, it will be a total breakdown.”
There are 24 universities in Kharkiv, she [Kaganovska] notes, and she expects that some of them will need to close or merge because of the lack of students. Even if the war were to end tomorrow, she says she isn’t sure there would be any money to rebuild the university. So far, Kaganovska has written more than 200 letters to universities in the US asking for financial help and trying to attract attention to the struggle in Kharkiv. In addition to sending financial support, she hopes that American universities will consider the possibility of issuing double diplomas to students from her university who finish their educations [sic] elsewhere
If you have the time, Stefan Weichert’s June 2, 2022 article is well worth reading in its entirety.
Shabanov’s worries about a ‘brain drain’ aren’t unfounded as this May 29, 2022 article by Julia Wong for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news site hints,
When Iryna Ilienko escaped Ukraine with her daughters, she left behind her research and the 20-year career she had built as a cell biologist in Kyiv before the Russian invasion.
As the war rages on, there is growing concern about the long-lasting effect the conflict will have on the global scientific community — and of the lost opportunities for discovery in the fields of academia, medicine and science in Ukraine.
There are, however, scientists in Canada trying to help researchers displaced by the war establish themselves in a new country, at least for the time being.
In Edmonton, the co-founder and CEO [Matt Anderson-Baron] of Future Fields, a biotechnology company, had posted online that the lab was interested in hiring Ukrainian researchers who fled due to the conflict.
And several weeks ago, Anderson-Baron hired Ilienko.
“I [was] afraid my science career could be stopped,” she told CBC News.
If you were in Ilienko’s position, what would you do? Try to continue your work or do nothing while you wait to go home? Is Anderson-Baron helping or taking advantage of the situation?
As to whether or not Canadian startups and universities are ‘stealing’ scientists from Ukraine that seems debatable. I don’t think there’s a simple answer and I’m not even sure I’ve asked the right questions.