How You Can Help Your Ukrainian Colleagues
ScienceForUkraine provides information, job opportunities, and equipment to Ukrainian scientists. Here’s how to get involved
James Strachan | | 9 min read | Interview
Many watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold have wondered how they can help. Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. European countries – and others too – have taken refugees in, offering the basic provisions of life, such as shelter, safety and security. But as the conflict continues, many Ukrainians are concerned about their futures. Will they be able to continue their current profession? How will they support themselves and their families? For scientists, whose livelihood relies on funding, the future is especially uncertain. But there are ways the wider scientific community can support their Ukrainian colleagues.
Modest Gertsiuk, a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Geochemistry, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Kyiv, and President of the Chromatographic Society of Ukraine; Matiss Reinfelds, Association of Latvian Young Scientists; and Maciej Maryl, Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences; are involved in an initiative – ScienceForUkraine – that provides information, job and collaborative opportunities, and equipment to Ukrainian scientists. Here, Gertsiuk, Reinfelds and Maryl explain how the war is likely to impact scientists in Ukraine over the long term, and how you can make a difference.
What was your first reaction to news of the invasion?
Gertsiuk: It was shocking news. Although the possibility had been discussed in the media since the war began in 2014, it was hard to believe that a direct invasion on such a scale would take place. But it happened. Sirens sounded in Kyiv and other cities warning of an air attack. People hid in bomb shelters – it was impossible to predict where the missile would hit. We heard loud cannonade and explosions in Kyiv as Russian troops were stationed in the suburban towns of Irpin, Bucha, and others in the immediate vicinity of Kyiv. A significant number of people working in Kyiv and, in particular, in scientific institutes of the National Academy of Sciences and and higher educational institutions lived in these suburbs.
How has the Russian invasion affected analytical scientists in Ukraine?
Gertsiuk: Many people from Kyiv and other towns and villages attacked by Russian troops have been forced to move to safer cities in Ukraine or migrate abroad. Territories near to the war zone are constantly being fired on, which makes it impossible to carry out experimental work. And the activities of scientific institutions and scientists in occupied territories has stopped entirely.
Personally, I went to the west of Ukraine, and then to Germany, then to Slovenia for the 26th International Symposium on Separation Sciences, and back to Ukraine. Analytical scientists, like other scientists, are mostly working remotely. This has inevitably led to a sharp decrease in the number of experimental studies being published. With the liberation of the territories, work in scientific institutions will continue and experimental research will once again become possible. But as we speak, in all Ukrainian territories, the threat of rocket attacks – with sirens often sounding – remains.
What lasting impact will the war have for scientists in Ukraine?
Gertsiuk: In addition to the immediate problems associated with displacement, there has been a significant reduction in the financing of scientific institutions, leading to a decrease in salaries and potential job losses for scientists. In particular, experimental research is practically not being funded right now.
And that’s why I believe ScienceForUkraine is very important. It is an initiative of volunteers providing information about temporary job opportunities for scholars fleeing Ukraine with a wide international reach. Over 2000 scientific groups all over the world have already joined our movement – and we hope that you will be able to open your door to Ukrainian scholars as well.
How did ScienceForUkraine begin?
Maryl: ScienceForUkraine was launched on February 26, 2022, as a rapid-response central database for collecting offers of support for the Ukrainian academic community. By introducing the #ScienceForUkraine hashtag and creating a Twitter account, @ScienceForUkraine, the aim was to disseminate the support available to the Ukrainian academic community.
How can researchers help?
Maryl: We strongly encourage funders, academic institutions, and companies to provide remote collaboration opportunities for Ukrainian scholars. Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have taught us that research can be performed remotely, and we should think about funding such opportunities for Ukrainian colleagues. For instance, COST Action Virtual Mobility grants could be used for the purpose of data collection (see NEP4DISSENT for an example). But it’s not only about financial support, it is also about providing colleagues with contacts and career development opportunities despite the raging conflict. Other examples include unlocking online courses for Ukrainian scholars or setting up mentoring schemes. These are relatively low cost, yet very meaningful for those remaining near war zones in Ukraine (see the example of Project Fleck).
Reinfelds: Chemistry is a very instrument-based science. Laboratories could offer to run analyses free-of-charge for various samples or allow scientists from Ukraine to use their equipment during short-term visits. In an ideal scenario, we’d love to see more long-term collaboration and joint research papers or project proposals.
Often, there will be a piece of equipment that stands in the far corner of a lab practically unused – either the projects for which the device was purchased have ceased or new generations of PhD students have shifted to other devices. The equipment may be kept under the assumption that it may return to active use some day, but often this does not happen. (I can easily imagine all the dual wavelength detectors, which were replaced with DAD some years ago, sitting under HPLC tables “just in case.”) Unused equipment could be extremely useful for a Ukrainian colleague!
We invite everyone who thinks they could contribute in some way to register their offer on our webpage.
Can you share any success stories?
Reinfelds: We have a lengthy Twitter thread containing a list of success stories. But these are just a relatively small selection. Many offering help don’t want to sound the trumpet – and we don’t push people to go public. However, we have published a detailed report on the first three months of the initiative and are working on an anonymous survey, collecting information from Ukrainian scholars who had to leave Ukraine after the invasion. This effort should also give us a clearer picture about the stories of displaced scholars in the future.
Research Snapshot, With Modest Gertsiuk
Tell us about your work with the Chromatographic Society of Ukraine…
The Chromatographic Society of Ukraine brings together both scientists and specialists who perform chromatographic research. The society goes back to the All-Union Association of Chromatographers in the former Soviet Union. After Ukraine became independent, I was tasked with uniting chromatographers in Ukraine, which is how the Chromatographic Society of Ukraine was born. We launched a scientific publication in 2001, the Journal of the Chromatographic Society, which publishes articles on basic and applied research in the field of chromatography – with a focus on the activities of scientists and research centers working in Ukraine. We are also a member of the Central European Group for Separation Sciences (CEGSS) and the European Society for Separation Sciences (EuSSS).
Did the Russia-Ukraine war in 2014 affect the society?
Yes, we held international conferences – “Methods of Chemical Analysis” – annually in Ukrainian cities, such as Lviv, Truskavets, Sevastopol, with local branches of the Chromatographic Society taking part in the organization of these conferences. However, with the war in 2014 and the occupation of Crimea and part of Donbass, the conference venues had to change. And due to the urgency of security issues, conference topics have also changed. Conferences with names like “Chemical and Radiation Safety: Problems and Solutions” began to be held, with foreign scientists also taking part.
What does your laboratory do?
The laboratory of complex geochemical research, which I head up, conducts chromatographic and chemical-analytical studies of environmental objects – air, soil, and water – to determine whether the environment is clean and safe. Currently, our main area of research is the pollution and the environmental safety of rivers and other surface water bodies. We mainly use gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis.
Tell me about some of the projects you’ve worked on…
Together with scientists from Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, we successfully completed a NATO Science for Peace and Security project, which involved developing a model to predict and prevent possible disastrous effects of toxic pollution in the Tisza River watershed.
The Tisza River is the largest eastern tributary of the Danube and flows through five countries: Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Serbia – and has a history of pollution. As part of the project, we monitored the composition of organic compounds in the river and analyzed the concentration of heavy metals. We used some software to predict the spread of toxic substances along the riverbed, making it possible to determine the time of entry of toxic substances downstream to a given point, as well as to predict the concentration and determine the risk of pollution at this point.
We also conducted research on the toxic waste landfill located near the city of Kalush, a big center of the chemical industry in the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine. There are large deposits of solid toxic waste dating back to the Soviet Union, which were buried in iron barrels. Over time, the barrels rusted and hexachlorobenzene began to migrate into the soil and groundwater, as well as the river Sivka, which is a tributary of the Dniester. The toxic waste landfill had a negative impact on the ecological situation in the region – and the incidence of cancer was one of the highest in Ukraine.
We monitored the state of soil contamination at the landfill and its location, as well as surface water in the area of the landfill. Based on the findings, we made maps of the waste placement that assisted with removal. We also monitored the soil at the landfill; even after the waste was removed, concentrations of hexachlorobenzene are still very high in the soil and exceed the maximum allowable concentrations by thousands of times.
Currently, we’re monitoring organic pollutants in Dnipro in the water area of Kyiv, but the approaches and methods of monitoring we have developed can be used for research of other rivers and surface water bodies. This is especially important in wartime; when fighting, artillery and rocket fire can lead to chemically hazardous objects and toxic substances. The use of chemical weapons and acts of sabotage are, unfortunately, not out of the question. If we can identify these substances in the environment, perhaps we can avoid the potential for negative consequences on public health.