The silent casualty – how the Russian war is eroding Ukraine’s scientific potential

Dmytro Chumachenko shares his insights into research under fire in Ukraine, and the role the UK can play in supporting the sector

Dmytro Chumachenko is an Associate Professor at the National Aerospace University Kharkiv Aviation Institute

For two years now, Russia has been waging a bloody full-scale war in Ukraine. This has led to massive destruction; thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded, and millions have been forced to leave their homes.

Ukrainian science has also suffered. According to the Ministry of Science and Education of Ukraine, almost 3,500 educational institutions have been damaged, and 365 have been destroyed completely. Among the damaged institutions are 93 universities. The physical destruction of laboratories and scientific equipment affects the possibility of continuing scientific research in Ukraine. Still, it is not the only factor caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Many scientists have been compelled to flee their homes, either relocating within Ukraine or seeking refuge abroad. The brain drain abroad amounted to 18.5 per cent, and 17.6 per cent of scientists have completely changed their profession. Others have joined the military efforts or have been war casualties. The Russian war complicates the exchange of scientific knowledge with foreign colleagues, as well as attending conferences to discuss scientific results. The scientific community’s challenges are exacerbated by restrictions on crossing the border by males due to martial law and the difficulties associated with securing academic positions abroad on short notice.

These factors have directly affected the scientific community’s ability to maintain its research output, contributing to a reported 10 per cent decline in research papers published by Ukrainian scientists since the onset of the war. Moreover, considering the delay in the peer review of scientific publications, this figure cannot reflect the long-term consequences of Russia’s military invasion, which will be much more extensive.

The decrease in financial support for research within Ukraine has led to a notable decline in scientific output, threatening the country’s future contributions to global science. The United Kingdom, with its world-renowned academic and research institutions, is in a unique position to offer support. The UK has already launched the Ukraine Twinning Initiative, a bunch of individual grants for Ukrainian scholars, and we need continuation and expansion of support for the Ukrainian scientific community because Russia’s war in Ukraine has not stopped.

Vital steps

The vital step the UK can take is to provide remote internships and scholarships for Ukrainian researchers. The financial strain on Ukraine’s scientific research, exacerbated by the conflict, has significantly hampered the ability of researchers to produce impactful results. By offering these opportunities, the UK can ensure that Ukrainian researchers remain engaged in their fields, contributing valuable insights and advancements despite the challenges they face at home. At the same time, Ukraine needs people who will not only restore the country after victory but also produce innovations right now. Therefore, support for those scientists who remain in the country and continue their activities is critically important.

International collaboration is crucial for producing world-level scientific results. However, the current situation makes it nearly impossible for Ukrainian male scholars to leave their country. The UK can bridge this gap by providing joint grants that allow for remote participation. An excellent example is the joint grant program between the University of Cambridge and the National Research Foundation of Ukraine. Such initiatives would enable Ukrainian scientists to collaborate with their counterparts in the UK and beyond, ensuring the continuity of high-quality research and maintaining Ukraine’s presence in the global scientific community.

Another vital area of support is granting Ukrainian researchers free access to UK university libraries, virtual laboratories, and computational power. These resources are indispensable for conducting cutting-edge research. Access to such resources would significantly alleviate the constraints faced by Ukrainian scientists due to damaged infrastructure and limited access to physical resources within their country.

A critical point is that the UK can assist by removing article processing fees for publications in British scientific journals for corresponding authors from Ukraine. The financial challenges faced by Ukrainian institutions in wartime conditions mean that many researchers are unable to afford the costs associated with publishing their work in international journals. By waiving these fees, the UK would enable Ukrainian scientists to share their findings with the global community, ensuring that their contributions are recognised and can inform future research and policy.

Wider support

In addition to bolstering Ukrainian science through academic and research support, there’s an urgent and broader call to action that extends to the very heart of the war. The swift victory of Ukraine over the illegal Russian aggression it faces is paramount not just for national sovereignty but also as a critical factor in the prosperity of European research and science.

We urge individuals and organisations to consider supporting Ukraine’s defence efforts in this time of need. Donations to credible funds, such as United24 or Come Back Alive to aid the Ukrainian army can significantly accelerate Ukraine’s path to peace and stability. Such support contributes to the country’s immediate defence and the long-term revitalisation of its scientific community, ensuring that Ukraine can continue to contribute valuable knowledge and innovation to the world. Now more than ever, standing with Ukraine means supporting its present struggle and its future potential in advancing global science and research.

The support from the UK could play a pivotal role in safeguarding and promoting Ukrainian science during these turbulent times. By offering a helping hand, the UK would not only provide immediate assistance to Ukrainian researchers but also contribute to the resilience and continuity of global scientific progress. This is a call to action for the UK to stand in solidarity with Ukraine, demonstrating a commitment to science, international collaboration, and the shared pursuit of knowledge. Together, we can ensure that Ukrainian science not only survives but thrives, now and in the future.

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