How to help Ukrainian scientists in the face of war

“War is now part of our life. Universities, schools, museums have been destroyed … Thank you for supporting us”. It was with these words from Kateryna Terletska, of the Junior Academy of Sciences of kyiv (Ukraine), in exile at the Johannes Kepler University of Linz (Austria) that the day of “scientific turning points” began, during the “Falling walls “2022 Summit (see box), this November 9 in Berlin (Germany).

You must notify the “brain drain”

Under the sign of the yellow-blue colors of the flag of Ukraine, lined up for a “family photo” of scientists from all over the world gathered for the occasion, everyone is wondering: what are we doing today with Ukrainian scientists? ? What to do to prepare for tomorrow, even if no one is able to say when the conflict will end? “It is not just the destruction of infrastructure, there is the impact on the scientific system, which this year has stopped working. With people who are traumatized, and who can no longer continue their experiments, except if you are a mathematician who only has need pen and paper “insists Oleksiy Kolezhuk, of the National Scientific Council of Ukraine, during the session entitled “How to restart science in Ukraine after the Russian aggression”.

“What will happen then?” asks Georg Schütte, from the Volkswagen Foundation, moderator of the debate, aloud. Today, with power outages disrupting trials, salaries that have sometimes been reduced by 25% (in some universities), 40% or 50% for academics, there is the temptation to travel abroad. And the specter of the brain drain. “To prevent this” brain drain “, to preserve” human capital “, new initiatives have been launched”explains the very young Liubov Poshyvailo-Strube, who volunteered to help the Ukrainian Global University whose stated goal is to “to bring together the best educational institutions globally to support Ukrainian students and scientists and give them an opportunity for quality education and research to rebuild Ukraine”.

“Now we have to develop specific programs”explains Pawel Rowinski, of the Polish Academy of Sciences, recalling “the excellent ties that already united Ukrainian and Polish scientists” before the war. After a first wave of refugees within five days of the start of the Russian aggression, where it was necessary to respond to a request for immediate help, he points out that “A second wave has arrived: 230 scientists”, in difficult conditions of family separation and complicated situations. He too believes that brain drain should be avoided, and “develop programs so that researchers can return to Ukraine”. This would require, for example, “funding networked research groups with scientists in the West and Ukraine”.

“Prepare for tomorrow”

We need to bring this issue to the fore, so that politicians understand its importance, insist on these specialists who see crises multiplying – pandemic, climate change, war … And ask how to better anticipate them? “We haven’t listened enough to what we’ve been told [pour le risque de guerre]. It’s a shame”, exclaims Julia von Blumenthal of Humboldt University (Berlin), who reminds us that grants can be awarded to scientists in danger as part of the Philipp Schwartz initiative (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation). And that students can benefit from the Hilde Domin program, run by the German university exchange service (DAAD, Deutschen Akademischen Austauschdienstes).

The fact remains that, clearly, there is a need for greater coordination between the various initiatives, which have multiplied in Europe, in addition to the help of the United States and its very active Academy of Sciences. Especially so “the wave of attention does not fall. And that we prepare for tomorrow”, the German academic insists, following the example of the “Report on the crisis in Ukraine” (1) published at the end of August 2022, which issued 7 recommendations including the obligation to “Governments, higher education, the scientific community and research to work together to meet their national commitments for academics and researchers at risk […]”.

And he remembered it “the right to education, science and to benefit from the progress of science and technology is enshrined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Hundreds of scientists and thousands of students are now worried. “It’s a question of cooperation. With an ethical code of conduct”, claims Liubov Poshyvailo-Strube. It might as well “lay the foundations for centers of excellence”according to Oleksiy Kolezhuk who sees in this crisis a “chance”. Optimism requires.

1) Under the auspices of the International Science Council (ISC), with Kristiania University College, Science for Ukraine, All European Academies (ALLEA).

James Webb telescope, plastic pollution and collective intelligence.
The Falling Walls Science Summit is an annual science event in Berlin, Germany, coinciding with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. From 7 to 9 November, scientists from around the world present startup pitches, discuss the latest topics in all cutting-edge fields … On November 9, more than twenty top-level researchers (Germany, United States, Brazil, Lebanon …) discussed how they want to “break down the wall” of ignorance by developing in-depth research on plastic pollution issues and unsolved mathematical problems, including collective intelligence, the discovery of the younger Universe thanks to the James Webb telescope or ultrafast genome sequencing. More than 600 listeners are present every day, for interventions that can also be followed on the Internet.

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