Anton Vlaschenko often hears shelling outside his office in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, not far from the front lines of the war. He sometimes even sees smoke rising from Russian tanks hit by missiles.
But the 40-year-old zoologist continues his work, dissecting and labeling bat tissue, as he probes the disease ecology of the flying mammals. When news of the war overwhelms him, he says, it helps to have something familiar to do with his hands.
“Our staying in Ukraine, our continuing to work — it’s some kind of resistance of Russian invasion,” Vlaschenko said via Zoom, a barrage of shelling audible in the background. “The people together in Ukraine are ready to fight, not only with guns. We don’t want to lose our country.”
A common refrain is that they want to stay connected to their scholarly community, which provides a shard 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 University.
As vice chair of the Young Scientists Council at Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, Polishchuk organized an online survey of academics to assess their situation and needs after the Feb. 24 invasion. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 scholars had left Ukraine by early April — mostly women with families — but about 100,000 stayed.
While Ukrainian scholars are appealing to international scientific bodies for assistance — 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 the country’s academic and professional ranks, which will be needed to rebuild after fighting stops.
Shortly after the war began, Ivan Slyusarev, a 34-year-old astronomer, helped the director of Kharkiv National University’s observatory move computers, monitors and other materials into the basement, which had sheltered equipment and historical artifacts when Nazi forces occupied the city during World War II.
He is relying on scientists outside Ukraine to continue his work. Astronomers in the Czech Republic have sent him observational data from their telescope so he can keep analyzing the properties of metallic asteroids. He also can see data from a small robotic telescope in Spain’s Canary Islands. He operates mostly from a home office on the outskirts of Kharkiv.
Although the buildings of the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology were “bombed and shelled and virtually destroyed,” Golubov said, the school continues to offer some remote classes. He has been keeping in touch with students online — in Kharkiv, 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 compete in the International Physicists Tournament, a competition for tackling unsolved physics problems that is being held in Colombia this month. The students, who had been training online, met this week in Lviv for the first time — following train journeys delayed by the war.
Golubov, who was turned down from joining the military because of a paralyzed hand, submitted a paper in March to the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics and wrote in the acknowledgements, “We are grateful to Ukrainians who are fighting to stop the war so that we can safely finish the revision of this article.”
Some scholars, like Ivan Patrilyak, dean of the history department at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, have enlisted. Eighteen months ago, he was hosting a speaker series on the legacy of World War II and lecturing about the Holocaust. Now, he’s with a territorial defense unit in Kyiv.
Igor Lyman, a historian at the State Pedagogical University in Berdyansk, had to flee when Russian forces occupied the port city early in the war. Before leaving, he had seen the troops break into dormitories to interrogate students and order administrators to teach in Russian, rather than Ukrainian, and use a Moscow-approved curriculum. He said the directors “refused and resigned.”
Vlaschenko, the Kharkiv zoologist, wanted to protect 20 bats in his care from the shelling, so he carried them to his home, a walk of about an hour. It also helped to preserve his valuable research, which couldn’t be easily replaced, even if buildings and labs can be rebuilt after the war.
“All the people who decided to stay in Kharkiv agreed to play this dangerous and potentially deadly lottery,” he said, “because you never know in what areas a new rocket or new shell would hit.”