Ukrainian scientists attempt to move forward following the ravages of war

Scientists in Ukraine are still in survival mode, yet they are finding ways to continue their science

This article was first published in Physics World Magazine

During the opening salvos of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on 24 February 2022, academics across Europe quickly took to university mailing lists to discuss how to help their colleagues in Ukraine. While some Ukrainians managed to move to safer places across the continent, others decided to stay at home. Some 18 months on from the start of the conflict, Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv are still being attacked, but a semblance of stability is beginning to emerge.

Shelled - The School of Physics and Technology at Kharkiv National University was destroyed on 11 March 2022 by Russian shelling. (Courtesy: Oleksiy Golubov)

With Ukraine starting to see successes on the battlefield, some displaced researchers are slowly coming back to their home institutes. One of those is astrophysicist Oleksiy Golubov from Kharkiv National University (KhNU) – one of the country’s leading institutions. He left Ukraine when war broke out, moving first to the Astronomical Calculation Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, and then the Poznan Observatory in Poland. But in July he decided to return home. “I moved back to Ukraine largely because I felt that I was not in the right place,” he says.

Golubov’s research group, however, still faces major problems. A significant number of colleagues entered military service and some have sadly died. They include Mykhailo Lesiuta, one of Golubov’s first students, who joined the army in 2022 and was killed fighting in Donetsk on 11 December 2022, aged 25. While student numbers entering physics at KhNU have recovered to pre-war levels, those students are scattered, working from across Ukraine and Europe.

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Many thanks to Oleg Savchenko for his help in the creation of this article.