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.
He also sees it as an act of defiance.
“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.”
His resolve isn’t unique. Like other Ukrainians whose labors aren’t essential to the war effort, the scientists and academics want to continue their important work where they can.
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.
Most who went abroad wound up in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, getting temporary positions at European institutions. Some scientists have received grants from the Polish Academy of Sciences, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and other organizations. Polishchuk, now in Krakow with her children and husband, is a visiting professor at a university for May and June but says she hopes to return to Kyiv when fighting stops.
“We don’t want the war to result in a brain drain from Ukraine,” she said.
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.
“Most of our scholars do not want to move abroad permanently; they want to stay in Ukraine,” Polishchuk said.
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.
The observatory’s main telescope is located in a field in Russia-occupied territory, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Kharkiv on the road to Donetsk. Slyusarev said he doesn’t know its condition, but thinks Ukrainian forces blew up a nearby bridge to stop the Russian advance.
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.