The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is now one year old. For Ukraine, the anniversary has been a moment to reaffirm support among its allies and keep the world’s attention on Kyiv as the conflict moves increasingly by increments with no end in sight. For the Kremlin, the moment has been used to justify continuing the war, as a special operation that was supposed to last weeks now runs into its second year. For those who have lived through the war, it’s a reminder of just how much has changed and how much has been lost.
In the immediate aftermath of the invasion last year, we talked to Ukrainian chemists about their experience of the first days of the conflict. Their stories were in many cases harrowing. Some had to escape just ahead of the invading force and even evade Russian soldiers; others, further from the front lines, were working dutifully to keep the lights on in their labs as rocket attacks disabled the country’s infrastructure; still others had taken on new, military roles and were fighting to defend their country.
One year on, we have returned to those Ukrainians to find that their stories of survival are now stories of resilience. All of them have adapted to cope with extraordinary hardships – working around blackouts and air raids with few resources. Anastasia Klimash also writes for us again on her experience over the last year as she has been working to support those in her home country.
In the year since the invasion began almost 8 million Ukrainians have left the country and as many again have had to leave their homes to move to safer parts of the country. Yet many Ukrainians chose to remain, unwilling to leave their home and eager to be on hand when the time comes to rebuild. Estimates suggest that just 10–15% of Ukraine’s scientists have left the country during the conflict.
All our interviewees have stayed in Ukraine and their words echo those of the majority that are still working there. Their greatest need, after military aid, is support to enable them to work and be productive. That is far from easy – dozens of institutions have been damaged and a handful completely destroyed. And not only have Ukraine’s research facilities been ruined but its research funding has been gutted as spending is redirected to defence. Foreign funding links and support in kind are therefore high on the list to compensate for that loss and enable those in the country to keep working.
In contrast, the isolation of Russian science continues, despite calls for science diplomacy and many Russian scientists expressing their opposition to the war. Russian scientists are being excluded from international research projects – Cern for example still intends to terminate its agreements with Russia and Belarus when they expire in 2024. More generally, research institutions, funding agencies and publishers in many western countries have placed restrictions or outright bans on working with or supporting Russian scientists.
The international links that Ukraine is forging today are laying the groundwork for future relationships that will strengthen its post-war future. Already, researchers are expressing their ambition to rebuild Ukraine with science and technology, putting clean energy and sustainability at its heart. These chemists are certain they will one day have the chance to regain what has been lost and to change the world for the better.