Since the full-scale invasion began, Anastasia Klimash has been talking to chemists in Ukraine to find out how they are being affected by the war. Here she shares her story, along with excerpts from nine of these conversations

‘I just read they bombed Kyiv. This is the worst! I’m so sorry.’ A message from my labmate was the first I saw about the full-scale Russian invasion. I called my parents in Dnipro. Several strategic objects in the city had been hit, but they are adamant about staying. ‘We stocked up on water and aren’t going anywhere. Don’t worry about us.’ They don’t want to flee again.

Back in 2014, when I was studying in France, they got stuck in Donbas taking care of my grandma. On the phone with my mom in the evenings she would tell me about armed people, clearly not locals, marching on our street, military vehicles entering the town, someone organising fake referendums. Sometimes over the phone, I could hear the shelling. They managed to escape to Dnipro with my grandma. None of us have since been able to return to Donbas. Apart from the logistics, it’s just not safe there if you have an openly pro-Ukrainian position.

Still, we are luckier than many in Ukraine. Dnipro is a relatively safe city, thanks to its geographic position and the efforts of the Ukrainian army. And I am abroad with a job and a lab. Many Ukrainian scientists have had their research disrupted and put on hold indefinitely. Many have also joined the Ukrainian army or volunteer. And some, such as inorganic chemist Oleksandr Korsun, a lecturer at Kharkiv National University, have been killed in Russian shelling.

This war affects the lives of Ukrainians everywhere. I’m not in the country, and I’m still entirely consumed by what is happening there. These days I often need an extra effort to focus on my research. My supervisor Pete Skabara is supportive and he is also very involved, helping to set up the humanitarian aid point at the University of Glasgow and getting in touch with the Royal Society of Chemistry regarding ways to support chemists in Ukraine. And I assist by collecting information on Ukrainian scientists’ needs. I also work as a translator for the volunteer news organisation WithUkraine, and constantly look for ways to make the voices of Ukrainians, including chemists, heard internationally.

In my quest to interview Ukrainian chemists, I tried to reach out to Anton Senenko, a researcher at the NASU Institute of Physics in Kyiv. Since the end of February, he’s been helping with the evacuations in the most hellish regions of Ukraine’s north. He saw Bucha and Irpin after Russian troops left. His Facebook feed is full of photos of burnt windowless buildings and civilian cars. I have not heard from him yet. I don’t think he’s doing much science these days.

Almost all the Ukrainian chemists I have spoken to say the same thing. They need academic support in various forms, and appreciate all of it, but the most critical thing Ukrainian chemists need right now is our country’s victory. Without it, no proper work can happen. The only chance for Ukrainian chemists to reach their full potential – wherever they currently are – is to know that their country is safe.

Things are deteriorating just over the course of my writing this piece. Every day that the Russian invasion continues costs Ukraine its infrastructure and, more importantly, our people. The situation in the chemical industry was already dreary before the invasion; many Ukrainian chemists had already left the profession for more lucrative jobs in different areas. Now there is a risk it could be entirely obliterated. I hope that soon we will be able to rebuild but also make it better than it was. It will not be easy and will require transformations on multiple levels, including profound institutional changes. Still, I am sure there are enough people keen to help with those, including the Ukrainians who got their education and professional experience outside of the country.

I am incredibly grateful for the assistance given so far, and I hope that this spirit of international support and collaboration continues until Russia withdraws all its troops from our land, and also in peacetime afterwards.

These days I’m the most homesick I ever was in my over 10 years of living abroad. However, among the horrific pictures of the pain and destruction Russia brought to our land, I notice signs of hope. Under each photo of a destroyed infrastructure object or house, you will find several comments saying that we will rebuild as long as we are alive. Given the opportunity, I would happily return to Ukraine, to help with whatever I can. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.

But first, we need victory.

Supporting Ukrainian science

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