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"Ukrainian science is suffering from loss, destruction and lack of funding"

Prof. Dr Leonid Yatsenko fled from Ukraine to Berlin shortly after the start of the Russian war of aggression on 24 February 2022. He is a visiting researcher in Prof Dr Arno Rauschenbeutel's research group at the Institute of Physics at Humboldt-Universität.
Leonid Yatsenko

Prof. Dr. Leonid Yatsenko
Photo: Sebastian Pucher / HU

Mr. Yatsenko, how are you doing in Berlin and at HU?

Thank you, thanks to the Humboldt-Universität and primarily the support of Prof Dr Arno Rauschenbeutel and the administration of the Institute of Physics at Humboldt-Universität, I have the opportunity to continue my work in quantum optics in collaboration with excellent young PhD students and postdocs.

For two years now, missiles, air raids, drone attacks, and heavy fighting have been part of everyday life in many parts of Ukraine. What goes through your mind when you think about this sad anniversary?

As I said in my interview two years ago, it is simply unbelievable that this full-scale invasion is taking place. Now the most horrible thing you can imagine is that Russian propaganda, as another tool of hybrid warfare, is successful not only in Russia itself, where only a tiny fraction of the population is against the aggression against Ukraine, but also partly in Europe and the world at large. This propaganda justifies the killing of Ukrainians and the destruction of towns and villages. Ukraine urgently needs support from the West, and I am very grateful to Germany, which has now become the biggest supporter of Ukraine in Europe.

Are you still in contact with academic institutions and colleagues in Kyiv, where you used to work and live? Under what conditions are teaching and research currently taking place there?

Yes, I continue to actively participate in the activities of the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Currently, I am officially on a long-term scientific assignment for training at HU, but thanks to online communication, I participate in all important events that take place at the institute and in the Academy of Sciences as a whole. For example, in a week, my PhD student in Kyiv will defend his dissertation, where I will participate as a supervisor online. By the way, the topic of his work is very close to the recent research of Prof Dr Arno Rauschenbeutel's group on observing superradiance bursts using nanofibers. Let's hope that during the defense, there will be no further ballistic missiles or drone attacks on Kyiv, so that there will be no power outages, and the defense will be successful.

What consequences has the Russian war of aggression had on the academic world in Ukraine in general?

Russian aggression has led to very serious consequences for Ukrainian science. I would like to mention four consequences - loss, destruction, lack of funding and reduced international cooperation. Many scientists have been forced to leave the country or have died as a result of the war. This loss of researchers is estimated at up to 20 percent and affects the most active and productive scientists. The war has led to the destruction of scientific infrastructure such as laboratories, research centers and other facilities. The war has also significantly reduced state funding for scientific research in Ukraine. The war has reduced opportunities for international collaboration in science, as researchers travel less and communicate less with colleagues from other countries.

What is your forecast?

Overall, these losses are very severe, but I hope they are not fatal. There are currently several signs that science in Ukraine is beginning to recover. In 2023, the National Research Foundation of Ukraine, in the creation and development of which I was fortunate to be involved as its first Head, resumed its work. Several new competitions have been announced, including successfully unlocking the possibility of announcing bilateral calls (Ukrainian-Swiss Joint Research Projects Call was held). I really hope that similar competitions will be announced soon jointly with the DFG or other German institutions.

 What do you think Ukrainian academics and teachers in Ukraine need most urgently at the moment?

Like all Ukrainians, academics and teachers in Ukraine currently need positive news from the front, news about the adoption of a package of aid to Ukraine by the US Congress, about Germany providing new types of weapons etc. Now is the moment when society is tired of war and awaits confirmation that the world will not leave Ukraine alone with an aggressor who objectively outweighs Ukraine in material and human resources. As for immediate support for science and education, it is necessary to continue initiatives to grant support to scientists directly in Ukraine.

What do you know about Ukrainian scientists who have fled to Germany? Would you say that, for the most part, they have been able to find a place for themselves at research institutions?

Regarding my acquaintances, most of them have found opportunities to continue their scientific work in Germany. However, this primarily applies to scientists who already had close scientific contacts with research centers in Germany before the war and to young female PhD students and postdocs who are just starting their careers in science. A large portion of the scientists who left Ukraine in the first months of the war have already returned home. I sincerely hope that we will also soon return home to our beloved Ukraine, which has emerged victorious in the war against the aggressive neighbor.

The questions were asked by Ljiljana Nikolic

About Leonid Yatsenko

Leonid Yatsenko was a postgraduate student at the Lebedev Institute of Physics in Moscow until 1979. From 1979 to 1986, he was a Junior Research Fellow at the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine. He was a Senior Research Fellow there until 1997, before holding the position of Director of the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences, Kiev, from 2007 to 2018. From 2019 to 2022, he was Head of the National Research Foundation of Ukraine (NRFU), an institution comparable to the German Research Foundation.