July 27, 2023

FIAS as a temporary home for Ukrainian researchers

Should I stay or should I go? - Science counts.

Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) hosted seven Ukrainian researchers after the attack on their country last year. How are they doing today?

Dr Roman Poberezhnyuk praises "the great working environment" at FIAS. He had already spent several months as a visiting scientist at FIAS before the war. So he was able to use his scientific contacts and immediately find support and accommodation here. Poberezhnyuk has been cooperating for years with researchers from Prof. Horst Stöcker's group at FIAS to understand the thermodynamic properties of dense elementary matter. Finding an appartement was not easy, he says, and getting the residence permit took long. But apart from that, Poberezhnyuk and his girlfriend, who also lives here, are completely content. He wrote four publications during his stay; two more are in preparation. The physicist wants to continue his career in the USA next year, where he has been offered a post-doctoral position at a colleague's institute. A return to Ukraine depends on research opportunities after the war. Before the Russian attack, he observed a positive development in funding, which made it possible to live from research: “How this will develop in the future is completely open”.

His colleagues Oleksandr Stashko and Oleh Savchuk have already moved on to the USA as PhD students. They had both found temporary accommodation at FIAS and were "very grateful for the full support of the research stay" in Frankfurt.

Prof. Mark Gorenstein, on the contrary, returned to Kyiv in April. The head of the department of High Energy Density Physics at the Bogolyubov Institute for Theoretical Physics at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine had fled to Germany with his family last year in the face of the bombardments in Kyiv. "Even today we don't sleep well, there are bombings every night," Gorenstein describes the oppressive atmosphere in Kyiv. Fortunately, little is destroyed - thanks to air defence. Why did he return anyway? "The support - for which I am very grateful to FIAS and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation - ended. I could have stayed in Germany as a refugee, but I wanted to continue my work in Kyiv." He has not regretted this step. The institute in Kyiv and the researchers on site are working, even though most of the seminars take place online. In 2001 Gorenstein was Alexander von Humboldt Awardee for his research on phase transitions and their signatures in cooperation with FIAS and GSI in Darmstadt. He had received a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2022 and lived in Frankfurt with his wife, daughter and granddaughter. Gorenstein praises the fruitful cooperation with FIAS scientists, the support and helpfulness of all the staff. "We published seven papers during my stay in Frankfurt".

His colleague Prof. Dmytro Anchyshkin from the Kyiv Bogolyubov Institute, on the other hand, decided to stay in Germany. He had worked as FIAS visiting professor for four months. Now he and his wife are taking advantage of state support to continue working at FIAS, which provides him with a workplace. They are considering returning to Kyiv to work there and manage a group of young scientists and Ph.D. students. But when they visited Ukraine around Christmas, life was hard: "Due to the bombing there was no electricity, internet, heating, and even water supply for hours”. Anchyshkin greatly appreciates the warm hospitality and support provided by the FIAS administration and scientific community, especially by Horst Stöcker.

Zhanna Khuranova had completed her master's degree in physics in 2020. She wanted to apply for a PhD position in Germany anyway - the war made this wish concrete. Oleh Savchuk arranged contacts for her at FIAS; last August she met PD Dr Benjamin Dönigus. She has been working on her doctorate with him at the Department of Physics at Goethe University since the beginning of the year, on the prediction and measurement of tiny particles called hadrons. "I am glad that Horst Stöcker from FIAS supported me; and I am very happy with my current research topic, my supervisor and the support from the federal government," says Khuranova. She doubts that she will ever return to Ukraine: "My family lives in the USA". And a stay at CERN in Geneva lures her scientifically.

Maria Khelashvili had started her doctorate on ultra-light dark matter at the Bogolyubov Institute. She was very happy to continue her research at FIAS, thanks to a scholarship from the Polytechnic Society Foundation. She is currently continuing her work on ultra-light and axion-like dark matter candidates as a visiting PhD student at Princeton University (USA). "All that would not be possible without initial and very prompt support from FIAS”, she adds with gratitude.

Danylo Batulin completed his doctorate at FIAS a few weeks ago. He came to Germany from occupied Luhansk region back in 2016. Some of his friends and family members have been wounded or killed since the invasion, he says; his family's real estate units have been destroyed. At first, he says, it was hard to live in a society where life continues as normal - with festivals, music and celebrations. "What saved my mental state was supporting Ukraine volunteer projects from here". He praises: "It was amazing how fast and effectively the FIAS administration responded to the invasion. I was very moved by the symbolic large Ukrainian flag over FIAS". He is enthusiastic about his PhD supervisor Jochen Triesch, in whose research group he published two papers.

"FIAS will continue to support scientists who are under threat at home and unable to conduct their research at home," emphasises FIAS Director Eckhard Elsen. The cooperation with funders such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Foundation of the Polytechnic Society and the DFG makes it possible to give a home to researchers from all over the world - at least temporarily. The primary goal, of course, remains to recreate a desirable working environment at home in the long term and to strengthen this through cooperation. For example, FIAS is considering cross-country and cross-disciplinary conferences. 

Photos: Roman Poberezhnyuk (left), Zhanna Khuranova (right), centre: first picture of the Ukrainian scientists at FIAS 2022 (Maria Khelashvili - Oleh Savchuk - Oleksandr Stashko - Roman Poberezhnyuk - Mark Gorenstein). Source: FIAS

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