Two Ukrainian academics have described the importance of being a role model for girls interested in pursuing a career in their field and expressed concern about their country’s “brain drain” as young people flee war .
Olena Pareniuk studies bacteria in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, while biologist Kateryna Shavanova works on agricultural efficiency.
Both recently featured in the second season of the online documentary Women in Science, which aims to make Ukrainian women scientists visible to society and inspire young women to build careers in stem research.
dr Pareniuk, 35, and Dr. Shavanova, 39, spoke to the PA news agency about how a year of full-scale war – including the capture of Chernobyl – has affected her work and why Ukrainian women are more important than ever to be encouraged to pursue science as a career.
“Ukraine is in dire need of bright and young people right now,” Ms Pareniuk told PA.
“Because after the victory we have to rebuild the country. It should be bright, prominent young people who should do it.
“We should show the possibilities to young people who stayed in Ukraine or who left Ukraine on a scholarship… we should show them that we have something to do here and we will really appreciate it if you come back .”
According to the UN refugee agency, almost eight million refugees from Ukraine have been registered in neighboring countries and across Europe.
The women, who both worked in Chernobyl, spoke of their concerns about young Ukrainian minds fleeing the war and studying abroad, earning university degrees and finding jobs elsewhere.
dr Pareniuk added that there must be an approach to tackling her country’s “brain drain”.
“The feeling is very strange because if I send good students to another country, it might seem like I’m just promoting the brain drain,” she said.
“I think I’ll do my best to get good funding for our research and I’ll do my best to hire young people, give them freedom and good advice to get into (a) future in science to advance.
“This is how I want to make my contribution to stopping the brain drain.”
dr Shavanova echoed the opinion of Dr. Pareniuk, while admitting that brain drain is “a problem” in Ukraine, said that sending young scientists around the world to network and collaborate with peers is crucial to their development.
“Brain drain is a problem, but I hope it will be some kind of brain change because scientists should go abroad,” she said.
“You should see the world, you should try to work in the different labs, because sometimes, of course, it’s better equipped, sometimes you have the chance to work with (a) Nobel Prize winner.
“I hope that Ukrainians will return to Ukraine… but it’s so important to keep in touch with your foreign counterparts.”
dr Shavanova added that while brain drain remains a problem, it is better to lose scientists to neighboring countries than to be killed by Russians in the war.
“Now some of our colleagues in the army are protecting us, so the risk is very high,” she said.
“The brain drain (is) a problem, but recently we received news that one of our prominent colleagues, biologist Bizhan Sharopov, has just died on the battlefield.
“Like all Ukrainians, we need a win – and this will be the best solution to the problem of brain drain.
“(If) I know someone brilliant who works in Europe or the US – that’s not a problem. If they get killed by Russians, that’s a problem.”
Both addressed the effects of the war on their work, including Dr. Pareniuk, who spoke about Russia’s seizure of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which is now back under Ukrainian control.
“They broke windows, they stole some computers, they still stole some equipment,” she explained.
“We don’t want to rebuild the labs and then watch them get ruined again, so we’re basically operating on a minimal scale.
“So we’re doing something just to survive, to keep up some very important research, (but) we’re not trying to rebuild the institute (or) the labs yet, because to continue the work and rebuild, we need the safety of our.” Employees and facilities ensure insured.
“First we will let our army do its job… and then – we scientists, who will help rebuild the country.”
dr Shavanova also said she knows colleagues and family members of colleagues who died in the war.
“That feeling, when you open your Facebook page and you just see a portrait of a person, your heart stops because it could mean someone has died,” she said.
dr Pareniuk praised the work of the scientists and praised the documentation as “very important”.
“It is very important to show young school children and students successful cases of people who stayed in Ukraine,” she added.
“The message is that we wanted to show role models for girls.
“We wanted to show that it’s possible to be a woman in science, to have a very interesting life and to be successful in everything you do.
“That it is actually possible to continue working and researching even during the war.”
To learn more about and view Women In Science documentaries, go to: inscience.io/womeninscience