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"We don't want a brain drain, we want to preserve Ukraine as a center of science".

Greta Facile Picture: Desy

Greta Facile from DESY on aid programs for science in Ukraine during the war.

Greta, you have been coordinating EURIZON research network funding projects for Ukraine since the beginning of the Ukrainian war. What is your role?

EURIZON is an EU-funded network of 26 European - including nine German - research institutions and is coordinated by the German Electron Synchrotron Foundation (DESY) in Hamburg. Its goal is the scientific and technical cooperation of European research infrastructures.

Wasn't EURIZON originally a project for scientific cooperation with Russia?

Yes. EURIZON was originally called "CREMLINplus" and aimed at networking Russian and European research; this included five large Russian research projects. Part of the consortium even then was a Ukrainian institution, namely the Institute for Nuclear Research of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev.

But then came the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022.

That, of course, changed everything. Cooperation with the Russian partners was terminated, funding for the Russian projects was stopped, and two more Ukrainian institutions were brought on board in their place. An important part of EURIZON's budget is now used to continue paying Ukrainian scientists and to enable them to continue their research.

Has contact with the Russian interlocutors been completely severed?

Not completely. These are people with whom I have worked for a long time, some of whom I have become friends with. I still correspond with some of them, but we remain on a formal level and avoid anything political. Years of working in an international environment have made me separate people from their political representatives. Even during the Cold War, communication between scientists never completely broke down, and I hope that after this war we will talk to each other again.

How do you help Ukrainian scientists in concrete terms?

We award research fellowships, offer training, and organize virtual meetings. We currently have nine fellowships from the University of Milan-Bicocca for Ukrainian scientists to study for a Master of Management of Research Infrastructures. Funded by the European Union.

So these fellows don't stay in Ukraine?

They do, but they travel to Milan for five attendance modules. However, only the women. Ukrainian men under 60 are currently not allowed to travel outside the country; a fully online version of the program is available for them.

Right now, EURIZON is planning a major grant program.

Yes. The Remote Research Grants Fellowships program will fund 20 to 25 teams of two to five researchers each from Ukraine for six months to a year, for a total of about 100 to 120 people. We have 1.5 million euros available for this purpose.

How exactly is such a fellowship structured?

Each of the funded Ukrainian teams has a sibling team from European research infrastructures, including many institutions from the Helmholtz Association. The Ukrainian colleagues then cooperate with this team from home. In this way, they can continue their research even if their research facilities in Ukraine are currently out of operation.

What has the response been like?

Overwhelming. We expected around 70 to 90 applications and received more than 750. At the end of the summer, the decision on awarding the grants will be made.

Will the budget of 1.5 million euros be maintained?

We are in talks with the EU for an increase.

Will only the natural sciences be funded?

No. We have applications from all branches of science. Of these, "Physical Sciences and Engineering" is the largest, with 38 percent. This is followed by "Environment" with 16 percent, "Health and Food" and "Social and Cultural Innovation" with 15 percent each, "Energy" with ten percent and "Data, Computing and Digital Research Interests" with six percent. Incidentally, the program is not just aimed at finished scientists, but also engineers and technicians, as well as doctoral students and postdocs.

How exactly does the funding work?

We give each team a fixed amount with which its members can freely implement their proposed project. The specific allocation is left to the team, according to the distribution of tasks: We want to keep Ukrainian research alive, but not interfere in its structures. And we want to allow flexibility, therefore both full-time and part-time should be possible.

From which European countries do the cooperation partners come?

From all over Europe. Countries outside EURIZON are also represented. 215 of the Ukrainian applicants want Polish partners, 154 German. This puts Germany in second place.

Why are Ukrainian institutions not funded directly?

Because many structures there have been damaged by the war. Understandably, almost all resources have gone to national defense,.Teaching and research have been delayed, and in some cases salaries have not been paid. That's why we support the scientists more directly.

Are there also plans for new research facilities in Ukraine?

The League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources (LEAPS) is planning to build a beamline as part of the "Light for Ukraine" initiative, which will be operated at the Polish SOLARIS Institute in Krakow. This beamline is to be run in Poland but owned by Ukraine.

Are there any other funding programs?

The EU's MSCA4UKRAINE program, with a volume of 25 million euros, enables 124 Ukrainian doctoral students or postdocs to spend research periods of between six months and two years in a European host country. And the Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) of the EU Commission, with a total budget of 50 billion euros, is planning its own unit for Ukraine, the "Ukraine Facility", within the framework of which a new National Contact Point is to be established at the National Research Foundation in Kiev in 2023, where the research and innovation networks (R&I) between Ukrainian and European institutions will then converge.

Ukrainian scientists who come to Europe under the grants might want to stay? This would not help the country.

I keep emphasizing that we must avoid a brain drain and, where it has already happened, reverse it. That is why our EURIZON Remote Research Program is aimed exclusively at scientists who are either in Ukraine or who have declared their intention to return there. This is also the will of the EU Commission. We do not want a brain drain, we want to maintain Ukraine as a science location.

What would you like to pass on to your Ukrainian colleagues?

That I admire how much they are still committed to excellent science despite the extremely difficult conditions!

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