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Support announced for scientists fleeing Ukraine invasion

Image: UN Women Europe and Central Asia [CC BY-NC 2.0], via Flickr

German institutions vow to provide funds and space for colleagues on the run

Numerous scientific institutions in Germany have announced plans to aid researchers and academics who are fleeing from the conflict in Ukraine.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany’s largest public research funder, said it would help to “integrate” refugee scientists from Ukraine into the German academic system. The DFG said it would offer financial support to academics from Ukraine—and also those who have had to abandon their work in Russia—as part of this initiative.

“This is another way in which the DFG wishes to emphasise its solidarity with academics from Ukraine who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of the Russian attack,” the organisation said. “However, the support is also open to Russian academics who have been forced to flee the current situation.”

Science diplomacy

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation said it would offer researchers threatened by the war “unbureaucratic support” through special arrangements for alumni stays and fellowship extensions. These instruments are also open to scientists from Russia who are at risk due to being critical of the war, the foundation said.   

“We are relying on science and science diplomacy as instruments of trust and dialogue,” said Humboldt president Hans-Christian Pape. “It would be disastrous if we were to destroy these bridges. We fundamentally do not want to suspend the sponsorship of individual Russian researchers and, in the process, also punish persons who are courageously speaking out against the war.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, in what has now become the largest military attack in Europe since the second world war. According to the UN, around 400 civilians have been killed so far.  

Ukrainian researchers who are at risk will be offered a “safe haven” through the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, which is administered by the Humboldt foundation. The initiative’s application deadline has been extended for researchers from Ukraine and the nominating process has been simplified, the foundation said. Further measures are being prepared.

However, the foundation’s leaders said in a statement that they were expecting to need around €23 million in the next three years to make the scheme available to all Ukrainian researchers in need. “Since the financing needs could be considerably higher than this, depending on how the situation in Ukraine unfolds, the Humboldt foundation is seeking donations from the private sector,” they said.

Forced exile

The Volkswagen Foundation said it would provide funding for Ukrainian scientists to continue their work at a university or research institute in Germany. It is accepting applications for a funding period of up to 12 months and a monthly stipend of between €1,500 and €2,100, plus additional fixed payments.

“Our support is there to help researchers and their families manage their time in forced exile,” said foundation secretary-general Georg Schütte. “It is our protest against the [conflict’s] rampant threat to people’s freedom and that of science.”

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) called on the government to create a funding programme to integrate students, researchers and teachers from Ukraine into German higher education. This should include scholarships for Ukrainian students and researchers, support for German universities in supervising them and leadership programmes, a statement said.

The DAAD is in talks with the German government about the elements that such a programme should contain, it said. “If we imagine a prolonged war in Ukraine or a full-scale Russian occupation regime in the country, we have to expect a very large number of Ukrainians to come to us and be looked after,” said DAAD president Joybrato Mukherjee.

The German National Association for Student Affairs (DSW) expressed support for the DAAD’s proposal, saying that Russian students in distress should be included in financial and psychological aid programmes.

“Chancellor Olaf Scholz emphasised that the sanctions were directed against [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s regime and not against the Russian population in general,” said DSW president Rolf-Dieter Postlep. “We support according to need, not nationality. We stand in solidarity with all students who are suffering from this war.”

Individual federal states have also created support systems. Brandenburg’s research ministry said it would set up a platform for networking and support. Bavaria, meanwhile, has set up a €500,000 emergency support fund for Ukrainian academics, its research ministry said.