“A ‘no’ suddenly has serious implications”
In the space of 10 days, AIAS received 65 applications for AUFF Ukraine research fellowships, which are aimed at researchers fleeing the war in Ukraine. It was difficult reading the applications and making a selection, but it is worth helping, even if we can only help the few, says Søren Rud Keiding, director of the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies.
Once the Ukraine research fellowships were posted on the AIAS website and shared on Twitter at the beginning of March, it was only a few days before the first applications started to come in.
In less than two weeks, AIAS received applications from 65 researchers who saw Aarhus University as the place to find safety and to continue with their research. And the applications certainly made an impression, says the director of AIAS, Søren Rud Keiding, who, together with the Aarhus University Research Foundation, started the AUFF Ukraine research fellowships initiative.
“We are used to receiving enquiries and applications from international researchers who would like to come to the university in order to explore their subject in more depth, exchange experiences and expand their network. But, with the war as a backdrop, selecting successful applications was a completely different process. We had to work quickly. The applications were written in a way we’ve not seen before, and we had to use different criteria to make our selection”, explains Søren Rud Keiding.
Suitcases were packed
One of the main criteria to be considered for a Ukraine research fellowship was that the researcher had to be ‘in need’. And all the applicants met this criterion.
“Some of the applicants literally had their suitcases packed, were hiding in bomb shelters, or were half way out of Ukraine when they sent their application. The vast majority of them are women with responsibility for children or older relatives, and we can see form the applications that many were forced to leave their home country – and spouses, brothers and fathers – in haste. Their circumstances are extremely dramatic and heartbreaking”, says Søren Rud Keiding.
Together with the assessment committee, which consists of researchers from each of AU’s faculties, he has continued to assess the applications.
“We have looked at whether an applicant already has a relationship with AU, as this would help them settle in more quickly. One of my hopes is that their research can provide them with a mental break from war and worry. We have also considered whether an applicant speaks English or has published in English. We’ve considered all this in order to create the best chances, despite the difficult situation”, Søren Rud Keiding explains about the selection process, which has resulted in 18 displaced researchers being offered a fellowship. So far, nine researchers have accepted, and three researchers from research institutions in Kyiv have already arrived in Aarhus.
An ocean of drops
The selection process was difficult and challenging, admits Søren Rud Keiding.
“I have been assessing applications for years and have accepted and rejected many. It has always been in the back of my mind that a ‘yes’ can promote a career and a ‘no’ can put the breaks on a career. But, in this situation, our decision could be a matter of life and death. A ‘no’ suddenly has serious implications. So I assessed these applications with another form of awareness.
For Søren Rud Keiding, it has been necessary to focus on what is possible. Even if it only helps the few.
“It is a drop in the ocean of what is required. But an ocean is made up of drops. So it does help, and we are making a world of difference to the few people who get the opportunity to come to Aarhus University”.
Even though the AUFF Ukraine research fellowships were initially conceived as a helping hand for researchers in need, Søren Rud Keiding believes that the encounter between the new fellows and Aarhus University will benefit both parties.
“Researchers from Ukraine bring with them another academic culture – one which has been directed towards the Soviet Union, which is historically known for its high academic quality. Particularly within the natural sciences, which is my own field. I can imagine that this academic depth combined with our tradition for free and critical research can give rise to some exciting discussions and insights. But, first of all, we need to focus on helping the new fellows settle in once they arrive in Aarhus”, says Søren Rud Keiding.
A difficult decision between safety in Aarhus and an uncertain life in Ukraine
Alina Korobeinyk is AIAS’s first researcher to come to Aarhus on an AUFF Ukraine research fellowship. It was difficult to write the application, she explains. Not because the academic section was hard, but because the Russian invasion of Ukraine made the circumstances extremely tough.
“I was very torn in my decision. The Russians had been in Ukraine for two weeks when the opportunity to apply for a fellowship arose, and I had to make a decision between getting somewhere safe and escaping the horrific events in my country or staying with my family, my friends, my work and my former life”, says Alina Korobeinyk.
Now Kyiv has been replaced with Aarhus for Alina, and she is attempting to create a temporary research life for herself in the Vennelyst Park. She is a chemical physicist and usually conducts research at the Chuiko Institute of Surface Chemistry, part of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Alina Korobeinyk's field of research is nanotechnology, and, as a fellow at AIAS, she will be included in a research group at AU'S iNano Center. She has been made to feel very welcome.
“I feel invited, included and cared for. The people around me are very sympathetic towards Ukraine and my life situation. I feel safe now”, says Alina Korobeinyk, who also expects to benefit academically from her time in Aarhus.
“I am looking forward to new projects and publications, and I also hope that my collaboration in the research group will result in new competencies and knowledge”.
Alina Korobeinyk sees her future in her ‘beautiful, peaceful and democratic’ Ukraine, as she describes it.
“My eyes are on Ukraine. I hope that we will be victorious, that my country will be rebuilt, and that the war criminals will be prosecuted. And that we will get some kind of guarantee that the unimaginable devastation inflicted on our country by Russia will never happen again.