Science without borders: interview with cofounders of the Ukrainian Academic International Network
Author: Marta D’omochko
Co-initiators of the Ukrainian Academic International Network (the UKRAINE Network) and co-founders of the German-Ukrainian Academic Society (www.ukrainet.eu),
- Olga Garaschuk, Neurobiologist, Professor, University of Tübingen, President of the Society
- Matthias Epple, Chemist, Professor, University Duisburg-Essen, Vice-President of the Society
- Oksana Seumenicht (Ciupka), PhD (Biology), Physicist, International Relations Manager, Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in the Helmholtz Association (Berlin), Managing Director of the Society
How did the idea for establishing the organisation come about?
Oksana Seumenicht (Ciupka): The idea of the Ukrainian Academic International Network (The UKRAINE Network) emerged at the beginning of 2015. There was a feeling that Ukrainians worldwide, awakened by recent events, were now prepared to make an effort to support real changes in Ukraine. Although at first the primary aim was to help with providing humanitarian aid, gradually awareness grew that it might be more useful if everyone does what they do best. In our case, it meant sharing knowledge and expertise and involving our professional contacts in the internationalisation of science and higher education. First of all, our network aims to foster international academic cooperation and to speed up Ukraine’s integration into the European (and global) research area. Also, a certain role in realising the need for such a network was played the “hybrid warfare”, namely the fact that there is not much known abroad about Ukraine; the achievements of Ukrainian science and of scientists of Ukrainian origin are practically unknown, neither in Ukraine nor worldwide. Around that time, at an event in Berlin for scientific attachés from the embassies of various countries I was asked where I came from. When I replied “from Ukraine”, I was kindly answered “Ah, yes, we’ve heard of Ukraine, our kitchen-helper actually comes from Ukraine”. Perhaps this episode became for me the last straw and prompted me to act, to ensure that Ukrainians become known not only for their hard work and good cooking skills, but also as inventors and winners of many of leading scientific awards, as professors and heads of departments of leading Western universities, as institute directors of the Max Planck Society, one of the most respected scientific organisations in Germany. Thus, our goal is also to consolidate and spread this information to improve the visibility of Ukrainian scientists and their achievements both in Ukraine and abroad.
However, as one says in Ukraine, “один в полі не воїн”/ the voice of one is the voice of none, therefore it was necessary to find others who support these ideas. The first cohort of supporters consisted of my institute colleagues and neuroscientists Vitalii and Maryna Matyash, Tetiana Kovalchuk (now Kosten, a consulting associate at Charles River Associates Consulting in Munich; she, by the way, developed our logo), the biologist Dmytro Puchkov from the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP) at the Campus Berlin Buch, and my acquaintances: the linguist Olesia Lazarenko and the historian Andrii Portnov, who represents the Forum of the Transregional Studies and heads the “Prisma Ukraïna Research Network Eastern Europe”. Olesia and Dmytro are currently coordinating the local group of our network in Berlin and Brandenburg. Our colleague here, neuroscientist Olha Harashchuk, professor at the University of Tübingen and director of the 2nd Institute of Physiology, not only reacted positively to the idea of the network, but devoted considerable effort and time to further develop and implement our joint activities. In fact, the idea of founding the German-Ukrainian Academic Society (Die Deutsch-Ukrainische Akademische Gesellschaft e.V.), which will be discussed below, as a non-governmental non-profit organisation to support the network in Germany, belongs to Olha.