Today marks International Migrants Day 2022 (18 December 2022). In this two-part blog, we speak to researchers who have helped support migrant scientist colleagues, and share some of the work we’ve been doing directly with community groups – explaining why this work is so important to achieving our mission.

War, insecurity and the effects of climate change have all contributed to the forced movement of people within their countries and across borders in recent decades. In the year to June 2022, it is estimated that there were over 1.1 million people who migrated to the UK alone.

Regardless of the reasons that force people to move, migrants and displaced people make up some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society, with often limited access to basic necessities and information.

Against all odds, they continuously contribute their knowledge, networks and skills to build stronger and more resilient communities. Among these are migrant scientists and researchers.

Part one: The researchers supporting Ukrainian colleagues

In the first part of this blog, we speak to researcher, Dr Anna Bobak, who has stepped up to help Ukrainian colleagues and researchers through grassroots efforts such as #ScienceForUkraine. We also speak to Ukrainian researcher, Dr Alina Nychyk, who is currently living in Manchester and specialises in EU-Ukraine-Russia relations.

Here are their thoughts.

Dr Anna Bobak is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Stirling who is actively engaged in the #ScienceForUkraine initiative.
Dr Alina Nychyk is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Manchester. She is also a Ukraine Fellow at the Research Center for the History of Transformations at the University of Vienna.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and your connection with Ukrainian research and researchers?

Anna: I’m a cognitive psychologist by training, currently working as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Stirling in Scotland. I joined the #ScienceForUkraine initiative in early March 2022 and currently co-coordinate the UK Academic Mentoring Scheme together with Igor Potapov at the University of Liverpool and Maria Eichel-Vogel at the University of Edinburgh.

Alina: After graduating with my Bachelor’s Degree from Kyiv National Economic University, I moved from Ukraine to pursue my Master’s and Doctoral Degrees abroad. I spend a few months in Ukraine each year and maintain my connection to the country via my social activism. Currently, I am an elected member of the board of the Professional Government Association of Ukraine. My scholarly interests are also related to Ukraine. In my doctoral dissertation, I researched Ukraine’s foreign policy in relations with the EU and Russia throughout the first year of the war in 2014.

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, I joined efforts with #ScienceForUkraine and Ukraine Hub UK to help Ukrainian scientists and students to come to other countries for research stays or studies. I have also offered my help in the form of personal academic advice to individuals.

Why are you passionate about helping Ukrainian scientists and researchers?

Anna: When Russia illegally invaded Ukraine in February 2022, I felt very angry and helpless. My family and friends in Poland were all doing something practical to help and I felt as though my hands were tied. Then I found out about #ScienceForUkraine on Twitter and realised that there are ways I could help.

I updated the database of academic offers early on, helped with press releases, and set up the UK Academic Mentoring scheme for Ukrainian researchers with Valentina Mosienko at the University of Bristol. I think research is, and will be, a crucial part of rebuilding Ukraine and thus helping academics and students to preserve their work and learning in some way is very important.

Alina: When I was looking for PhD studies in different countries, I noticed that opportunities for Ukrainians were very limited. There were more scholarships available for EU citizens or developing countries, for example, but Ukraine remained a white spot on the map with almost no options. After a few years of searching for a PhD, I secured a full scholarship from the University of Manchester, and I was the only non-EU citizen in my year with this scholarship.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has escalated foreign support for Ukraine - extending into academia. Foreign universities have started creating new opportunities for Ukrainian scientists and scholars. I was delighted to see that many established foreign scientists were lobbying their universities for more support for Ukrainians, which has enabled some to continue their education abroad. After the war, we will need well-educated and motivated Ukrainians to rebuild our country.

At the British Science Association, our vision is a future where science is more relevant, representative, and connected to society. Is this something you can see in your own research, or perhaps see in others’ work, especially when it comes to Ukrainian research/researchers?

Anna: I think it would be wonderful to see a significant representation of Ukrainian scholars in all disciplines. I think this is particularly (but of course, not only) relevant when it comes to the history of the region where we absolutely should listen to Ukrainian voices.  

Alina: For my PhD dissertation, I looked at the first year of the war in Ukraine and I discovered some peculiarities of EU-Ukraine-Russia relations. I would be very happy if policymakers could learn from political science research to implement better policies. The general public could also learn from political science researchers, to help them make more informed election decisions.

International collaboration is key to advancing scientific research globally. What do you hope to see for the future of research collaboration between Ukraine and the UK, and with the rest of the world?

Anna: I dream of a world where such international research collaboration thrives. Being able to connect remotely presents many opportunities such as joint data analysis or writing research papers.

As a psychologist, conducting cross-cultural research would allow me to gain insights into processes that are typically studied within western populations. We try to encourage such collaboration in our UK Academic Mentoring scheme where UK-based academics can collaborate in various ways with Ukrainian researchers who remain in Ukraine or are currently abroad.

Alina: I would like to see more cooperation between individual universities and scientific institutions in the UK and Ukraine (e.g. a British university could help to re-establish a destroyed Ukrainian university). Also, more scholarship opportunities for Ukrainian students at British universities, more short-term scientific staff exchanges, more visits of foreign professors to teach in Ukraine, joint summer schools, and training programmes. There are many different ways of developing mutually beneficial international cooperation in science.

In light of International Migrants Day, what more do you think can be done to encourage and support researchers impacted by the war in Ukraine?

Anna: I wouldn’t want to speak on behalf of Ukrainian researchers but what I have seen working well, however, are remote programmes that allow academics to stay in Ukraine, but be paid, and have access to digital resources using external funds.

A fantastic example is the German incentive, Wildau-Kharkiv IT Bridge. If UK funding bodies and the relevant legislators made funds available and allowed them to be used in this way, I believe we could make a big difference for academics remaining in Ukraine.

Alina: Lifting the ban on Ukrainian men being able to leave the country. This is a human right violation, which in my opinion, cannot be justified by the war. Although there are some online research opportunities that are available for men, it would be fairer if Ukrainian male scholars had equal access to international research cooperation. Currently, they are even not allowed to leave Ukraine to take part in a conference in another country. Ukrainian male students (even those, who started their studies before the war) are not allowed to leave Ukraine as well.

Do you know of any initiatives that support Ukrainian researchers and scientists, and how our readers can support them?

Anna: Donate to Ukrainian causes. The Kyiv School of Economics is constantly fundraising and doing some amazing work. You can follow their president, Professor Tymofiy Mylovanov on Twitter - he provides a candid account of life and academic work in wartime.

If you are organising seminars, think about whether you can invite (remotely) a Ukrainian scholar to speak.

You can also help us by becoming an academic mentor for a Ukrainian colleague. We run the scheme using an online platform kindly donated by PushFar. Prospective mentors can sign up here.

Finally, you can also check our #ScienceForUkraine website or follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date with recent developments. What I would say is that we are all busy, but if you are ever in doubt about whether even an hour a week is going to make a difference, then I can say absolutely, yes.

Alina: There is the Ukraine Global University which is a global network of educational institutions working to support Ukrainian students and scholars.

If you are a scientist yourself, you could lobby your institution to create new opportunities for Ukrainian scientists.

On the other hand, some Ukrainian scientists have good expertise in their field, but have issues with their English language skills. One way to help is to connect them to the Ukrainian diaspora locally, or even offer them help with English yourself.

Part two: An example of how we are supporting migrant communities

In the second part of this blog, we look at one of the projects we are supporting through our The Ideas Fund programme, which works directly with community groups supporting migrants and refugees, and why this connection is so important to achieving our mission.

The Ideas Fund aims to bring local people who have an idea about how to improve the mental wellbeing of their local community together with researchers who can help turn this idea into a reality.

One of these projects is Unity For All, run by Bora Shabaa. The community organisation focuses on supporting those seeking refuge or asylum in Hull, with their Ideas Fund project helping to develop a supportive network and community to promote wellbeing for all.

They have created a safe space for members to participate in workshops, share their stories and attend informal classes provided by researchers, like teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL).

They receive support from researchers in understanding the needs and assets of the community. The main focus of the project is for the members of the community to take ownership of the space and use it how they best see fit to enhance their mental wellbeing.

Find out more about Boba Shabba

For more information about The Ideas Fund, watch this video which also features Bora Shabaa:

Initiatives like #ScienceforUkraine helping migrant scientists, and organisations like Bora Shabaa supporting migrant communities, contribute to working towards a future where everyone is represented, and has their voices heard on the issues that matter to them.

We will continue to work towards helping people traditionally underrepresented in science use it as a tool for thinking and making decisions. For us to sustainably develop as a society, it’s essential that we all do.