Basque science, to the rescue of Ukrainian scientists

Ukrainian physicist Alexey Nikitin (on the left), with his team members Nathaniel Capote, Andrei Bylinkin, Kateryna Domina and Kirill Voronin. / Altuna Wolf

Science | Research

Four researchers have already joined the reception programs launched by centers of excellence in the Basque Country after the Russian invasion

Four Ukrainian researchers have moved to Euskadi due to the Russian invasion and now work in San Sebastián, two at the Donostia International Physics Center (DIPC) and another two at the CIC biomaGUNE. When the war began, the international scientific community turned to its Ukrainian colleagues and created reception programs that were immediately joined by the Basque centers integrated into the Basque Research & Technology Alliance (BRTA) and the DIPC.

"The idea was born as soon as the war broke out," recalls Ricardo Díez Muiño, director of the DIPC.
alexey nikitin (Kharkov, 1980), one of the center's researchers, then asked him if they could go beyond the statement condemning the invasion. "What we came up with is to create a program to bring Ukrainian scientists," says the Gipuzkoan physicist. “It was something that came up, on the one hand, in conversations with Ricardo Díez Muiño and, on the other, in a proposal at a meeting of the directors of the BRTA”, explains Txema Pitarke, director of the CIC nanoGUNE.

Díez Muiño thinks of what happened after the Second World War when, through Operation Paperclip, Washington captured German scientists like Wernher von Braun, the engineer who designed the V-2 missile and, already in the United States , the rocket that took astronauts to the Moon. “It is not the same because we are not looking to take advantage of the situation, but we can help them and, at the same time, it is beneficial for us, because we are talking about very good scientists. It's not about charity, but about bringing in researchers who can contribute a lot to our system." And also to create links for when the war is over and those scientists, if they want, return to their country.

comprehensive support

The DIPC has a "very intense" program of visiting researchers. “About two hundred come a year. Many stay here for several months. So we decided to take advantage of that program to offer places to Ukrainian scientists.” As in the other centers involved, a specific budget item was not created for the reception plan, but rather priority was given to Ukrainians in the visiting researcher programs. The initiative focused on women and older men, given the ban on leaving Ukraine for all men between the ages of 18 and 60.

Two Ukrainian physicists have already accepted the DIPC offer, launched in collaboration with the University of the Basque Country, and another three will arrive this summer as part of the normal program of visiting researchers. The first two have one-year work contracts and logistical support to bring their families, facilitating the schooling of their children, if they have any, and a job opportunity for the couple. Something that is usually done with scientists who come to Euskadi in talent recruitment programs.

«So far, two researchers have joined the CIC biomaGUNE. We are not talking about charity. They have come to work”, emphasizes the biochemist José María Mato, director of that center and of the CIC bioGUNE. When Russian tanks crossed the border with Ukraine, a website of scientific institutions offering help to Ukrainian researchers was created in the European Union. Mato spoke with those responsible for the two centers he directs about the possibility of doing something along these lines, it seemed good to them and he raised the idea at a meeting of the BRTA, which is "an alliance of 17 technology and research centers in which About 4,100 professionals work”, explains Rikardo Bueno, its director.

The BRTA was born in 2019 “with two main goals: that the centers better reach the business world and that they cooperate more and better among themselves.” Bueno highlights how, "before the invasion of Ukraine, the European scientific and technological fabric has gotten its act together." A "logical" reaction, says Pitarke, because "science is something open to everyone. Right now, we have researchers from 27 countries at CIC nanoGUNE. International collaboration is in our genes. We have always incorporated people from other countries into our teams.”

geographical distance

The Basque centers have announced their initiatives on their websites, on the BRTA website, on those of scientific societies and also on 'Science for Ukraine' (, a site that collects host offers from all the world. “So far, around a dozen people have contacted us, of which four are already working in two centers. Its alot? Is it little? I do not know. I get the feeling that it's not much, but I'm not sure”, says Bueno, aware that the Basque Country is very far from Ukraine and that there may be other countries that the applicants consider more attractive. The CIC nanoGUNE has not yet recruited any researcher. «We are a center with a lot of physics and traditionally we have always had more difficulty attracting women. We haven't received any requests from Ukrainian women scientists, but we have received requests from men, and we're studying some,” says Pitarke.

"Two researchers are working at the CIC biomaGUNE with six-month contracts, but Spain is very far from Ukraine," warns the center's director. Mato, who was president of the CSIC between 1992 and 1996, believes that the Basque Country has received few requests from Ukrainian scientists due to its distance. “Surely they want to be close to their country, just as the Civil War refugees preferred to stay in France. Plus, it's also easier for them to know German." Although language is less of a problem if the researcher arrives alone, since in all centers of excellence the official language is English.

Like their colleagues from the DIPC, the Ukrainian researchers from the CIC biomaGUNE have landed at the Talent House, a facility of the municipal company Fomento San Sebastián that offers accommodation and support services to high-level researchers and their families. “This is not charity. They come to work. They are not a problem », says Mato, a point of view shared by his colleagues. “It is something that had to be done in the face of a tragedy such as a war in Europe. Compared to what other people do, such as individuals who take in families, our help is small, "says the biochemist.

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