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MultiPark provides safe places for Ukrainian researchers

Viktoriia Nikulina, Nadiia Kravchenko, and Valeriia Haisanovska outside of the BMC. Photo.
Viktoriia Nikulina, Nadiia Kravchenko, and Valeriia Haisanovska are three Ukrainian researchers that recently found new career paths in MultiPark's research groups.

Since 24 February, nothing has been the same for Ukrainian researchers. In this urgent situation, MultiPark has offered some of them a sanctuary. They are eager to share their thoughts about how we may all contribute to this period to be as constructive as possible, despite the threatening circumstances.

It is impossible not to be touched by the horrible situation for the Ukrainian people. As a research area, the most obvious way to help is to offer rooms for researchers to come here. That is why several of MultiPark’s research leaders decided to host Ukrainian researchers in their labs. Valeriia, Nadiia, and Viktoriia have now been in Lund for a couple of weeks. They are all eager to share their expectations and hopes for their time in Lund to be beneficial both for MultiPark and Ukrainian research institutes.

Of all European universities, why did you choose to come to Lund? 

Valeriia: I urgently decided to leave Ukraine and had a friend in Sweden inviting me here. I was lucky because another of his friends happened to know Oxana.

Nadiia: Three years ago, I was here in Lund for an exchange during my master’s education, and I liked it. When the war came, the situation changed overnight, and I emailed a lot of labs in Europe, including Lund, to increase my chances. When I met over zoom with Tomas Deierborg, his compassion and understanding of my situation felt genuine, facilitating my decision to leave Ukraine. 

Viktoriia: I knew that LU was a well-reputed university, so when I realized that I needed to leave Ukraine, I found Agnete Kirkeby’s contact on #ScienceForUkraine initiative website, read her papers and emailed her. She replied the same day and was extremely helpful. Her compassion for my situation was incredible.

What are your research projects about here in Lund?

Valeriia: As I am temporarily employed as a research engineer, I don’t have my own project right now, but I help out with many projects in the Medical Microscopy lab, which is very interesting.

Nadiia: My new project is about the gut-brain axis and its role in inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. First, I will use cell culture systems modelling the enteric nervous systems and look into the role of fatty acids. Later, we plan to develop this project using animal models of Alzheimer’s to investigate this on a multi-organ level.

Viktoriia: In short, the plan is to do a postdoc focusing on the differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells. 

Could you use the knowledge you gained during your previous research engagements in Ukraine?

Valeriia: Not really, as I was just about to start my PhD in Ukraine. But besides my PhD plans there, I worked as a physician and teacher assistant. Since teaching has already been digitalized during the pandemic, it is now possible for me to keep my halftime position as a teacher at my Ukrainian institute while also working halftime in one of MultiPark’s research groups.

Nadiia: To some extent. In Ukraine, I mostly focused on the microbiome and had limited experience working with Alzheimer’s models. However, I have a lot of background knowledge about the gut-brain axis as well as experience in laboratory work, which will help me a lot when restarting a PhD here in Lund.

Viktoriia: My PhD project was in stem cell research, and since my defence in 2015, I have worked as the head of a cell culture lab at a life science company. Thus, I have quite some years of experience with the methods. Further, I have been involved in clinical trials of stem therapy products in Ukraine. 

Do you still have any dreams of what to do in the future?

Valeriia: My research dreams would be to bring back what I will learn here to develop Ukrainian research after the war. I think both LU and my university back in Ukraine have a lot to gain in future collaborations. In Ukraine, we have a lot of available tissue and material that could be analyzed, but we lack advanced equipment for doing so. In Lund, researchers have access to state of the art equipment but often lack patient samples. Together, we complement each other.

Nadiia: Maybe I am a bit naïve, and I know it will not be a straightforward way to do this. Still, I hope that Ukrainian research can develop and be reborn into a more mature state after the war. I see my time here in Lund as a vital contribution to this process, bringing back knowledge that researchers can implement in Ukraine later. This war is definitely not what we wished for, but I hope we can use the time abroad to prepare for a brighter future.

Viktoriia: Right now, my visions are not very clear since I am still trying to navigate this new situation, and nobody knows how long the war will last. However, I hope this period will result in unique expertise that I can bring back to Ukraine to help rebuild research there.  

Do you think you got enough help when first coming to LU? Is there something we could improve to facilitate your integration into MultiPark? 

Valeriia: Sincerely, everybody I have met so far has been so helpful. I feel very welcomed; the hardest thing is determining which seminars are most useful to attend.

Nadiia: As a whole, I am impressed by the support I have got from the colleagues in the lab. Not only they willing to help with my scientific project but also giving useful tips how to live in Sweden and deal with daily problems. Also the HR personnel at the university is involved in solving red-tape problems. The only thing I wish worked smoother is getting a sustainable housing situation. LU accommodation was not clear about how it works from the beginning. It is very hard to find a place to live in Lund.

Viktoriia: I feel that LU and researchers here are already offering me a lot of support. I am impressed, especially by Paulina Pettersson, who helped me with all the practical details for coming here. 

Is there anything I haven’t asked in this interview that you would like to bring up?

Valeriia: For all of us who escaped from Ukraine, the war is what uptakes most of our thoughts. I want people outside of our country to be aware of how horrible the war is and not believe in Russian propaganda. Leaving my husband in that situation is the most difficult decision I have ever made. But I am certain that I am more useful to Ukraine while being here in Sweden where I can prepare for the future, compared to hiding in the war tunnels and just waiting for things to get better.

Nadiia: The war is the most horrible event in my life. I don’t want to repel people with mournful stories, but I wouldn’t mind talking about it. I see it as my duty to communicate this to people outside of Ukraine and provide truthful information, even though it could be emotional. So far, I have been blessed not to lose anybody I love in this war. But I have never been so afraid as during the first two days in Kyiv. The nearest bomb shelter was unbearable cold to sleep in, and sirens in the street where I lived were barely heard, especially at night. So my friends and I took turns staying awake to know when to hide. Those days were some of the worst I experienced. Still, I have been fortunate since I managed to quit Kyiv fairly soon and had the possibility to go to Sweden, where I can stay since I got a position here. Not everybody is that lucky. Unfortunately, I had to leave my closest people in Ukraine.

Viktoriia: All of us who are in safety have perspective and opportunities to develop. Thus, we can not complain because a lot of Ukrainians are in a life-threatening situation right now. Nevertheless, we must not get used to this war. 

Friendly environment between nationalities

Oxana Klementieva is one of the group leaders at MultiPark who has opened her lab for Ukrainian researchers since the war started. She had a Russian background and believes that it might also become challenging for researchers from all countries affected by war.

What is your major concern regarding Russian researchers’ situation these days? Do you think Russian researchers at LU have been mistreated since the war started?

Not at all. LU provides a safe and friendly environment for everyone. However, I am afraid that Russia/Belarus propaganda aims at making the people feel excluded from the rest of Europe, so many researchers in Belarus and Russia may fear that the European research community will not accept them if they immigrate. Thus it is very difficult for them to decide to leave the country. That is why I think it is particularly important that we treat all researchers affected by war equally. The LU management has also been clear that we should not ban individual scientists only because of their nationality, even though we cannot collaborate with Russian research institutes. I think it is essential to make a difference between a person wanting to escape and continue with research elsewhere and the regime influencing institutes in Russia.

Could you see any potential problems in offering Ukrainian researchers a spot in your lab?

When I first got the question, I didn’t really reflect that way; there was no time to doubt; I just wanted to help. So I said yes. Then, I started to think about how to solve this commitment, and I think that the other group leaders at MultiPark who helped Ukrainian researchers acted in the same way. Angela Cenci Nilsson, Tomas Deierborg, and Agnete Kirkeby have also taken a great responsibility here.

Do you think that LU provided enough support here? 

Sometimes, I wish there had been a more solution-oriented approach. As a researcher, you are not aware of employment regulations, so it would be great to receive more guidance on different alternatives here. 

Five fast with Valeria Haisanovska

Valeria Haisanovska. Photo.

Before the war: Physician and teaching assistant planning to start PhD

Home university: Dnipro State Medical University (in the middle of Ukraine)

Family: Mum, grandparents, and husband (and a cat).

Hobby: Biking. Lund is extraordinary for this, very safe and adapted for biking.

Need help with: Nice places to visit around Lund. I heard about Ven island and want to know more.

valeriia [dot] haisanovska [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Valeria Haisanovska is now a research engineer at the Medical Microspectroscopy

Five fast with Nadiia Kravchenko

Nadiia Kravchenko. Photo.

Before the war: 2nd year of Ph.D studies

Home university: Bogomoletz Institute of Physiology (in Kyiv)

Family: Parents, sister,and boyfriend.

Hobby: Bird-watching, which is fantastic to do in Lund and its surroundings. I also started to run in Sweden.

Need help with: Advice on the best routes to hike and to do kayaking.

nadiia [dot] kravchenko [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Nadiia Kravchenko is now a PhD student at the Experimental Neuroinflammation Laboratory

Five fast with Viktoriia Nikulina

Viktoriia. Photo.

Before the war: Head of cell culture lab at the Institute of Cell Therapies (a company in Kyiv) 

Home university: PhD from Taras Schevchenko National University of Kyiv 

Family: Parents and a brother.

Hobby: Hang out with friends, hiking, strolling in the parks, picknicks 

Need help with: Advance my knowledge in statistics.

viktoriia [dot] nikulina [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se 

Viktoriia Nikulina is now a postdoc at Human Neural Development