Larissa S. Brizhik didn’t have to stay. Like many Ukrainian women and children, she could have fled the war zone. But as a department head at the Bogolyubov Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyiv, responsible for a staff of seven, she decided to remain on the job.
Late last year, Dr. Brizhik’s institution received a one-year grant of $165,000. The funds were part of a tranche of $1.2 million in grants by the Simons Foundation that was announced on Wednesday. They’re meant to help sustain hundreds of Ukrainian scientists whose work was disrupted when Russia invaded their country last year. The foundation, which is based in New York City and supports many branches of basic science, was endowed by James and Marilyn Simons. Mr. Simons started Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund also headquartered in New York.
In Dr. Brizhik’s case, the money will support 53 researchers at the institute, where physicists study plasmas, elementary particles and astrophysical phenomena.
“It shows that we’re not alone — that there are people who care,” Dr. Brizhik said of the funding. “It helps a lot,” she added, especially given the belt-tightening of wartime and the lure of foreign work to young scientists. “For those who remain, there’re not so many opportunities. This is really central for those who stay.”
The Simons Foundation is still considering grant applications from Ukraine, having extended its deadline after Russian missile strikes cut off power and internet access for some scientists.
The State of the War
- Military Aid: Germany and the United States announced they would send battle tanks to Ukraine, relenting after weeks of domestic and international pressure to deliver armored vehicles aimed at helping Kyiv regain territory seized by Russia. But it may be months before the tanks rumble across the battlefield.
- Corruption Scandal: After a number of allegations of government corruption, several top Ukrainian officials were fired, in the biggest upheaval in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government since Russia’s invasion began 11 months ago.
- An Expanding Cemetery: Recent satellite imagery and video footage of a growing burial ground offer a rare look at combat fatalities sustained by the Wagner mercenary group during the war.
Scores of leading Ukrainian scientists as well as their staffs and laboratories — 405 specialists and doctoral candidates in all — are receiving aid from the Simons Foundation. The recipients include chemists, biologists, physicists and mathematicians.
Over the last half-century, the quality of Ukrainian science has been “extraordinarily high,” said S. James Gates Jr., a professor of physics at the University of Maryland. Last year, Dr. Gates helped to organize aid for Ukrainian scientists as a former president of the American Physical Society. Dr. Gates, who says he has received no support from the Simons Foundation, called the grants “an investment in the future.”
He said that Ukrainian scientists had done pioneering work on the theory of supersymmetry, which seeks to unify the known forces of nature mathematically and posits the existence of undiscovered particles. More prosaically, many western companies working on pharmaceuticals and computer programming have outsourced tasks to the country’s technically savvy work force.
In Kharkiv last March, Russian forces shelled the Institute of Physics and Technology, damaging a nuclear facility it had used for research and the production of medical isotopes. Its specialists are receiving $80,400 in grants from Simons.
In October, an exploding Russian missile shattered windows and bent window frames at the Institute of Mathematics, based in a historic 19th century building in Kyiv. Experts there are receiving $310,000 in grants.
As the Russians laid siege to Kyiv last March, Dr. Brizhik, her cat and her daughter slept in a corridor of their apartment to avoid bedroom windows.
“Some days there are up to 10-12 air raid sirens,” she said on her website at the time. “We are lucky — so far our building has not been destroyed.”
However, Dr. Brizhik decided to stay, not only to help preserve Ukrainian science but as a symbol of resistance to the invaders.
“I love my country,” she said. “It’s important that our army, our soldiers, defend not empty territory but people who live here.”
Gregory Gabadadze, dean for science at New York University and a Simons official who has relatives in Ukraine, said the foundation began thinking about Ukrainian aid shortly after Russia invaded last February.
“These are high-quality people,” he said of the recipients. “It’s important to sustain their research so they can convey that knowledge and skill set to the next generation. Once that’s destroyed, it’s almost impossible to rebuild.”
Dr. Gabadadze said the foundation planned to continue the annual grants as long as the war lasted, and afterward it would turn to aiding the reconstruction of Ukrainian science.
New York Times