Many questions and activities on the war in Ukraine

This is the English version of a previous blog post in Swedish

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, events have moved with shocking speed and raised issues that we are compelled to act upon, be it in word or deed. It is likely that new needs will arise if the war continues and draws out.

War always leads to health crises. It is obvious that the staff and students at Karolinska Institutet, as well as the university management, are deeply engaged in what’s going on. We do all we can to keep up with the flow of news and to relate and act on what we learn. Many initiatives have been taken by private individuals at KI and different kinds of activity are underway all around the university.

More information

There are also many questions about or calls/demands for KI to take action in one way or another, and a quest for information about the stance KI takes on matters relating to the war.

Some important points:

  • There is a dedicated news and information page for all staff and students with links to further information, published articles, texts and blogs, a list of experts, etc. This page is kept continually updated.
  • Many people asks for information about scientific collaborations with Russia and Belarus. KI is heeding the government’s call to curtail official collaborations with Russian and Belarusian state-run institutions. As I’ve discussed in a previous blog, when it comes to personal relationships between researchers or research groups, the situation must be judged on a case-by-case basis taking into account such perspectives as national security and potential relations to military activities. If you’re unsure as to what to do, don’t hesitate to raise the matter with your head of department, who, if necessary, can bring the issue to the university management.
  • Another perspective is how we’re to handle questions from Russian (or Belarusian) researchers and students who, for various reasons, don’t want to remain at their home universities. Our fundamental line is that we must look favourably upon supporting researchers from these countries who oppose their regimes. At the same time, it’s very difficult to give any general guidelines, and you should feel free to raise such questions with the university management via your head of department.
  • We must not let the ongoing aggression in Ukraine lead to greater polarisation between people at home in Sweden, in our neighbourhood or on the KI campuses. Our Strategy 2030 states explicitly that KI is an environment that must remain free from discrimination, offensive behaviour and harassment. We have zero tolerance for discrimination. Read more about this on the KI website.
  • We’re also getting many questions about receiving war refugees, colleagues, and students from Ukrainian universities. An internal task force is now being established to look more closely at the matter and offer advice. I’ll get back to you on this; meanwhile, see links at the end of this blog.
  • What can we do to support Ukraine and our Ukrainian colleagues? Many people are contacting me on this, and we are trying to make us of our academic networks (see below). Several initiatives on giving practical support, fundraising and so on have already been taken by individuals or groups at KI. See, for example, the Department of Neuroscience website  or the Medical Students’ Association in Stockholm Facebook page. What KI can or cannot do as a state university is something I’ll return to later in this blog.
  • A great deal of pressure is coming from journalists and others seeking experts who can help explain what’s going on and what help is needed. KI has compiled such a list of resources and will be adding to it as time goes on.
  • KI has established a direct dialogue on the war with other local, regional, national and international actors. I’d like to point out in particular that we’re active in several central EU networks and with the WHO, and that we are in direct contact with Bogomolets National Medical University in Kiev. I last spoke to my rector colleague at Bogomolets yesterday afternoon.
  • We might eventually have to expand our support of and deepen our relations with researchers, students, and universities in countries neighbouring Ukraine. For example, we have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary.
  • Our Centre for Health Crises (previously named “Health Emergency and Pandemic Science Centre”) is working intensively on issues relating to the war in Ukraine and it’s very likely that the centre will be focusing on this for a long time to come. There’s more information on the KI website.

In this context, it’s also worth noting what we as a public authority and a university should not engage in at the institutional level. For many issues, there are much more competent and appropriate actors to refer to, such as other authorities, regional or municipal government, or civil society organisations. Our core areas – education, research and expertise – are where we can contribute the most and where we have a clear mandate to act.

This said, let there be no doubt that KI as a university firmly repudiates and condemns the military invasion of Ukraine and that we support the Ukrainian people and our colleagues in Ukraine at a time when they are literally fighting for their lives.

Many questions are currently being addressed in different parts of the organisation. I hope you understand that we don’t have all the answers and that the complexity and uncertainty at hand imply that answers might draw out in time. The simple fact that millions are fleeing from the war gives rise to new needs, new questions, and new challenges for everyone, including us at KI.


Don’t forget the internal webinar on 14 March at 5 pm: Academic collaborations in a time of war, conflicts, and political tensions. Several speakers and panellists have accepted out invitation to take part:

Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of Stockholm University and Chair of SUHF
Johan von Schreeb, professor KI and Director of Center for Health Crises
Anna Mia Ekström, professor KI
Rouzbeh Parsi, head of programme, Swedish Institute of International Affairs
András Simon, professor and department head, KI
Peter Wallensteen, senior professor, Uppsala University

Carl Johan Sundberg, professor at KI, will moderate the discussion. Robert Harris, professor and academic vice president at KI, and I will be opening and closing the webinar.

You’ll find further information on the KI web. We look forward to seeing you there! Please contact Karin Ekström to sign up and get your Zoom link.

Some news links:

See the TV4 feature on Ukrainian researchers who have been given a place at KI in Professor Thomas Helleday’s group.

The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research has donated SEK 30 million to help give scientists from Ukraine opportunities to conduct research in Sweden.

The organisation EMBO has created a special Solidarity List to which individual researchers can sign up with offers of support to Ukrainian colleagues.

A great many Swedish higher education institutions, research financiers, foundations, institutes and other actors with links to academia have launched a wide range of initiatives and activities and spoken out against the Russian invasion and in support of Ukraine.


Anastasiia Andriievska

Anastasiia Andriievska

Hej, “What can we do to support Ukraine and our Ukrainian colleagues? Many people are contacting me on this, and we are trying to make us of our academic networks (see below)” What work networks do you have at KI? I do not consider the sentences about KI networks as the action towards actual help. I did not receive any answer from the Department of Neuroscience website. Medical Students’ Association in Stockholm answered that they do not know. I asked all my teachers and received either no answer or “jag är maktlös i denna situationen som alla andra”. I am wondering if there are any concrete actions from the KI side. “KI has established a direct dialogue on the war with other local, regional, national and international actors” - I am not sure that even coordination aspect remains successful. Just to describe heuristically possible actions is not helpful at this world crisis. I do not see the implementation of the 17th Goal: Partnership for the Goals. However, I am encountering the ignore from KI employees. Regards, Anastasiia Andriievska

Ole Petter Ottersen

Ole Petter Ottersen

Thank you for reaching out. I fully understand the sense of frustration that runs through your short comment. It is a frustration we all share, I suppose, when confronted with this hideous attack on Ukraine. But please let me assure you that quite a lot is happening and that KI provides concrete support in many ways, as was also discussed in our webinar last Monday. As a university, our tasks and competencies lie within the realms of research, education, and public outreach, and it is primarily from these realms we can make a difference and should muster our support. Initiatives have been taken for educational activities and capacity building: we reach out to our partner university in Kiev (Bogomolets National Medical University) through telemedicine, and several experts are soon on their way to Moldavia for skill building and training there. The topic is trauma care. The newly established Center for Health Crises plays an important role in these efforts, and updates on its activities are to be found on the web. As a leading medical university, we see it as an imperative to act when a health crisis breaks out, and this is why we now also look for possibilities to accept Ukrainian researchers and students on our own campus. Further information on KI´s engagement can be found in my previous blogs and on the web. As stated above, on the institutional level KI must act within the frame of our core mission. This means that KI – as an institution – cannot and should not initiate financial support or manage other support activities such as collecting and sending medical supplies, clothes or food. Obviously, we welcome such initiatives, important as they are, and we encourage our employees and students to engage in them. But on the institutional level such initiatives can be driven much more successfully and competently by other actors.

Related posts