We must be prepared for a prolonged war and a massive health crisis

It is now five weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine and began a war that has hit swathes of the population extremely hard. UNHCR describes the situation as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Almost one in four Ukrainians have been forced to leave their homes and some four million have fled to other countries. Poland has received the highest number of refugees, but there are many in other neighbouring countries as well.

The situation inside the county is unbelievably grievous, especially in the east and south. Judging by the images that have appeared in the media in recent days, the city of Mariupol lies more or less in ruins. Destroyed infrastructure and continual fighting are strangling supplies of food, fresh water, fuel and heat.

At the same time, global support for Ukraine is huge and the protests against Russia’s actions are growing. It is hard to know how – and when – this will end, but there can be no doubting that Ukrainian resistance is strong and seemingly persistent. All we can do is hope that this resistance and the international outcry will make the regime realise the absurdity of pursuing this inhuman and unjust war. Unfortunately, there is much to suggest that the fighting will continue for a long time to come.

Great solidarity

The international and national academic community is showing great solidarity with Ukraine, something of which I am continuously seeing proof. Research financiers are awarding grants for support initiatives aimed at students and researchers. Appeals and activities are combined and carried out by volunteers.

We have a concrete example of this engagement here at Karolinska Institutet. Thanks to a donation from the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, we have been able to speed up the establishment and development of our Centre for Health Crises, and just in time, too, given recent developments. Staff from the centre, for instance, have been in Moldova to help train medical practitioners to strengthen trauma care in the country. Moldova shares a boarder with Ukraine has received many refugees over these past weeks.

The director of the Centre for Health Crises, Johan von Schreeb, has travelled into Ukraine, where, through KI’s collaboration agreement on seconding to the WHO, he has been made coordinator of international medical interventions focusing on trauma surgery. You can find out more about the centre’s activities on the KI website, which is kept continuously updated.

In parallel with this, a telemedical collaboration with Bogomolets Medical University in Kiev has begun.  

Resource team

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused an exodus of researchers from both countries. There has been a “brain drain” from the Russian universities and many research colleagues have fled from the Ukrainian. There is a desperate need for humanitarian and academic support and for protecting academic networks. As a leading international university, KI should do what it can to integrate students and researchers from the fields of conflict.

Earlier this week I decided to establish a special resource team for Ukraine to investigate the possibility of allowing first, second and third-cycle students from Ukraine to continue their studies and programmes here at KI. And likewise, for researchers from Ukraine (or dissenting researchers aiming to escape from Russia) to continue their work in an environment at KI. The team will be analysing the options in terms of viability and legal requirements such as visas, work or residency permits, and financing under the leadership of Academic Vice President for Doctoral Education Robert Harris.

Swedish Research Council tasked by government

Similar efforts are being made at many Swedish universities, which are considering the possibility of taking in researchers and students who have left Ukraine or Russia. Last Wednesday, the government tasked the Swedish Research Council with gathering information about the support that exists for scientists from Ukraine. This information will be made available as soon as possible and kept regularly updated. The Swedish Research Council will be in close dialogue with higher education institutions on these issues.

In a press release, Minister for Education Anna Ekström has written that:

“I’m delighted by the solidarity being shown and all that’s being done for Ukrainian researchers in the academic sector. It’s essential that the funds allocated, by a wide variety of actors, is put to use and enables Ukrainian researchers to continue their work.”

Initiatives like this from the government and the project with which the Swedish Research Council has now been tasked are excellent. Unfortunately, we must assume that the war will be protracted and that the health challenges and refugee situation will just get worse. This means that we must build up our resources and long-term support efforts together.

For more on this, read the article dressing this matter that we published in the Lancet recently. See previous blog posts for the link.


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