Larissa S. Brizhik did not 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 of Theoretical Physics in Kyiv, responsible for a team of seven, she decided to stay on.
Late last year, Dr. Brizhik’s facility received a one-year grant of $165,000. The funds were part of a $1.2 million tranche of grants from the Simons Foundation that was announced on Wednesday. They are supposed to help support hundreds of Ukrainian scientists whose work was cut short when Russia invaded their country last year. The foundation, which is based in New York and supports many branches of basic science, was endowed by James and Marilyn Simons. Mr. Simons launched Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund also based 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 are not alone – that there are people who care,” Dr. Brizhik said of the funding. “It helps a lot,” she added, especially given the tightness of the wartime belt and the lure of foreign work for young scientists. “For those who stay, there are not so many opportunities. It’s really central for those staying.
The Simons Foundation is still considering grant applications from Ukraine, having extended its deadline after Russian missile strikes cut off electricity and internet access for some scientists.
Dozens of leading Ukrainian scientists and their teams and laboratories – 405 specialists and doctoral students in total – receive support from the Simons Foundation. The recipients are chemists, biologists, physicists and mathematicians.
Over the past half-century, the quality of Ukrainian science has been “extraordinarily high,” said S. James Gates Jr., professor of physics at the University of Maryland. Last year, Dr. Gates helped organize aid for Ukrainian scientists as past president of the American Physical Society. Dr Gates, who says he received no support from the Simons Foundation, called the grants “an investment in the future”.
He said Ukrainian scientists had done pioneering work on the theory of supersymmetry, which seeks to mathematically unify the known forces of nature and postulates 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 workforce.
The invading Russian forces, in addition to damaging the country’s infrastructure and looting its cultural antiquities, disrupted the work of its scientists and attacked their workplaces.
In Kharkiv last March, Russian forces bombed the Institute of Physics and Technology, damaging a nuclear facility it had used for research and production of medical isotopes. Its specialists receive $80,400 in grants from Simons.
In October, a Russian missile explosion shattered windows and bent window frames at the Institute of Mathematics, based in a historic 19th-century building in Kyiv. Experts there receive $310,000 in grants.
As the Russians besieged Kyiv last March, Dr Brizhik, her cat and her daughter slept in a hallway in 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 just to help preserve Ukrainian science, but as a symbol of resistance to invaders.
“I love my country,” she said. “It is important that our army, our soldiers, do not defend empty territory but people who live here.”
Gregory Gabadadze, dean of science at New York University and head of Simons who has relatives in Ukraine, said the foundation started thinking about Ukrainian aid shortly after the Russian invasion last February.
“They are great quality people,” he said of the recipients. “It is important to support their research so that they can pass on this knowledge and skills to the next generation. Once destroyed, it is almost impossible to rebuild.
Dr Gabadadze said the foundation plans to continue annual grants for as long as the war lasts, and then turn to helping rebuild Ukrainian science.