‘There is no hope for science in Russia’: academics are trying to escape to the West

PRof John Duggan *, a climate scientist at Russell Group University, made a zoom call with two Russian research partners shortly after their country invaded Ukraine a few weeks ago. Duggan, who has worked with academics for some time, suddenly sees them as “unusually calm and hesitant.” He felt that “they were worried that someone was looking at their shoulders.”

In Russia, it is risky to oppose an attack. But in the next call, Dugan said his friends have become more courageous. Now they have given up hope of their work at home. They think “there is no future for science in Russia” and they are looking for a place abroad so that they can escape.

Critics of the war could now face up to 15 years in prison in Russia, with Dugan describing all contacts with scientists as deliberately trying to help as “obscure”. But he says: “They are ashamed of what is being done in their name in Ukraine.”

UK educators say this is becoming a familiar story. Russian scientists are turning to partners abroad to help them escape, but UK academics say even the most talented can fight to find positions at British universities on short notice.

Last Sunday, Science Minister George Freeman announced that the UK would pursue other European countries to sever its research ties with Russia and cut off funding for any research linked to the state and its “institutional partners”.

The Russian government last week banned its scientists from attending international conferences or publishing research in international journals. Russian scientists say they have some appetite for ignoring it, but there are reports that they are being prevented from publishing it anyway because some Western academics are refusing to review research papers with Russian names.

To avoid the risk of Russian academics, the Guardian is naming unnamed Dugan University, creating sanctuaries for Ukrainian scholars and students, and with aid workers and students already affected by the war. The university is also investigating whether it can offer Russian positions. Dugan said: “The university is keen to help as much as possible. It will work within official guidelines, but acknowledges that many independent Russian academics and researchers have publicly criticized the attack, often at great personal risk. “

Researchers consider science as a global endeavor in partnership with colleagues around the world. Now many in Russia feel their work, off international cooperation, will dry up.

Dr Alexander Nazik, a physicist at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, told the Guardian: “I believe and most of my colleagues believe that isolated science is not possible. In Russia, the science journal system is largely dead in physics. “

“Most young educators, including me, are talking to acquaintances in Europe and developing a” backup plan, “Nazik said. He added: “I know here that many world-class scientists cannot work in their research because they are so depressed. They do not understand how we can live with all this.

Najik said he would like to ignore the official statement banning the publication in international journals and many colleagues would follow suit. But he added that researchers “are making a lot of complaints that academics [in the west] Blocking [journal] If they have a Russian ally, they refuse to review the documents. “

Professor Erica Brewer *, an environmental scientist at Northern Research University in the United Kingdom, is concerned about the safety of Russian research partners who speak out against the war. “I have received requests from two very talented Russian colleagues whether I know of opportunities to work abroad,” he says. “A colleague and I have expressed feelings for them but it is not possible to find a place for them in the UK or Europe at this time.”

Dr. James Ryan, a senior lecturer in modern Russian history at Cardiff University, said: “I have been in contact with academic friends in Russia. Some of them have already fled, and have no desire to return soon. There are many more like this. ”

Dr. James Ryan in his office at Cardiff University
Dr. James Ryan: ‘I would be terrified if academics refused to review papers written or co-written by Russians. It’s racism. ‘ Photo: Francesca Jones / The Guardian

However, he says that while some Russian academics may be able to use their reputation and academic contacts to secure short-term research funding at European universities, finding long-term jobs in the highly competitive academic job market will be much more difficult.

His own work is affected. Before the attack, Ryan relied on using libraries and archives in Russia for his research, but now he has no idea when he will be able to return.

Thousands of Russian academics have signed an open letter condemning the war. Last Friday, Russia’s justice ministry declared the popular Russian science newspaper Trotsky variant “a foreign agent” following the publication of a letter from scientists and science journalists protesting the attack, signed by about 8,000 people. The paper’s website is now blocked in Russia.

Most Russian universities are state-run, and last month the Russian Rector’s Union, representing the chancellors and presidents of about 700 universities, echoed Vladimir Putin’s propaganda about Ukraine’s “denigration” and issued a statement “supporting our president.” Who made the most difficult, difficult but necessary decision of his life. “

Ryan said after that, “It would be morally problematic to ask for a formal invitation from a Russian organization. [to do research there]”

He strongly supports the British government’s decision to sever formal ties with Russian higher education institutions, but wants to maintain informal personal connections with Russian colleagues. Last week, as part of a “work of solidarity”, he attended an online conference with most Russian historians who said he was “certainly not a supporter of the Russian war.”

He added: “I would be terrified if academics refuse to review papers written or co-written by Russians. It is racism.”

“We have a very strong collaboration with Russian scientists and the attack is a huge blow to our work,” said Terry Callaghan, a professor of Arctic ecology at the University of Sheffield.

Callaghan helped set up 89 environmental research centers in the Arctic, including 21 in Russia, but said “many of our studies have now come to a standstill due to the invasion.” “I am sure that many scientists will leave Russia. Putin has divided the nation, but scientists speak English and read the Internet to understand what is really happening in Ukraine. “

Callaghan took a break from his professorship at the Siberian National Research Tomsk State University following a statement from the Russian Rector. He says he has suspended all formal commitments to Russia but will not leave the personal connection with scientists that he has been keeping for 30 years.

However, he says it is more difficult to do it in other places where he does research. “We are not allowed to email a Russian in Finland, and I am where I am now [in Arctic Norway] We can’t have a Russian in the zoom call. “

Although independent Russian academics do not represent their institutions, they are welcome to attend the annual conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies in Cambridge next weekend.

Dr. Ben Phillips, a modern Russian historian at the University of Exeter and a member of the Society’s executive committee, said: “We have discussed whether Russian participants should be excluded but decided against it.”

He said that instead of a conference where there would be a keynote speech from a Ukrainian academic, there would be a “strict code of conduct” and the panel chairs would ask anyone who expressed support for the Ukrainian invasion to leave. However, he added: “Anyone who harasses Russian academics because of their nationality will be treated the same.”

* Some names have been changed to avoid identifying academics trying to leave Russia.

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