Podcast: Ukraine and science, episode 2

How is the Russian invasion of Ukraine affecting scientists?

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For a new column in Nature Methods called Lab &Life, I asked scientists in Ukraine how the Russian invasion is affecting them and how they are planing for the future. You can find the story here  and also here

Here is episode 2  of a  podcast that includes one of the interviewees in the aforementioned Nature Methods story.

This is a conversation with Dr. Svitlana Dekina, a researcher at the A.V. Bogatsky Physico-Chemical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Odessa, Ukraine. She has recently left Ukraine and is now at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. 

You can listen to the podcast here, it's also on Apple podcasts,  Spotify and Google podcasts  other podcast streaming platforms in a series called Conversations with scientists. A transcript is pasted below. 

And here is episode 1,  a chat with Dr. Dmytro Gospodaryov, a researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Vasyl Stefanyk Precarpathian National University in Ivano-Frankivsk in west Ukraine. 

Note: These podcasts are produced to be heard. If you can, please tune in. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and there’s a human editor. But a transcript may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Ukraine and science, episode 2 

Svitlana Dekina
I am to say my name, yes? 

Vivien
Yes, if you don’t mind

Svitlana Dekina
Dekina Svitlana, Svitlana is name and surname Dekina

Vivien
That’s Dr. Svitlana Dekina, a researcher at the A.V. Bogatsky Physico-Chemical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Odessa, Ukraine. I spoke to her shortly after the Russian invasion in Ukraine began. And it feels like that was a very long time ago. But yah, it only feels that way. 

Hi and welcome to Conversations with scientists, I’m Vivien Marx. Just briefly about this podcast. You can find some of my work for example in Nature journals that are part of the Nature Portfolio. Those journals publish papers by working scientists. And a number of these journals offer science journalism. These pieces are by science journalists like me.

Back to Svitlana Dekina. In her research she works to develop biopolymers and ways to use the polymers to treat wounds, burns and infections. 

February 24, 2022 was going to be a pretty typical day for Dr Dekina. But February 24 turned out to not be a typical day.

Svitlana Dekina
My family and I were in Odessa when the war started, We woke up in the early morning, it was 24 of February at 5 o’clock in the morning, yes 5 o’clock in the morning. We were scared, first of all, I was scary about my children, I have two boys 13 years old and 4 years old, they understood that have no place safety, my family. Next morning my family and I went to western Ukraine, Yereemsche, we also hoped 2-3 days and everything will be alright. But unfortunately,  it has not happened. 


My husband said to me,  

Sorry

Vivien
It’s ok and if you don’t want to talk about this, I guess this about about helping other people who are in the situation you might have been on that day. 

I didn’t want to force Svitlana Dekina to talk, of course. But she pressed on. She did want to chat about her experience. She has left Ukraine and is now in Germany 

Svitlana Dekina
I arrived 9 March in Germany, We arrived Western Ukraine and then we crossed border to Romania, then we have got to Germany.

Vivien
She is in Germany, her husband is in Ukraine. She is now at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, EMBL in Heidelberg, Germany. She’s a member of the lab of Dr. Theodore Alexandrov, who is a team leader at EMBL. He works on experimental and computational methods to study spatial and single-cell metabolomics. That’s about learning which metabolites are where in cells and why they are there, the functions they fulfill.   

Svitlana Dekina’s husband wanted to stay in Ukraine, had to stay in Ukraine.

Svitlana Dekina 
I want to stay with my husband but it is danger in Ukraine. He had to return to Odessa, he is journalist, too, and photographer. He have to come back to Odessa. So I wrote some letters to different universities and Fyodor. 

Theodore Alexandrov
That’s me. That’s how she 

Vivien
You knew each other

Theodore Alexandrov
No. My name in Russian is Fyodor and this is like Dostoyevksy. This is why Svitlana pronounced it this way. 

Svitlana Dekina
Then Fyodor, Theodore gave me a chance to work in Germany in EMBL institute. 

Vivien
Svitlana Dekina plans to continue to work as a researcher in biotechnology.

Sivtlana Dekina 
I am a biotechnologist , not in metabolomics, usually my work consists of medial forms for enzymes, proteins. Biopolymer forms, polymeric matrices. For different medical  purposes. 
They are studied, and produced maybe, in successful to medicine to study in university for labs, and so on    

Theordore
I must say that Svitlana is very modest. She is a very successful and prolific scientists. She defended two PhDs There is one PhD and there is a second one, which is doctorof science, which exists in some systems like the UK, not really in the Us. And Svitlana has almost 40 publications and about 10 patents. 

Vivien
Svitlana Dekina’s children have traveled with her to Heidelberg. 

Svitlana Dekina
My husband stayed in Ukraine, And my mother. 

Vvien
She is now in Heidelberg living her life and hopes the family can be reunited again, hopefully soon. I wondered what arrival in Germany felt like to her. 

Theodore Alexandrov
(speaks Russian) 

Svitlana Dekina
I feel another life when we crossed the border with Romania and Ukraine

I saw a girl was with a photographer she was very beautiful , nice with good mood, 
It was another life. Not lie as Ukraine, 
In Romania it was regular life, we forgot about,

When we are in Ukraine, very scary, reading your phone, different news and thinking about what will be today. 

Theodore Alexandrov
What awaits me tomorrow

Svitlana Dekina
It’s very difficult

Vivien 
Her children are with her and she of course has many hopes for them now. 

Svitlana
I hope they are not scary. We left Odessa right the next day of the war beginning.  

Vivien
They had to pack, decide which books, a computer.

Svitlana Dekina
One book we brought with us.  

Theodore Alexandrov
It was just necessary this way. I can also add that Svitlana and her kids, her sister and her kids. Five people, they came with luggage that I take for 1-2 days  trip. Two backpacks, two purses that’s all.

Svitlana Dekina
You have to understand, we don’t think about leave Ukraine. We west to Western Ukraine for 2-3 days, we take 30 minutes for our baggage, luggage, and it was very quickly. 

Vivien 
I wondered how her children were coping with the shift in their lives. 

Svitlana Dekina
They normal. My older boy , he goes to school in Heidelberg, on week. He learned English and he learned German in Ukraine. Right now, it’s too difficult for him, But its normal I think. 

Vivien 
Now that the reality of the war has settled in a little, which is a very tough reality to settle into, I asked her what her plans are. Her plans for her career maybe and where and how she might want to live and work. 

Svitlana Dekina
I don’t think about this very much. I want to be in safety, I want safety for my children. I want to be good for Theodore, Dr. Alexandrov. He is doing for me, everything in German. I’m very grateful And I hope

Theodore Alexandrov
That I will not disappoint now that I have been provided this work opportunity. 

Vivien
Now she is a member of Theodore Alexandrov’s lab at EMBL in Heidelberg 

Svitlana Dekina
I will start on April 1.

Theodore
Yes in my group. We have group and facility. I just want to add, Svitlana witll start here. She’s currently applying for fellowships for scientists at risk. I think this is a great opportunity for  Svitlana and for others which is provided by many European countries. Here, Svvitlana is applying for foundation Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, which is pretty well known but there are many others in Germany and other countries, which created on the spot special funding programs for Ukrainian scientists. 

Short term, a bit longer term. It’s great that Svitlana was able to apply for this to put things together to apply for this. I think this is also maybe something you can highlight. It’s great to see how these opportunities are created. For people like Svitlana they can . Definitely they are ver stressed now but they still can become comer here not as refugees and do science they are passionate about.  

Vivien
In my conversations with Ukrainian scientists I had heard that women are quite present in science in Ukraine. 

Svitlana Dekina
For Ukraine it’s normal Many women in science. It depends on salary for Ukrainian scientists, our scientists have to earn money . And mostly women in science Ukraine 

Vivien
So earning two salaries is a necessity for in the west many women start in science for a variety of reasons

Svitlana  Dekina
I think it depends on the person, not for women or men. I like my work, I like to study. All my life, I studied, from school university PhD student, it’s normal for me. I try to work as a pharmacist, it’s not my way. Every person has to choose their way and only its way would be perfect successful so it’s my mind.  

Vivien 
That was conversations with scientists. Today’s episode was with Dr. Svitlana Dekina, a researcher at the A.V. Bogatsky Physico-Chemical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Odessa, Ukraine.  And Dr. Theodore Alexandrov of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.

And I just wanted to say because there’s confusion about these things sometimes. Nobody paid to be in this podcast, this is independent journalism that I produce in my living-room. I’m Vivien Marx thanks for listening.

(Credit: bodkins18)

Vivien Marx

Journalist , Nature Portfolio

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