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Deliberate Destruction of Ukrainian Scientific Infrastructure by Russia: The Urgency of Its Protection and Restoration

When we talk about the Recovery and Reconstruction Plan for Ukraine, allies and the media prioritize energy, agriculture, and information technology sectors. Seemingly less visible, but vital, is scientific infrastructure. This sector, which includes research facilities, universities, laboratories, and technical equipment, forms the backbone of a country's innovative capabilities, and future growth potential. 

In the ongoing war against Ukraine, Russia has strategically attacked critical infrastructure with the intention of inflicting long-lasting damage on Ukraine's economic and societal progression. The choice to target critical infrastructure reflects a tactical decision to undermine Ukraine's ability to function as a stable and self-sufficient nation. Critical infrastructure encompasses a wide range of elements, including energy facilities, transportation networks, communication systems, and industrial centers. By specifically targeting these vital components, Russia aims to disrupt the normal functioning of the Ukrainian society, damage the economy, and create a permanent impact on the nation's ability to recover from the devastating war.  

Why does Russia deliberately target scientific institutions in Ukraine?  

We have identified three primary reasons: 

Political and Economic Disruption: Today, with innovation steering the economy, scientific institutions actively contribute to the advancement of economic growth and development. Russia's targeting of these facilities is a deliberate strategy to disrupt not only scientific activities but also to sow discord in the broader economic and political landscape of Ukraine. This calculated disruption has the potential to further destabilize the country, rendering it more susceptible to Russian influence, thereby weakening Ukraine’s resilience. In the context of its genocidal war, Russia seeks to undermine Ukraine deliberately, recognizing the pivotal role of science and technology as drivers of development.  

The intentional infliction of damage and destruction is aligned with Russia's objectives, as a more severe impact on scientific infrastructure is perceived as strategically advantageous. Moreover, Ukraine, constrained by budget limitations, prioritizes the protection and restoration of energy infrastructure and agriculture, both pivotal drivers of its economy. While understandable given these constraints, it leaves the scientific sector vulnerable, with uncertainty regarding when and what type of assistance will be available to repair damages, restore the destruction, bring Ukrainians back to the labs.   

Strategic Military Considerations: Scientific facilities frequently embody dual-use capacities, accommodating both civilian research and potential military applications. Russia's precise targeting of these infrastructures is a strategic move to eliminate or reduce Ukraine's capabilities in critical military-related areas such as advanced material research, electronics, and technologies adaptable for defense objectives.   

Psychological Warfare: The deliberate targeting of scientific institutions extends beyond the immediate physical damage—it is a strategic move with profound psychological implications. This tactic not only affects the scientific community directly but also resonates with the general population, conveying a powerful message of instability and vulnerability. By aiming at the very foundations of knowledge and progress, this psychological warfare seeks to cast a shadow over the collective morale of the nation. 

Researchers and academics may experience an increased sense of insecurity and vulnerability, possibly resulting in hesitation to explore specific lines of inquiry in Ukraine, which consequently may lead to their immigration (“brain drain”). Subsequently, on a broader societal scale, the intentional dismantling of institutions representing progress and innovation constructs a narrative of instability, sparking fear and uncertainty among the general population. 

Damage to Scientific Infrastructure: A Systematic Attack 

In an effort to gain a more in-depth understanding of the situation and analyze the most recent data, we conducted an interview with Artur Zaporozhets, who serves as the Deputy Director at the General Energy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and the Executive Secretary of the System Analysis Committee at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Our interview aims to shed light on the extent of the damage, its implications on scientific community, and the strategies in place for recovery and restoration. We hope Artur Zaporozhets’ responses will provide valuable insights and help us identify areas where the international community can provide meaningful support. 

MC: As the Executive Secretary of the System Analysis Committee at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, can you elaborate on the extent of the damage to scientific infrastructure and its implications for future research and development in Ukraine? 

AZ: The physical impact on the scientific infrastructure is devastating. Ukraine's public science sector, which consists of approximately 450 research institutes and 140 universities, has experienced significant damage. Since the full-scale invasion, 1,283 buildings across 160 institutions have either been damaged or destroyed. In addition, 186 engineering structures such as laboratory complexes and experimental sites also being damaged or destroyed. 

MC: What is the estimated cost for the restoration of Ukraine's critical scientific infrastructure? 

AZ: With your permission, I will cite some figures. The estimated cost of restoring Ukraine's public scientific infrastructure amounts to a staggering $1.215 billion. In addition to real estate, 678 pieces of scientific equipment were damaged by September 2023. Of these, over 643 items were damaged beyond repair and therefore need to be replaced. Furthermore, there is a recognized need to acquire another 626 pieces of equipment to support scientific research in Ukraine. 

MC: What regions suffered from Russian attacks on the scientific infrastructure? 

AZ: A significant portion of Ukraine's regions have suffered from Russian attacks, and these are not only the front-line regions. If we exclude Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk regions, from which scientific institutions had to relocate as early as 2014, significant damage was suffered by Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa, Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Sumy, Chernihiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, and Lviv regions. Damage to scientific infrastructure was also recorded in Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Ternopil, Khmelnytsky, and Kirovograd regions. The largest number of destroyed and damaged buildings of scientific infrastructure were found in Kharkiv and Kyiv regions, particularly in the National Science Center "Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology" (55), A. Pidgorny Institute of Mechanical Engineering Problems (16), Institute of Single Crystals (15), and Institute for Nuclear Research (6). These scales of destruction confirm the aggressor's systematic approach in destroying Ukraine's scientific and educational potential. 

MC: Can you share any specific instances where these attacks have directly disrupted ongoing research or development projects at the General Energy Institute or within the broader National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and other institutions? 

AZ: Of course, the impact of these aggressions is felt at all academic levels: starting from the organization of a scientific staff member's working day to the implementation of new legislative initiatives transforming the activities of scientific and educational institutions. One of the biggest factors that affected the activities of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and resulted from Russian armed aggression is the significant reduction in science funding. Scientific institutions currently need additional funding to support their activities.  

Also, there is now a significant shortage of young staff. Due to the low level of funding and low social status of scientists, young people do not want to work at scientific institutions, choosing more financially profitable professions. Of course, these factors existed before the Russian invasion, but the war has deepened them significantly. If we talk about the "household" level, it includes power supply interruptions, air raids, restrictions on academic mobility (both domestic and international), etc.  

Yes, last year we had to buy a large number of batteries to be able to work on the computer, as electricity was supplied on a 4/4 schedule. Therefore, it is difficult to talk about long-term and energy-intensive experiments in such a regime. And what I remember most is the defense of my doctoral thesis in October 2022, which took place during a mass rocket attack on Kyiv. Despite this, we still held a meeting of the specialized academic council. 

MC: What strategies are being considered to restore the damaged scientific infrastructure and how can international entities assist in this recovery process? 

AZ: Unfortunately, scientific infrastructure is not a priority at the moment. In 2022, under the coordination of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, a "Ukraine Recovery Plan: Education and Science" was prepared, where the following key challenges in the field of science and innovation are highlighted: 

  • Obsolete and insufficient research and innovation infrastructure; 

  • Absence of a state science development strategy clearly defining the role of science in the overall economic strategy; 

  • Inadequate capacity of public administration bodies in scientific and innovative spheres in terms of effective policy implementation; 

On other issues. The project of this document envisions the implementation of 3 stages by 2032, however, unfortunately, it does not contain a clear plan regarding specifically defined actions. But let's be realistic. The war is not over yet. And what the degree of destruction of the scientific infrastructure will be is still unknown. It is obvious that the quantitative indicators I have provided will change towards an increase.  

Summarizing the above, I think that we can most hope for the help of our foreign colleagues and partners. During the time of full-scale invasion, foreign partners provided a large number of grants to domestic scientific and educational institutions, and Ukrainian scientists had the opportunity to receive overseas scholarships to support their activities. Leading companies (Agilent, Bruker, Carl Zeiss, and Analytik Jena) provided humanitarian aid to the institutions of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in the form of modern scientific equipment. Academy scientists continue their work within the European Union's "Horizon Europe" program, NATO's "Science for Peace and Security", the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, and others. Currently, the General Energy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine is forming a modern laboratory for energy audit and quality analysis of electricity. To equip it, we need, in particular, an electricity parameter recorder, thermal imager, diffractometer, reflectometer, gas analyzer, and other devices. And in this context, we also very much hope for the help of our foreign partners. 

MC: How is the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine employing its resources and expertise towards research related to the consequences of the Russian invasion? 

AZ: The domestic scientific community has never been and remains not indifferent to priority research directions. On the contrary, it focuses on them. Especially now, when all scientific resources and expertise are directed towards research related to the consequences of the Russian invasion. In the energy sector, this is concentration on developing more resilient and safe infrastructure solutions, using cutting-edge technologies to increase energy efficiency and production of energy from renewable sources. In the agricultural sector, the main task at the moment is humanitarian demining. But of course, scientific research is not limited to these sectors. The National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine has something to offer, it is proud of both its employees and its results. 


MC: Can you discuss the impact of budget constraints on the protection and restoration of scientific infrastructure in Ukraine? 

AZ: Ukrainian science has been chronically suffering from budget constraints. In addition to the deep problem of underfunding, there is also an issue with the limitations on the use of funds. While perhaps not as acute as underfunding, it is still noticeable. And it significantly affects the ability of scientific institutions to quickly implement measures aimed at protecting and restoring scientific infrastructure. Therefore, in these issues, Ukrainian scientists also hope for the help and support of international partners. 

MC: What needs to be done to ensure Ukrainians can return to the labs and continue their important work in the field of science and technology?

AZ: In my opinion, to address an issue of this level, a comprehensive approach is needed, but primarily it is state support for stimulating the development of science. It should promote the synchronous elevation of the social level of scientists along with the integration of scientific research into public and private sectors. I would not like to discuss the details, as it makes no sense without the state's desire to engage in this. The mechanisms for implementing this process can be different. But the war has already shown that a low level of attention to our own science and technology can threaten the existence of the country. What else is needed to draw attention to this? 

Image Credit: Neil Singh, Research Analyst at The Critical Mass 

How Does Russian Attacks Impact Scientific Community and their Potential in Ukraine? 

According to Artur Zaporozhets, before February 2022, there were 88,529 researchers and academic teaching staff employed in the public sector. However, more than one in ten (11.7%) of these scientists had to relocate inside Ukraine or leave the country. Because of the war, 4,949 Ukrainian researchers and educators from 524 academic institutions and research organizations immigrated from Ukraine. Additionally, 5,409 researchers and educators had to change their residence and career. Finally, some of 1,310 researchers have volunteered for combat duty. 

The war to date in January 2024 has taken the lives of 75 Ukrainian scientists. One of the earliest casualties was physicist Vasyl Klad'ko, a corresponding member of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and laureate of the State Prize of Ukraine for Science and Technology. He was shot by Russian forces in the village of Vorzel, Kyiv region. Another loss that shook the entire scientific community was the death of Bizhan Sharopov.  Brilliant young neurophysiologist and biotechnologist actively contributed to the popularization of science through his writings and professional comments for the media. He was killed in the battle near the city of Izyum in April 2022. The latest victim is Lyudmyla Shevtsova, Doctor of Biological Sciences and former Head of the Department of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in recent years - a lecturer at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy University. Professor Shevtsova was killed in the nationwide airstrike on December 2, 2024.  

Image Credit: Neil Singh, Research Analyst at The Critical Mass 

Those who survived and stayed in Ukraine continue striving to maintain their professional activities despite the devastating effects of the ongoing war. The Ukrainian scientific community has been disrupted by a wide range of challenges including internal and external displacement, recruitment of scientists for combat, destruction of scientific facilities, and occupation. Alongside these physical disruptions, there are severe psychological impacts. The stress, trauma, and anxiety caused by the war conditions have taken a toll on the cognitive abilities, productivity, and overall creativity of the scientific community. 


Why do we need to protect, support, and restore Ukrainian science? 

Science is the engine that powers innovation, which in turn drives economic growth. It fosters the creation of new technologies, processes, and products that form the foundation of modern industries. The discoveries and advancements made in scientific research laboratories often lead to the development of innovative applications in sectors such as healthcare, energy, transport, communication, and manufacturing. By improving efficiency, promoting sustainability, and creating novel goods and services, these innovations stimulate economic activity. They generate new business opportunities, create jobs, and enhance productivity and competitiveness. Additionally, science-driven innovation shapes the knowledge economy, where information and ideas are key economic drivers.  

Ukraine is a significant player in the global scientific community, contributing to the creation of transformative technologies and solutions. The country has demonstrated exceptional proficiency in a variety of scientific domains, including nuclear research, advanced materials, aviation, space technology, IT, physics, astronomy, engineering sciences, biotechnology, and agricultural technology. Ukrainian scientists have made significant contributions, from pioneering developments in nuclear technology to creating advanced materials used across various industries. The nation's robust growth and innovation in the IT sector have established it as a crucial contributor to the global tech industry.  

Image Credit: Neil Singh, Research Analyst at The Critical Mass 

Another essential area of research is directed towards strengthening the defense capabilities and security of Ukraine. These projects, especially within UkrOboronProm, are executed with defined objectives in mind. One example of such significant research is the work performed at the V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. Scientists at this institution have developed an essential component for pulse ground-penetrating radar. This technological advancement permits the detection of unexploded ordnance and mines in plants and surface soil layers from a distance, thereby enhancing safety and security measures. Second, the research conducted at the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute is set to improve the energy security of domestically produced tanks. Their efforts are aimed at expanding tank capacity from 1,200 to 1,500 horsepower and increasing the boost level to 92 horsepower per liter. This will significantly enhance the performance and energy efficiency of these vital defense assets.  

Finally, Ukrainian scientists and engineers have made significant advancements in marine technology, notably in the development of the "Sea Baby" sea drone. This Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is designed to perform many tasks ranging from oceanographic data collection to surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Utilizing the latest advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, and sensor technology, "Sea Baby" offers enhanced efficiency and precision in marine exploration and defense operations. Notably, this drone was successfully utilized in offensive operations against the Russian fleet during the war, demonstrating its effectiveness in real-world combat scenarios. These innovations highlight Ukraine's capabilities in maritime technology, while also contributing significantly to global advancements in autonomous naval systems. 

What are the most urgent needs of the Ukrainian scientists and what can be done today? 

As noted above, the war has inflicted considerable damage on Ukraine's scientific institutions and equipment while stimulating a significant 'brain drain.' Despite these challenges, a significant number of scientists have opted to stay in Ukraine. This decision underscores the necessity for the international community to reassess and bolster its support for Ukrainian science. It is important to ensure the continuation of scientific activities to avert additional loss of human capital and preserve the potential for future recovery and development. 

There is an urgent need to amplify international collaboration, increase long-term investment in Ukrainian science, and provide support for displaced Ukrainian scientists. Despite challenges, the majority of the scientists choose to remain in Ukraine, underscoring the need for the international community to reevaluate their approach to supporting Ukrainian science. This support could encompass training, fellowships, and temporary job placements. Efforts must be made to prevent further 'brain drain', engage with scientific institutional representatives to address critical needs, and ensure Ukrainian scientists and institutional leaders have access to necessary tools and resources. 

Image Credit: Neil Singh, Research Analyst at The Critical Mass 

Advocate. Supporting advocacy initiatives like Science at Risk is critical. This initiative, among others, emphasizes the significance of preserving a dynamic scientific community in Ukraine during these challenging times. Several Ukrainian advocates are actively championing the cause, including Yulia Bezvershenko, a physicist, science activist, and co-founder of Science at Risk; Anton Senenko, a senior physicist and influential figure who also volunteers to support Ukrainian army through running fundraising campaign to purchase and repair vehicles for the troops, 42TachkynaZSU; and Yuriy Khalavka, a chemist, science activist, and co-founder of the social media group Ukrainian Scientists Worldwide. The international community, both private and public entities, can join these advocates to bolster the preservation and restoration of Ukrainian science. 

Partner. Establishing partnerships is vital for the survival and growth of Ukrainian scientific institutions. Collaborating with foreign entities can facilitate an exchange of knowledge, resources, and best practices. These partnerships could involve joint research projects, academic exchanges, shared resources, and collaborative funding applications. Such alliances can help Ukrainian institutions maintain a high standard of scientific research, despite the ongoing challenges.  

Additionally, these partnerships can offer valuable international exposure to Ukrainian scientists, fostering a productive exchange of ideas and innovations for global scientific progress. Support must also extend to Ukrainian researchers, scientists, educators, administrators, and students to keep institutions operational.  

Contribute. Assistance from the international scientific community is invaluable for Ukrainian research institutions. Donations, particularly of used equipment, can help these institutions replenish their damaged or lost resources, enabling them to continue their critical research endeavors. Many of these institutions have diligently recorded their losses and compiled lists of essential equipment to maintain their research operations. Crucially, such support can aid in retaining their scientific personnel, mitigating further 'brain drain.'  

We must recognize that not only institutions under physical attack require assistance. Due to a significant reduction in state funding and the reprioritization of resources to support the army and war victims, many institutions risk discontinuing their programs and losing valuable staff. Some institutions are striving to adapt to the current challenges posed by the war and rapid technological advancements by expanding their research and undertaking new critical work. For instance, the General Energy Institute of NAS of Ukraine is seeking aid to acquire equipment for their laboratory. Providing support to these institutions is vital to ensure the continuation of their essential scientific endeavors. 



Despite the systematic attacks by Russia causing significant losses and damages to Ukrainian public scientific infrastructure, Ukrainian science continues to persist and achieve significant progress. The unwavering commitment of Ukrainian scientists allows them to continue producing vital research, even amidst adversity. 

Simultaneously, the international community's support in aiding Ukraine to develop and implement homegrown solutions proves to be a cost-effective strategy. This approach not only addresses Ukraine's unique challenges but also fosters a sense of ownership and self-reliance. Such empowerment enhances Ukraine's resilience, preparing it to tackle future challenges more effectively. 


Author Profile

  • Mariya Chukhnova serves as TCM's International Security & Stability Programming Subject Matter Expert and Senior Project Coordinator.

  • Alongside her work with TCM, Mariya is also a teaching assistant at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs/Harriman Institute and serves as a United Nations representative for the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations.


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