Podcast "We are TUM" – Transcript, twelfth episode

[Moderator Matthias Kirsch:] For the Ukrainian Olya Popovych, the war begins at four in the morning. It's February 24, 2022. Olya Popovych is lying in bed in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in southwestern Ukraine. She awakes to see her husband with his telephone in hand.

[Olya Popovych:] It was still night outdoors and I woke up because my baby was crying and I saw that he was just reading the news. And I said: "OK, why you are not sleeping? It's only four o' clock," And he told me: "No, the war has started." - "No, you are joking, maybe it's some misinformation" - "No, several bombs are already in Kyiv."

[German voice-over:] Es war noch dunkel draußen. Ich bin aufgewacht, weil mein Baby geweint hat und ich sah, dass sein Handy eingeschaltet war. Ich sagte: "Warum schläfst du nicht? Es ist 4 Uhr nachts.” Und er antwortete: "Nein, der Krieg hat angefangen.” – "Du machst Witze. Ist das eine falsche Info?” – "Nein, in Kyiv sind schon Bomben eingeschlagen.”

[Kirsch:] Julia Yamnenko is not at home in Kyiv, where she normally lives and works. She's traveling on business in western Ukraine, in Chernivtsi.

[Julia Yamnenko:] I cannot forget this, of course, it was four o'clock in the morning and my husband called me and said that, we are being bombed and, I am in the car, he said, and I am going to your father, I will take your father and we will come to you to Chernivtsi and we will decide later what to do. Yeah, and in the evening my husband with my father, they came to us to Chernivtsi as well as my sister with her husband. We all gathered together in Chernivtsi and started to think, what to do.

[German voice-over:] Ich kann es nicht vergessen. Es war vier Uhr morgens und mein Mann rief mich an und sagte: Wir werden angegriffen, ich bin im Auto und hole deinen Vater ab. Wir fahren zu euch nach Czernowitz. Am Abend, als sie ankamen, haben wir angefangen zu überlegen, was wir machen sollen.

[Kirsch:] And this morning Oksana Chernova doesn't wake up at seven in the morning in her shared apartment in Kyiv. She awakes to air-raid sirens.

[Oksana Chernova:] It took me maybe two seconds to realize that something went wrong and I immediately took my phone, checked the latest news and understood what had just happened. Next I started to collect my documents and put some important items in my backpack. So I share my apartment in Kyiv with one girl and yeah, I wake her up and announced that the war began and we need to do something.

[German voice-over:] Es hat einige Sekunden gedauert, bis ich gemerkt habe, was los ist. Ich habe mein Handy genommen, die Nachrichten gelesen und verstanden, was passiert ist. Ich fing sofort an, meine wichtigen Dokumente in einen Rucksack zu packen. Ich weckte meine Mitbewohnerin in Kyiv auf und hab ihr gesagt: Der Krieg hat angefangen.

[Kirsch:] Olya Popovych, Julia Yamnenko and Oksana Chernova each experience the Russian attack on their homeland, Ukraine, in different ways and at different locations with different people. These three women had never met before February 24, 2022. And without the war their paths may never have crossed. But now there are two things they have in common: First of all their profession. Popovych, Yamnenko and Chernova are all scientists who work at universities in Ukraine. Popovych and Yamnenko are engineers, Chernova is a mathematician. The second thing they share: Today, ten months after the beginning of the war, all three live in Munich and work at the Technical University of Munich. They fled the Russian attack and have found a place at TUM where they can continue their academic activities. How did these three woman scientists make their way to Munich? Why TUM of all places, and what do they do there? We'll find out in this special episode of "We Are TUM".

February 24 begins in Munich. Like the rest of the world, the city wakes up to the new that Russia has begun its war against Ukraine. Seen from Munich, the war doesn't feel life-threatening, but it is certainly present and is a major shock. The images on television seem almost like a movie, tank columns crossing the border, Russian paratroopers landing in Ukraine, bombs exploding in Kyiv. War has returned to Europe in a magnitude long not seen. Thomas Hofmann, President of TUM, also reads and hears the news on this morning. One of his first thoughts is: Can we, as TUM, do something?

[Thomas Hofmann:] Every morning I confer with the press spokesperson; they immediately addressed the topic and started thinking about what we ourselves could do. Not just sit here and spectate; what could we really do within the bounds of our possibilities, the options open to us.

[Kirsch:] Thomas Hofmann and his spokesperson Ulrich Meyer asked themselves: Who at TUM might have contacts in Ukraine? And who might have an idea about how the university would be able to help? After his meeting with Hofmann, Ulrich Meyer sends out an e-mail. The word goes out to two colleagues at 8:14 a.m.: "Dear Harald, dear Uli, I was just developing an idea with the President about how we could offer Ukrainian researchers support in case they have to flee from their home country. He thought of the IAS and the TUM Global Visiting Professor Program as possible frameworks for something like that. What do you think?" The man whom Meyer addresses in this e-mail as "Uli" is none other than Ulrich Marsch, Managing Director of the TUM Institute for Advanced Study, or IAS. Ulrich Marsch and the IAS already have some experience in bringing scientists to TUM from foreign countries.

[Ulrich Marsch:] The assignment of our Institute is to attract international leading researchers for a three-year temporary residency at TUM. Each candidate conducts a scientific project together with one of our professors. I immediately said we should consider a program for receiving Ukrainian scientists and integrating them in the TUM world, even on a longer-term basis, since the war looks like if will go on for quite some time.

[Kirsch:] Suddenly everything moves very quickly. Marsch presents his plan to Ulrich Meyer.

[Marsch:] So that was my idea and he said he'd take it along to the President. He called back about an hour later and said: Yes! Great idea! Please work out the details, please outline how this could work and how much money would be needed to implement the plan. I was finished with my sketch by noon.

[Kirsch:] The basic concept is ready after only half a day; it works as follows: TUM will receive Ukrainian scientists who are fleeing the country. To do so it will create a grant program which will run through Ulrich Marsch's IAS. The aid campaign is to be developed and implemented as quickly as possible. And it will help people like Oksana Chernova, Olya Popovych and Julia Yamnenko, whom we heard earlier in the podcast. The aid program is to bring them from Ukraine to Germany and TUM so that they are in a secure environment and can continue their research. Thomas Hofmann, President of the university, wants to take action and won't be satisfied with simply issuing statements of position. That, Hofmann says, would not be in keeping with the spirit of TUM.

[Hofmann:] That is central to the DNA of our university. When we identify challenges, we try to take concrete measures to resolve them. Whether or not these measures succeed is then an entirely different question; one can never be sure. But I have to say: The university is in principle an experimental space and we have to try things out. When things work, that's fine; when they don't work, then we approach the matter differently the next time, but it's better to try things in many different ways than not to try anything at all.

[Kirsch:] The university's DNA also means that in addition to the extensive aid program for the scientists which was planned in these first days of the war, the university will also organize emergency relief for students from Ukraine who are already at TUM. And something else is of equal importance to President Hofmann:

[Hofmann:] From the very beginning we said we will not only support students from Ukraine, but also our Russian students. We have just over 500 students from Russia here, and they contacted me at the time and were emphatic about telling me how glad they were to be here at TUM. They also made it quite clear to me that they could not even conceive of returning to their home country under the current Russian head of state.

[Kirsch:] While the Office of the President and the IAS work on the aid program at TUM, the people in Ukraine already have to flee their homes on the first day of the war. This includes the three woman scientists.

[Popovych:] It was long a day for me, very long. It was like, whole day we were thinking okay, what should we do next? Where should we go? And then in the night when we received again lots of news, so something will be expected in the night, so we decided to move. We just put all of what we saw in that moment, we just put it in our suitcase, found our, the most important documents.

[German voice-over:] Es war ein langer Tag. Und den ganzen Tag dachten wir: Was passiert als nächstes? Wo gehen wir hin? Als in der zweiten Nacht wieder schlechte Nachrichten kamen, haben wir entschieden, zu fliehen. Wir packten die Koffer, suchten unsere wichtigsten Dokumente und Pässe

[Kirsch:] One document is especially important to Olya Popovych.

[Popovych:] I still remember, I put my diploma for my PhD. I was thinking it was the most important document that I have till this moment, and I should take it.

[German voice-over:] Ich habe mein Promotionszeugnis eingepackt, weil ich dachte, es wäre das wichtigste Dokument, das ich habe.

[Kirsch:] Oksana Chernova and her roommate leave their apartment in Kyiv before February 24 is over. They take the subway to the train station; from there they plan to head for western Ukraine.

[Chernova:] So the streets were empty. Only when we arrived closer to underground stations we saw people who were living there in fact, because underground station is the safest place to be. And some people were there with children, with animals. Someone who has already has a place to live. I was surprised that it was quite easy to take a metro to get to the railway station and also, the government organized lots of additional trains to the west and even without ticket you can go in.

[German voice-over:] Die Straßen waren leer. Erst als wir zur U-Bahn kamen, haben wir andere Leute gesehen. Weil die U-Bahn-Stationen die sichersten Orte sind. Da waren Menschen mit Kindern, mit Tieren. Einige hatten schon Schlafplätze eingerichtet. Ich war überrascht, wie einfach wir zum Hauptbahnhof gekommen sind. Die Regierung hatte viele Züge organisiert, um Leute nach Westen zu fahren. Sogar ohne Ticket.

[Kirsch:] Julia Yamnenko remains in Chernivtsi during the first days of the war, in western Ukraine, where she had been travelling on business when the war began. On February 26, two days after the beginning of the war, she places a call to her husband. He is still in Kyiv, where Yamnenko actually lives and works.

[Yamnenko:] So two days after this, on 26th of February my husband said that you should go abroad. We should know that you are in safe place. So, in this situation, me, my father, my son and my sister with her two children, we just crossed the border to Romania, just by walking. It was a huge crowd on the border, I remember a huge crowd of Indian students, who were evacuated by the Indian government I think. And also a lot of Ukrainian people of course because, yeah, it was a dangerous situation, but Romania accepted us very welcome.

[German voice-over:] Zwei Tage nach Kriegsbeginn sagte mein Mann: Du solltest ins Ausland gehen, in Sicherheit. Ich bin mit meinem Vater, meinem Sohn, meiner Schwester und deren Kindern über die Grenze nach Rumänien gegangen. An der Grenze waren sehr viele Leute. Ich erinnere mich an eine Gruppe indischer Studenten, die von ihrer Regierung evakuiert wurden.

[Kirsch:] As she flees Ukraine, as she walks across the border, leaving her home behind her and with an uncertain situation ahead of her, she has to cry.

[Yamnenko:] Honestly, I was crying. Because I thought of my husband and I realized I don't know when I will see him again. Yeah, it was difficult, it was difficult to leave him, to leave my country and from the other side I don't know where to go and how to help these people who are with me and who I am responsible for.

[German voice-over:] Ganz ehrlich: Ich habe geweint. Weil ich nicht wusste, wann ich meinen Mann wiedersehen würde. Es war schwer, ihn und meine Heimat zurückzulassen. Auf der anderen Seite wusste ich nicht, wohin ich gehen sollte und wie ich denen, für die ich verantwortlich bin, helfen sollte.

[Kirsch:] The three scientists recount how everything happens at once in these early days. The war breaks out, their flight but also their search for new work: As scientists they are their families' best hope for being able to earn money in a foreign country. Olya Popovych and her family quickly decide to flee to another country where the two small children will be safer. Their choice is between Poland and Germany.

[Popovych:] Everything was happening at exactly the same time. First I was just trying to find a place to stay for the night, second okay let's find a job. Like I was not thinking only about me, because I was also thinking about my brother and my husband who were going with me.

[Deutsches Voice:] Alles ist gleichzeitig passiert. Erst suchst du nach einem Schlafplatz. Dann denkst du daran, einen Job zu finden. Ich dachte nicht an mich, sondern an meinen Bruder und meinen Mann.

[Kirsch:] While fleeing, Olya Popovych constantly scours the internet looking for aid programs for scientists and possible jobs abroad.

[Popovych:] I just found the advertisement, it was just a small, I think it was on the web page written that we have solidarity to Ukraine. And there was only the contact of Dr. Marsch, to whom I just sent a direct message, "Hello, my name is Olya Popovych, I'm from Ukraine".

[German voice-over:] Ich habe die Anzeige gesehen. Es war nur eine kleine Nachricht auf der Website, wo stand: "Solidarität mit der Ukraine." Also habe ich Dr. Marsch eine direkte Nachricht geschrieben.

[Kirsch:] This reference on the TUM web site is the first official mention of the aid campaign, the Fellowship program which President Thomas Hofmann, Ulrich Marsch and TUM had already discussed on February 24. But the program hasn't yet been completely implemented. Before the Ukrainian scientists can actually come to Munich, Hofmann and Marsch will have to resolve a substantial difficulty: Where will the grant funding come from?

[Hofmann:] Of course TUM is dependent on external funding, since we're not allowed to fund a grant program directly from our budget. Budgetary constraints make this impossible, the only way we can issue grants like these is by acquiring external funding.

[Kirsch:] Now we can ask: External funding? Why? Wouldn't it be much easier for TUM simply to hire these people as scientific staff?

[Marsch:] Because a grant can be quickly issued based on funding donations. Installing someone in an academic employment situation means officially announcing a vacancy, calling in the Employee Council… that takes weeks. And when it comes to war, you just can't wait that long. You have to act and act quickly.

[Kirsch:] The response from Ulrich Marsch – So TUM decides for the faster option. But as we just heard, the grants can't be financed using the university's own budget. So now Thomas Hofmann has to raise a large amount of money. The calculations say: 3,000 euros per month for each individual. For ten people over a period of six months, that amounts to at least 180,000 euros in advance. Thomas Hofmann begins the search for donors.

[Susanne Porsche:] Hello. I'm Susanne Porsche and my heart has very close ties to TUM, because it's such an incredibly good and interesting and leading-edge institution. Our university is simply fantastic.

[Kirsch:] This is Susanne Porsche, film producer and investor. She is one of the people Thomas Hofmann contacted at the time, asking for support.

[Porsche:] Well, Thomas said: "Hello Susanne, Thomas here. We have to do something; what can we do? Do you think we could handle the financing and what do you think of receiving the families as a partner university?" We also wanted them to be able to bring along their children, they can only bring along the husband when they have three children or more. And I instantly thought the idea was tremendous and I was on board immediately. I got on the phone right away to find out who would help. And I encountered a lot of compassion, my son also helped out. It's really unbelievable, how willing people were to help.

[Kirsch:] The idea of bringing Ukrainian scientists to TUM finds many supporters. Susanne Porsche looks for additional donors in her network. And TUM President Thomas Hofmann makes more calls and meets with potential sponsors.

[Hofmann:] And it's always the same thing, you can only convince individuals to sponsor something when the right idea is brought to the right person. This matching of topics and individuals is decisive to success, since after all money can be used for a number of purposes. We have to make sure that people know the money is well-placed with us, going to a good cause. And most of all for measures which would never be possible with the support of the donors.

[Kirsch:] The idea of grants is concrete, the need is urgent and the willingness to help is great. That's probably why now everything moves very, very quickly.

[Hofmann:] So within a relatively short period of time, I think it was less than ten days, we put the 250,000 euros together that we needed in order to support ten grant recipients.

[Kirsch:] An impressive amount of money raised by Hofmann, Porsche and their associates. But there's hardly a shortage of potential applicants: Even before the grant program is officially advertised on the TUM web site, individuals contact Ulrich Marsch at the IAS on their own, independent initiative.

[Marsch:] And in the meantime my in-box was filing up with contacts mails from many people from Ukraine, academics asking for possibilities to land a position here. Whether as guest scholar, as a full employee, as a student or to complete a doctoral dissertation. People from every imaginable stage in their academic career tracks.

[Kirsch:] As Oksana Chernova hears of the TUM aid program for the first time, she's still in western Ukraine. A colleague tells her about the program by e-mail and Chernova reacts immediately.

[Chernova:] The first time I hear about this program I was in this region and I remember I got this e-mail and I was sitting with my friends and just after I read this message I was like, okay let's prepare a CV and what is needed and my friend helped me with checking my CV and I sent it immediately.

[German voice-over:] Als ich das erste Mal vom Programm gehört habe, war ich schon in der Region Zakarpattia. Ich habe eine E-Mail bekommen und saß gerade mit meinen Freunden zusammen. Als ich die Mail gelesen hatte, habe ich gleich einen Lebenslauf vorbereitet und verschickt.

[Kirsch:] Julia Yamnenko's first destination is not TUM, but rather Germany. She has a friend here, a professor who came to Bayreuth as early as 2014 after the occupation of the Donetsk region. "Come to Bavaria, I'll help you," the professor says to Yamnenko. Julia Yamnenko and her family travel from Romania to Hungary, and take a train from Budapest to Munich.

[Yamnenko:] And then in Budapest we just take a train to Munich because for that moment I already find what to do. I just started to search for the information about universities, about possibilities for Ukrainian researchers, for Ukrainian professors and so on.

[German voice-over:] In Budapest haben wir einen Zug nach München genommen. Ich habe angefangen, nach Informationen von Universitäten zu suchen, nach Möglichkeiten für ukrainische Wissenschaftler und Professoren.

[Kirsch:] At the same time Ulrich Marsch of the IAS is actually occupied with nothing except organizing the grants.

[Marsch:] I did nothing else for four weeks, I was exclusively dedicated to this topic.

[Kirsch:] From dawn to dusk?

[Marsch:] From dawn to dusk.

[Kirsch:] What is that like, sitting on the phone all the time, writing e-mail after e-mail?

[Marsch:] That's it, a lot of phone calls and e-mails. And then delegating assignments to the staff here at the IAS to make sure other things keep moving ahead, or to respond to inquiries and answer e-mails.

[Kirsch:] Ulrich Marsch receives more and more applications. The fleeing Ukrainians spread the word among themselves about aid campaigns like the TUM program. Marsch says he received well over 400 applications. One important factor in making it possible for the Ukrainians to work at TUM is what are called "Hausprofessor" or in-house professorships. IAS Fellows are linked with a specific university chair during their stay at TUM, so they have to make it to the right location.

[Marsch:] Every Fellowship recipient should have a sponsoring host professor at TUM. This means the recipients won't just be sitting alone in isolation in some random building, instead they'll be closely integrated in a university chair. From there they'll be able to work up to a position from which they can publish, maybe acquire subsequent funding and will be able to continue to work in their usual field. That's the reason for the close connection to an existing professorship at TUM and integration at the professorship, including a desk and laboratory access.

[Kirsch:] This also means Ulrich Marsch first has to organize the matches between host professors and scientists. He has to find the appropriate professors and then has to select the matching Fellows from among the considerable number of applicants. He needs criteria which he can follow.

[Marsch:] They have to be research personalities that fit the TUM profile. Scientists, engineers, physicians – as well as people from fields like Sociology, Political Science, Educational Sciences. So there were certainly 10-20 possible choices for each fellowship, but the filter I applied was, for example: Is this someone who has just completed a dissertation? Or is it someone who has already held an academic leadership position? And that's really what we're here for: The IAS is not an entity for promoting post-doctoral candidates, but rather for promoting personalities which have already held higher-ranking academic positions, for example professors or department heads.

[Kirsch:] In some cases the host professors directly contact the applicants or receive direct inquiries from them. Constantinos Antoniou, Professor for Transportation Systems Engineering at TUM, works together with Julia Yamnenko to formulate her application for the Fellowship.

[Yamnenko:] Actually, my friends suggested me because, it's a long story, so my friend knows your friend and this friend knows this professor so step by step we discovered that there is some professor that is working in some similar topic like me, so it would be something similar, and so I addressed him and asked him for support and he agreed with great pleasure very quickly so, we just prepared this application together on a joint topic that is connected with traffic, intelligent control of traffic, of road traffic.

[German voice-over:] Das ist eine lange Geschichte. Eine Freundin kennt jemanden, der einen Professor kannte. Nach und nach fanden wir heraus, dass es einen Professor gibt, der in meinem Bereich arbeitet. Also habe ich ihn nach Hilfe gefragt und er hat freundlicherweise sehr schnell zugesagt. Also haben wir gemeinsam eine Bewerbung verfasst zum Thema Verkehr.

[Kirsch:] Gradually the matches come together. Ukrainian scientists here, TUM counterparts there. Ulrich Marsch has to piece the puzzle together, while the Ukrainian scientists forward the necessary documents while still fleeing their home country.

[Marsch:] They were writing e-mails to all kinds of institutions on the fly while in cars and trains. Then they sent on the documents, CVs, diplomas, certificates.

[Kirsch:] And not only the diplomas and CVs are checked; since the scientists are to continue conducting their research at TUM, Marsch also requires a specific plan.

[Marsch:] I also asked all of them to submit a brief program they intended to work on with us. Everyone submitted a project proposal. Every individual, each one of them sent in a project proposal. And I had the proposals double-checked by two other professors, not only by the respective host. Is this a reasonable plan, is it substantively sound? Does it meet our standards? And the response, without exception, was always yes.

[Kirsch:] As early as the beginning of March, just over a week after the beginning of the Russian invasion, Marsch can already make the decision. And it's a tough decision. He will have to turn down many more people than he will be able to accept. He had almost 20 candidates for each individual Fellowship position. Ultimately a total of ten candidates were selected.

[Popovych:] But in that moment it was like, for me, I didn't believe that I would get some place and after he sent me real confirmation that I am already a fellow in TUM it was still for me something unbelievable because I was going here and, think no, did something, I didn't understand something properly, it cannot be possible, so something should be wrong or, I was expecting something bad, not something good.

[German voice-over:] Ich konnte es gar nicht glauben, dass ich einen Platz bekomme. Nachdem ich die Bestätigung hatte, dass ich das Stipendium bekommen habe, das war unglaublich. Ich dachte: Das ist nicht möglich. Ich habe mit schlechten Nachrichten gerechnet, nicht mit guten.

[Kirsch:] Olya Popovych can hardly believe it when she receives word of being accepted at TUM. The news of the last weeks had been too terrible, too improbable, for her to believe she of all people would receive help from a renowned university like TUM. She talks it over with her husband, who is not permitted to leave the country during the first weeks of the war. He tells her: "Take the kids and your father and head for Munich!"

[Popovych:] I was going by car, the car was full of packages so I was going with my mother, my father and my kids. It was 1500 km for the kids, it's not so easy to go, so he helped me to come here.

[German voice-over:] Ich war mit dem Auto unterwegs. Das Auto war voll, mit meiner Mutter, meinem Vater und den beiden Kindern. 1500 Kilometer, alleine für eine Frau mit Kindern, das ist nicht leicht. Deswegen hat mein Vater mir geholfen.

[Kirsch:] While Oksana Chernova looks for offers of support in other countries, she leaves Ukraine for Poland, where she arrives in Warsaw. It is there, almost a week and a half after the beginning of the war, that she is notified of her acceptance at TUM.

[Chernova:] It was very fast, maybe less than seven or ten days. Yeah, I got an email and even before this fellowship, my host professor wrote to me, that I can arrive, I can come immediately and he has some funding for a visiting researcher. So yeah, I just came immediately here, in Munich in mid-March, then I got confirmation that my host professor can support me with accommodation and then at the end of March I got confirmation that I have now a TUM support fellowship.

[German voice-over:] Es ging alles schnell, innerhalb von knapp 10 Tagen. Schon bevor ich die Zusage hatte, hat mein Host-Professor geschrieben, dass ich sofort kommen kann. Er hatte Budget für einen visiting researcher. Also bin ich Mitte März in München angekommen, als ich die Bestätigung hatte, dass mein Host-Professor mir mit der Unterkunft helfen kann. Und Ende März kam dann die Bestätigung, dass ich ein Stipendium bekomme.

[Kirsch:] She sets off for Munich. She describes the train ride as the longest trip she had ever taken in her life.

[Chernova:] My trip from Warsaw was probably the longest trip I ever had. It took more than 12 hours I guess, because of some train delay and so trains were full of Ukrainian refugees like me. So it was mostly women and children.

[German voice-over:] Mein Trip aus Warschau war der längste, den ich je hatte. Es hat über 12 Stunden gedauert, wegen Zugverspätungen. Die Züge waren voll mit ukrainischen Flüchtlingen. Vor allem Frauen und Kinder.

[Kirsch:] Julia Yamnenko is the only one of the three women scientists who is already in Germany when she receives word of her acceptance. Traveling with her children, her father as well as her sister and sister's children, the search for a place to live turns out to be difficult. On May 1 she begins work as the last of the ten scientists participating in the Fellowship program.

[Yamnenko:] And at least I obtained the invitation that I can come and sign the agreement for this fellowship, so I started it in May and it continued till first of September. Because the first of September I obtained another formal grant, it's the Philipp Schwartz Initiative Fellowship.

[German voice-over:] Und dann habe ich die Einladung bekommen, dass ich kommen kann. Ich habe im Mai angefangen und mein Vertrag ging bis September. Ab September hatte ich dann ein neues Stipendium, das Philipp-Schwartz-Stipendium.

[Kirsch:] Over nine months have passed since the acceptance to the Fellowships. Olya Popovych, Oksana Chernova and Julia Yamnenko are back to their scientific routines. And how do these everyday routines look? Oksana Chernova is a mathematician.

[Chernova:] Yeah, so I was fortunate to find my host professor Mathias Drton, who works in statistics. We're doing regression modeling and non-parametric statistics. So it's not far from what I was doing.

[German voice-over:] Ich hatte Glück, meinen Host-Professor Mathias Drton zu finden, der auch im Feld der Statistik arbeitet. Wir machen Regressionsmodelle und nichtparametrische Statistik. Also nicht weit weg von dem, was ich in der Ukraine gemacht habe.

[Kirsch:] Not only can Chernova continue to work in her field, she's also found a team in which she can learn much as a researcher.

[Chernova:] I was very lucky to join TUM and the department of mathematics because it's well known for its high-quality research groups. And especially my host professor Mathias Drton is kind of a star in our statistical world. So now I have a favorable environment to work.

[German voice-over:] Die TUM ist bekannt für die hohe Qualität der Forschung. Und mein Host-Professor Mathias Drton ist fast ein Star in der Statistik-Welt. Für mich ist das ein sehr günstiges Umfeld.

[Kirsch:] The Ukrainian scientists fled to Germany under great duress; in their new research teams at TUM they in some case fill existing gaps and solve problems, says Ulrich Marsch.

[Marsch:] As far as I can judge the results, this has all been very productive. In several cases I've received statements from Professors saying: "This young woman is exactly the puzzle piece which has been missing from my project." Whether in an earth observation project or in a traffic technologies project. So there have been substantive synergies: In one project the Ukrainian scientist added an additional component which had been missing before. So it has really all worked very well, also in substantive, scientific terms. And here it was very useful to have had an advance look at, for example, whether the candidate had a certain number of international publications, had a certain amount of experience in the respective field. Otherwise this wouldn't have worked out.

[Kirsch:] And Olya Popovych has quickly settled into her new position at the new professorship. When we speak with her, she has just returned from a research excursion to Egypt.

[Popovych:] Last week I came back from Egypt, where we were making the project, and we tried to scan the pyramids and to find some interesting things there. So we were making measurements on the field trip, during the whole week. For me it was a whole week but my team stayed there for one more week. And it was for me very exciting because it was the first time that I was inside the pyramids. And I was researching all the chambers, all the tunnels and the parts where usually visitors are not allowed to go, so I was using my non-destructive testing technique and I was using it exactly on the cultural heritage project, so it was very fascinating.

[German voice-over:] Letzte Woche bin ich aus Ägypten zurückgekommen von einem Forschungsprojekt. Wir scannen die Pyramiden und finden interessante Dinge dort. Wir haben Messungen gemacht, eine ganze Woche lang. Für mich war das sehr aufregend, weil ich zum ersten Mal in der Pyramide war und alle Tunnel und Räume untersuchen konnte, wo Besucher nicht hindürfen.

[Kirsch:] Compared to her two colleagues, who are somewhat younger, Julia Yamnenko had already made substantial progress in her academic career in Ukraine. As Head of Department she was responsible for students and researchers. She attended conferences, held lectures, supervised degree projects. She will have to adapt to her new role at TUM.

[Yamnenko:] I love to learn something new so for me it's a challenge but I hope I will overcome it. So the language barrier of course, also there are other circumstances like new demands, different demands for the teachers and different techniques maybe for teachers. But it's interesting just to discover for myself something new and try to improve myself, yeah, maybe to change myself in some issues, it could be interesting. Why not?

[German voice-over:] Ich liebe es, Neues zu lernen. Es ist eine Herausforderung, aber ich hoffe, ich schaffe es. Die Sprache ist natürlich eine Hürde. Aber es gibt hier auch andere Anforderungen an Professoren und andere Techniken. Aber es ist interessant, weil ich mich verbessern kann. Wieso nicht?

[Kirsch:] Conceived on the day war broke out, February 24, in the office of the TUM President Thomas Hofmann, the Fellowships were originally planned to last six months. In the meantime the scientists have been here much longer. What lies ahead for them?
The Fellowships were originally to last six months. Beyond that the scientists were expected to organize research funding for themselves. For example, refugees can submit additional applications to Germany's largest research support organization, the German Research Foundation (DFG), so that they can be integrated in ongoing projects. Several of the scientists such as Oksana Chernova are currently in the process of applying for grants and research projects. Her TUM Fellowship has been extended for the time being in order to support her.

[Chernova:] So, the first fellowship was for six months and then in September they extended for six more months and during this time I can apply for some grants at a research program. And yeah, it's what we are doing now.

[German voice-over:] Das erste Stipendium ging sechs Monate, im September wurde es dann verlängert für weitere sechs Monate. In der Zeit kann ich mich für Forschungsprojekte bewerben, das mache ich jetzt.

[Kirsch:] In the meantime top management at TUM has already decided: We'll keep providing support and will find financial resources in case someone can't immediately find a follow-up project.

[Hofmann:] Many have already been integrated in subsequent projects at the professorships. That's a wonderful thing, and we've also found additional funding for a very small number of them so that they can stay even longer. The idea was always not to cut off support after six months, but rather to take a long-term perspective, to maintain networks even after the Ukraine crisis has passed, the war is over and the people can return to their home country.

[Kirsch:] Julia Yamnenko has already found a follow-up project, financed with funding from the German Research Foundation, where she will be able to concentrate on an aspect of her work which she is especially enthusiastic about: Promoting talented young researchers.

[Yamnenko:] Actually I started to work already with one student here, this is a student of TUM and due to the grant program of the university I am able to hire this student, so we are working together already. He is a Master's student and he is very talented, I have a huge plan for him and for our joint work. Also I plan to start working with another student in November maybe. Now the documents are preparing, so I have really a huge plan.

[German voice-over:] Ich habe bereits angefangen, mit einem Studenten zu arbeiten. Ich konnte ihn für meine Forschung anstellen. Er ist ein Masterstudent und sehr talentiert. Ich habe große Pläne für unsere gemeinsame Arbeit. Und ich hoffe, im November noch einen Studenten einstellen zu können.

[Kirsch:] But in spite of all the big plans, it's hard for Yamnenko to forget all she has encountered in recent months, the outbreak of war, flight, a new beginning. Her husband is still in Ukraine. As a result, she doesn't want to make any long-term plans.

[Yamnenko:] For me it's very hard to say for the moment so I prefer, you know, just to construct a plan for a week, for a couple weeks, maybe for a month, till the end of this year, calendar year I mean, but for the moment please don't ask me about it because I have no answer.

[German voice-over:] Es ist schwer zu sagen im Moment. Ich plane lieber eine Woche voraus, vielleicht einen Monat oder bis zum Jahresende. Aber nicht weiter. Fragen Sie mich nicht nach der Zukunft, ich kann nicht antworten.

[Kirsch:] Her colleague Olya Popovych on the other hand is planning further into the future. She has also found research funding for a project and as a result has received a follow-up contract at her new university chair. She gets along well with her team, she enjoys her work, and most of all she has a feeling: I'm contributing something here, and if everything works out, I'll be here for a long time.

[Popovych:] Yes, I decided to stay here, actually I hope that after this project will end I will continue my work here in Germany. At the moment the war is not ended and I think I met a lot of hurdles to come here, to settle down and maybe there is a chance for me to stay in Germany and to work like a person which will be contributing to the Ukrainian side like possibilities of the coordination between Ukraine and Germany. Actually that is my task for the future, we decided to do it with my host professor. That will create a lot of proposals which will be supporting the cooperation between Ukraine and Germany.

[German voice-over:] Ich habe entschieden hier zu bleiben. Ich hoffe, dass ich auch nach dem jetzigen Projekt in Deutschland arbeiten kann. Es war anstrengend hierherzukommen und es war anstrengend, hier anzukommen. Vielleicht gibt es eine Chance, hier zu bleiben und trotzdem die ukrainische Wissenschaft zu bereichern, vielleicht zwischen Deutschland und der Ukraine zu vermitteln. Ich sehe das als meine Aufgabe. Mit meinem Host-Professor habe ich beschlossen, Forschungsprojekte in diese Richtung der Zusammenarbeit vorzuschlagen.

[Kirsch:] TUM wants to be sure to continue promoting this side-effect of the Fellowships. The relationships between Ukrainian scientists and the university absolutely have to be maintained. President Thomas Hofmann doesn't think this would result in a lack of scientific resources in Ukraine.

[Hofmann:] No, I don't really consider that to be 'Brain Drain'. That's how science works, science means dealing with one another openly, transparently, sharing knowledge. And by sharing knowledge we create more knowledge and not less, and I think that's the benefit here. And this is also exactly the way the TUM Institute for Advanced Study works, this is exactly the reason why in the meantime hundreds of Fellows have been here at TUM. They learn here, return to their universities and of course take along a lot. This leads to a global network which meets up again and again at certain occasions, jointly acquires projects or for example sends us talented young researchers. So this is a win-win situation for all concerned.

[Kirsch:] Oksana Chernova would also like to remain in Germany, ideally at TUM. Given current circumstances, she looks to the future with optimism.

[Chernova:] I feel optimistic about the future, mainly because I have this feeling that I belong here. So I have friends, mainly Ukrainian friends, also colleagues who support me since I'm living in Garching. I found some friends there as well and this together contributes to my optimistic feeling and I don't think that I am alone. I feel the support.

[German voice-over:] Ich sehe der Zukunft optimistisch entgegen, weil ich das Gefühl habe, hierhin zu gehören. Ich habe Freunde und Kollegen hier, die mich unterstützen, und habe in Garching Freunde gefunden. Das hilft. Ich bin nicht alleine, ich fühle mich unterstützt.

[Kirsch:] She even goes one step further…

[Chernova:] For me it feels like a new beginning of life. I think of it like my new life began in March 2022 in München, yeah.

[German voice-over:] Es fühlt sich für mich an wie ein neuer Lebensbeginn. Ja, ich denke, mein neues Leben hat im März 2022 angefangen. In München, ja.

[Kirsch:] This has been "We are TUM", der the podcast by and for the Technical University of Munich. This podcast was produced by Fabian Dilger, Clarissa Ruge, ProLehre Media and Didactics and by me, Matthias Kirsch. Sound design and post-production by Marco Meister of Edition Meister in Berlin. Our special thanks go to Olya Popovych, Oksana Chernova and Julia Yamnenko, Ulrich Marsch, Susanne Porsche and Thomas Hofmann. That's all until the next episode. Make sure to join us and discover the big and little secrets of the Technical University of Munich!


Technical University of Munich
Dr. phil. Clarissa Ruge
Creative Director Image & Presidential Events

Tel. +49 89 289 25769
Mobile phone +49 173 9484123
rugespam prevention@zv.tum.de