University of York forms partnership to combat chemical pollution in Ukraine

University of York

Researchers from Kharkiv and York are launching a new partnership to tackle the many pollution problems faced by Ukraine as it battles with war.

Ukrainian students conducting a сhemical analysis of water in the Siverskiy Donets river

The project is a partnership between the University of York and Karazin Kharkiv National University in Ukraine and stems from a UK-wide twinning initiative to offer support to academics, students and university leaders during the conflict.

The aim is to develop a community of researchers who have the skills and knowledge to understand the terrible legacy of chemical pollution following conflict and of how to clean up Ukraine’s natural environment.

Even before the invasion, Ukraine had significant problems with the quality of its air, water and soil as an industrialised nation. The war has exacerbated those environmental issues through the destruction of wastewater treatment plants and the contamination of soil and water with heavy metals, explosive residues, fuels, lubricants and bombs.

This environmental destruction is having an enormous negative impact on the health of the human population, with reports estimating almost five million Ukranians having issues over access to clean, safe drinking water.

Ukraine is also an important global producer of chemicals including fertilisers, novel medical molecules and fibres. The expertise developed from the research programme will help Ukrainian chemical industries recover using environmentally more sustainable technologies and methodologies.

The £140,000 research grant has been awarded through the Twinning scheme as part of UK-Ukraine R&I. It is an institution-to-institution collaboration model coordinated by Cormack Consultancy Group and the President’s Fund of Ukraine for Education, Science, and Sports with the support of Universities UK International. The model helps universities in Ukraine to come out of the crisis with added resources, skills, and robust international experience.

The York and Kharkiv project initially starts in April 2023 and finishes at the end of August: establishing a long-term research partnership around the assessment, mitigation and prevention of chemical pollution in the country.

It will support a 10 week online PhD level training course, focusing on the assessment and prevention of chemical pollution. It will also deliver an eight-week York-based summer school involving academics and PhD students from Kharkiv. The summer school will cover methods for chemical analysis, ecotoxicity testing, environmental monitoring and modelling.

Academics and PhD students from Ukraine will then work with York research teams to gain hands-on experience of different research methods in ecotoxicology, environmental fate assessment, green chemistry and more.

Students and academics from Ukraine will travel to Yorkshire and be given access to the cutting-edge facilities available at York, including the Centre of Excellence for Mass Spectrometry.

Professor Alistair Boxall, from the Department of Environment and Geography, said “This unique collaboration will create a community of UK and Ukraine-based researchers with the knowledge and skills to tackle one of Europe’s most urgent challenges.

“War results in substantial chemical pollution affecting the health of both humans and the natural environment. Post-conflict, it is critical that the necessary expertise and capacity is in place within war torn areas to deal with the terrible legacy of chemical pollution.”

Doctor Nataliia Popovych, from the School of Geology, Geography, Recreation and Tourism of Karazin Kharkiv National University, said: “The ongoing cooperation with the University of York is an important support for us in such difficult times as today. We have already managed to conduct some joint lectures and seminars with York’s researchers regarding the issues of environmental protection in Ukraine.

“Our students and academics are looking forward to this new incredible opportunity to exchange knowledge, obtain the necessary skills and work on their research projects with the access to the advanced facilities during the summer school in York.

“We hope that meeting our colleagues in person, establishing collaboration networks and shaping our common vision on the ways of cleaning Ukraine’s natural environment will be an important contribution to the post-war recovery of our country.”

The University of York’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Saul Tendler said: “Our partnership with Karazin Kharkiv National University has already delivered great results both in Ukraine and here in York, and I’m confident this new research funding will take our work together to a whole new level.

“This vital and timely research will shape understanding and deliver enormous impact for the people who need it the most. The terrible effects of war on the environment is not just critical for Ukraine, it is one of society’s biggest challenges.

“There’s a unique spirit of internationalism and collaboration for public good in this research, we are sure to offer colleagues from Ukraine a really warm welcome when they arrive in York later this year.”

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