Ukrainian science students persist in wartime

Displaced by war, separated from family and far from home, six students from Ukraine are competing in the world’s largest science fair.

Details: This week, the students will participate virtually alongside more than 1,750 other finalists in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

  • The students from Ukraine qualified by competing in a series of regional ISEF-affiliated events, culminating with the national fair in Kyiv.
  • That event ended on Feb. 23, cut short by Russia’s invasion of the country the next day.

Sofiia Smovzh, a 17-year-old student from Kyiv, quickly left Ukraine and went to Budapest, then Paris, where she is living with friends.

  • In France, she takes in-person classes in the morning and logs on in the afternoon to complete work for her Ukrainian school certificate.
  • She’s also been working on her presentation for ISEF. Her scientific interest is organic chemistry and how it can be leveraged to improve anti-cancer drugs. She developed analogs of a drug that are soluble in water instead of a sugar solution, making them a possible cancer treatment for people with diabetes.

Her biggest challenge: Her supervisor and mentor was living under occupation in Kyiv. It was difficult to communicate with her, but Smovzh said she messaged Smovzh when she could and helped her despite the circumstances.

  • “She’s very courageous,” Smovzh says.

Sofiia Timofieieva, a 10th grade student from Dnipro, is now living with her aunt and extended family in Frankfurt, Germany, and preparing for ISEF.

  • For her project, she created a type of solid disinfectant that doesn’t use antibiotics and could be used to bandage wounds.

What they’re saying: The students “reflect Ukraine’s strength in science and engineering on the world stage; their resilience and bravery to pursue excellent scientific work while facing military attack is nothing short of inspiring,” says Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of the Society for Science, which organizes ISEF and publishes Science News.

What’s next: Smovzh says without hesitation that she wants to return to Ukraine to attend university. Since that isn’t likely to happen next year and she doesn’t want to miss a year of school, she’s beginning to look at universities in other countries.