Like millions of people around the world, Oleh Khalimonchuk watched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfold with horror and disbelief.
“It’s just incomprehensible,” he said. “It’s… really hard to understand and handle. It is just difficult. ”
For Khalimonchuk, the Russian invasion took place almost at home. Now a professor of biochemistry at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and director of the Nebraska Center for Redox Biology, Khalimonchuk spent the first 20 years of his life in western Ukraine, growing up in the city of Lviv.
Now, after abandoning his roots in the United States, 42-year-old Khalimonchuk is looking to do what he can to help refugee Ukrainians from the invasion. On February 27, he took to Twitter to award scholarships at his lab in the UNL center to Ukrainian refugees trained in biochemistry.
“As a (Ukrainian American), I cannot just stand aside while this brutal act of Russian aggression against (Ukraine) unfolds. Happy to offer some short/long term lab scholarships to students/postdocs/senior scientists from Ukraine,” Khalimonchuk tweeted.
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He hopes to offer about three or four fellowships to what may include graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and senior scientists.
Though on Tuesday, Khalimonchuk said he wrote his tweet as “a more impulsive move,” it has garnered attention, with more than 160 retweets and hundreds of likes.
“Basically, my whole life is here, so I don’t want to go back,” he said. “But I feel like I’m in a position where I can help those people.”
The number of refugees following the conflict topped 2 million on Tuesday, marking the fastest exodus Europe has seen since World War Two, according to the AP news agency.
He said it was still too early to measure the impact and interest of Khalimonchuk’s offer. But Lincoln provides a home away from home for Ukrainians. Lincoln’s population includes Ukrainians, along with their descendants, who fled the country when it was part of the Soviet Union.
Accepted applicants will also work in a laboratory that includes Iryna Bohovych, a senior research associate and native of Ukraine and managed by Khalimonchuk’s wife, Nataliya Zahayko, who is also from Lviv.
Khalimonchuk pointed out that the scholarship can be funded by saving on operating costs from the COVID-19 pandemic. He estimates that graduate student salaries will range from $27,000 to $48,000.
“If we can help people by giving them the opportunity to work here, that’s in everyone’s interest,” he said.
Khalimonchuk said fellows can work on a variety of projects related to the study of mitochondria and diseases related to mitochondrial dysfunction.
When Khalimonchuk and his colleagues requested asylum, they also kept in touch with family members directly affected by the conflict.
A UNL press release said Khalimonchuk’s mother was forced to take cover in a basement when air raid sirens began to sound. The statement added that some members of the Bohovych family were living in the area hit by Russian air strikes. They escaped to relative safety in the past week.
Despite the impending dangers their family faces, Khalimonchuk said he and his Ukrainian colleagues were unable to persuade their family members still in the country to move elsewhere.
“Our family has spent most of their lives in one area,” he said. “They don’t want to move.”