On the first anniversary of the outbreak of war in Ukraine, dr hab. Aleksander Kuczabski, prof. UG, is interviewed by Marcel Jakubowski.
- You became the Rector's Plenipotentiary for Aid to Ukraine a few days after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. What were your first weeks in this position like?
- I was somewhat surprised when I was appointed to this position. It was probably due to the fact that I had been actively trying to develop cooperation with Ukrainian research centres for some time. This function required a lot of organisational work. Our university has a management system that is very efficient indeed. Thanks to it, the University of Gdańsk, in the face of this challenge of the war in Ukraine, has dealt with an A, or even an A+.
- How did the University of Gdańsk help the Ukrainian scientific community at the beginning of the war?
- Scientists who had already cooperated or at least visited our university in the past came to Poland and the Tricity. In this case, we had to act as a university and answer the question: how can we involve these people in the scientific activities of UG? The solution was scholarships for scientific, research and even teaching cooperation. A system was set up for Ukrainian students to continue their studies at UG. As no completely compatible fields of study exist, each application had to be treated individually. I have such an individual among my students. I am delighted that this person is here. This is the kind of person who assimilates material very quickly and makes contacts.
- You mentioned a couple of initiatives that took off almost as soon as the war broke out, but what was it like for the whole year? How did the UG academic community help Ukraine during those 365 days?
- There are quite a few such undertakings and it is impossible to list them all. The most spectacular was undoubtedly the collection at the Faculty of Social Sciences. This initiative evokes positive feelings in me even now because many good things have been done. Another such initiative is a summer school entitled 'Children of Heroes' for children whose parents fight on the frontline. These youngsters needed psycho-emotional support. The initiative took place in late August and early September. At first, we thought it would be a one-off action, but we are now preparing the next edition.
- What initiatives for Ukraine are coming up at the University of Gdańsk?
- Currently, at the Institute of Social and Economic Geography and Spatial Management, we are preparing an offer of postgraduate studies for Ukrainian local government employees entitled. 'Spatial Economy for the Reconstruction of Ukraine'. The course would start in the new academic year and last two semesters. Participants would learn how spatial planning is carried out in the European Union and Poland. After the war in Ukraine, when all the damage has to be repaired, this issue will become the number one concern.
- A year ago, Ukrainians needed food, transport and shelter; now you are discussing new postgraduate studies. How has this demand for aid to Ukraine changed?
- The situation is changing, and the needs are different too. Of the group that came here in those first days, some returned to Ukraine, and some stayed. The latter have adapted quite well. They have found work, which gives them the means to feed and house themselves. This next step on the part of the university is, for example, to provide them with opportunities for academic development. An excellent example of this is the nostrification of diplomas. Poland recognises competencies and degrees obtained in Ukraine, but on the condition that such diplomas are nostrified. After the Russian attack on Ukraine, the decision of the Rector of UG exempted such persons from paying for such a service. A number of such procedures have been launched at our university, giving many Ukrainians access to the labour market.
- What does the Ukrainian scientific community need now?
- Many Ukrainian scientists have benefited from our month-long internships. Some of them returned to their country once the situation calmed down. Some have undergone the nostrification procedure and have been employed at our university. We are focused on developing this cooperation, i.e. joint research. Ukrainian research centres are contacting us about just such cooperation. Ukrainian researchers also receive funding from various initiatives of the Erasmus+ programme, the National Science Centre, the National Agency for Academic Exchange and the Foundation for Polish Science.
- As an expert in urban planning during the war, you dealt, among other things, with the state of public transport in Mariupol and Kharkiv. What is the current state of public transportation in these cities?
- Ukraine modernised its public transport systems before the war by obtaining funding from the European Union. These were used effectively, especially in cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol. Great emphasis was placed on electromobility, i.e. trolleybuses or, as in the case of Kharkiv, the metro. However, everything in Mariupol was virtually destroyed after the outbreak of war. The city has about 10% of its pre-war population. I don't think the Russians want to rebuild it. This transport will probably never be started there again. In the case of Kharkiv, the situation could be more dramatic because the Russians did not take over the city, but it was still under artillery fire. Quite a few of these vehicles were destroyed. The metro became a shelter during rocket attacks. After the war, however, this infrastructure would have to be restored to its former role.
- Assuming the war ended tomorrow, how many years would it take for Ukraine to return to its pre-war state?
- Unfortunately, we do not have hard material on the destruction that has affected Ukraine. It is impossible to calculate. It all depends on the willingness of the population to move on and rebuild their country immediately after the war. Let us remember that Poland also lay in ruins in 1945. After Russia's first attack on Crimea and the Donbas in 2014 and after the situation had calmed down a bit, Ukraine started to expand. For example, local self-government reform, modelled on the Polish system, came in. Despite the ongoing conflict with Russia, a system was created in which local governments have their own autonomy and finances. If, even under such conditions, Ukraine introduced such significant changes; such a reconstruction can also be achieved after this conflict.
- What stands in the way of this process?
- The main problem in Ukraine is corruption. It affects various circles, but above all, the political authorities. The scale of the destruction is also a big problem. In the Donbas, whole towns have been destroyed. Whether anyone will return to those places and try to restore them is still being determined. It is also difficult to estimate the loss of population, i.e. how many people will decide not to return from exile to Ukraine. The longer this conflict goes on, the more these people settle in until, at some point, it becomes clear that it is not worth giving up these higher standards of living, especially in countries like Germany or Canada.
- So, the Ukraine that emerges after the war will no longer be the same country?
- Of course not. It will rebuild itself in a different form in every respect. It will undoubtedly be stronger. Hopefully, it will return to those borders that are recognised around the world, that is, those of 1991. On the other hand, if the Novaya Kakhovka dam is damaged, Ukraine risks an ecological disaster. Not only will society and infrastructure be different, but also nature in the area will be changed. I have seen such drastic footage where people near Odessa enter the water and hit a mine. There is no telling how long it will take to clear all these areas of unexploded bombs and other traps.
- Thank you for the interview.
On Friday, February 24, at 5 p.m., the European Solidarity Centre invites you to the library for a meeting with Iza Chruślińska, Piotr Tyma and prof. Igor Hałagida around the book 'Sploty - o Ukraińcach z Polski. Rozmowy z Piotrem Tymą'. Admission to the event is free.
On the other hand, at 6.00 p.m., the Anti-War European Rally of Solidarity with Ukraine will take place at Solidarity Square in Gdańsk. The rally will include speeches by guests, including local government officials from the Tricity, and the vice-ambassador of Ukraine to Poland will also be present.
The rally will also feature performances by Ukrainian rapper Skofka, the Baltic Opera Choir and the Music Everywhere Choir.
A meeting of the European Committee of the Regions will also be held in Gdańsk on that day.
More information at www.gdansk.pl.
W piątek, 24 lutego o godzinie 17. 00 Europejskie Centrum Solidarności zaprasza do biblioteki na spotkanie z Izą Chruślińską, Piotrem Tymą i prof. Igorem Hałagidą wokół książki „Sploty – o Ukraińcach z Polski. Rozmowy z Piotrem Tymą". Wstęp na wydarzenie jest wolny.
Natomiast o godz. 18.00 na Placu Solidarności w Gdańsku odbędzie się Antywojenny Europejski Wiec Solidarności z Ukrainą. W trakcie wiecu zaplanowano wystąpienia gości, w tym trójmiejskich samorządowców, obecna będzie również wiceambasador Ukrainy w Polsce.
Podczas wiecu wystąpią także ukraiński raper Skofka, Chór Opery Bałtyckiej i Chór Music Everywhere.
Tego dnia w Gdańsku odbędzie się także spotkanie Europejskiego Komitetu Regionów.
Więcej informacji na www.gdansk.pl