How War in Ukraine Reaches Antarctica’s Shores
Russia’s war in Ukraine echoes across the world. Even Antarctica’s icy expanses are not immune to the war’s repercussions. Ukraine’s Antarctic research expedition is in progress, and the conflict is casting shadows over its scientific endeavours.
Staff shortages at Vernadsky Station, a symbol of Ukraine’s historical presence in Antarctica, pose a significant challenge. This isn’t merely a logistical issue for Ukraine but a global scientific setback.
Established as the UK’s Faraday Station in 1947, Vernadsky was transferred to Ukraine in 1996. Since then, it has been a cornerstone for tracking long-term temperature shifts essential for climate change studies. Using the dataset collected at the station, researchers have identified the western Antarctic Peninsula as a rapidly warming hotspot. But Vernadsky’s research significance extends beyond temperature readings, offering vast ecological insights into the Antarctic ecosystem.
However, many of the station’s researchers are now either fighting in the war or escaping it. For instance, Bohdan Gavrylyuk, the leader of Ukraine’s Antarctic mission, spent almost a year on the frontline before assuming his current role.
In a stark reminder of the war’s reach, a Russian missile targeted the Antarctic scientific hub in Kyiv last October, jeopardising personnel and invaluable research samples. Despite these challenges, Ukraine’s dedication to Antarctic research remains steadfast. Bohdan Gavrylyuk now leads a 14-member team at Vernadsky Station, monitoring atmospheric conditions, oceanic salinity, and marine mammal behaviours.
However, the war has shattered the collaborative spirit that once existed between Ukrainian and Russian scientists in Antarctica. As Olena Marushevska, press secretary for Ukraine’s National Antarctic Scientific Center, puts it, “We stopped any cooperation with Russian scientists in 2014, even before this war, but now we have much worse relations. You cannot be enemies here and so-called friends there just because you’re in Antarctica.”
Illustration: Elia Kabanov feat. MidJourney.