Fellowships for Ukrainian Scientists

Immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, TUM launched an ad-hoc program for students and scientists. A Fellowship program was set up at TUM-IAS for established researchers, which awarded ten Fellowships ­for ­an initial six-month research stay at TUM from March 2022 on. ­Our sincere thanks ­­go to ­the ­donors­ ­from the environment around TUM, who made ­this support possible.

Olga Popovych, Julia Yamnenko,­ ­and Oksana Chernova experienced the ­Russian ­attack on their homeland, Ukraine, ­­in ­different ways, at different ­locations, ­­with ­different people. Popovych, Yamnenko, and Chernova were all scientists working at universities in Ukraine. Popovych and Yamnenko are engineers, ­and Chernova is a mathematician. They fled to Munich in the spring of 2022 from the Russian war of aggression and have found a place at TUM where they can continue their academic activities. How did these three women make their way to Munich? Why TUM of all ­places, and what do they do there? Here is their story.

By Fabian Dilger and Matthias Kirsch

On February 24, 2022, Thomas Hofmann, President of TUM, read and heard about the attack on Ukraine in the morning. One of his first thoughts was: Is there anything that we, as TUM, can do to help?

Thomas Hofmann: Every morning I confer with the press spokesperson; I immediately addressed the topic, and we started thinking about what we ourselves could do. Not just sit here and watch; what could we immediately do within the bounds of our possibilities, the options open to us.

Thomas Hofmann and his spokesperson ­Ulrich Meyer considered: Who might have contacts in Ukraine? And who might have an idea about how the university would be able to help? Ulrich Meyer sent out an e-mail to two colleagues at 8:14 a.m.: “Dear Uli, I was just developing an idea with the President about how we could offer Ukrainian researchers support in case they have to flee from their home country. He thought of the IAS and the TUM Global Visiting Professor Program as possible frameworks for something like that. What do you think?” The person whom Meyer addressed in this e-mail was Ulrich Marsch, Managing Director of the TUM Institute for Advanced Study. Marsch and the IAS already have some experience in bringing scientists to TUM from foreign countries.

Ulrich Marsch: I immediately said we should consider a program for receiving Ukrainian scientists and integrating them into the TUM world, even on a longer-term basis, since the war looked as if it would go on for quite some time.

Suddenly everything moved very quickly. Marsch presented his plan to Meyer.

Marsch: So that was my idea, and he said he'd take it along to the President. He called back about an hour later and said: Yes! Great idea! Please work out the details. Please outline how this could work and how much money would be needed to implement the plan. I was finished with my sketch by noon.

It would work as follows: TUM would receive  Ukrainian scientists fleeing the country. ­To do so it would create a grant program, to be run through the IAS. The support campaign should be developed and implemented as quickly as possible. The aim would be to to bring Ukrainian researchers from Ukraine to Germany and to TUM so that they are in a secure environment and can continue their research. Thomas Hofmann, TUM President, wanted to take action and would not be satisfied with simply issuing statements of ­position. That, Hofmann said, would not be ­­in keeping with the spirit of TUM.

Hofmann: This is central to the DNA of our university: When we identify challenges, we try to take concrete measures to solve them. Whether these measures succeed or not is then a completely different question; you can never be sure. But I have to say: The university is basically an experimental space, and we have to try things out. If things work, that's fine; if they don't work, then we approach it differently next time, but it's better to try things in many different ways than to try nothing at all.

On the morning of February 24, 2022, Popovych was in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk in southwestern Ukraine. She woke to see her husband with his telephone in hand.

Olga Popovych: It was still night outdoors, ­and I woke up because my baby was crying, and ­I saw that he was just reading the news. And I said: “Why are you not sleeping? It's only four o'clock.” He told me: “No, the war has started.” - “No, you are joking, maybe it's some misinformation.” - “No, several bombs have already hit Kyiv.”

On February 24, 2022, Julia Yamnenko was traveling on business in Chernivtsi, in western Ukraine.

Julia Yamnenko: It was four o'clock in the morning, and my husband called me. ­“We are being bombed,” he said. “I am in the car, and ­I am going to your father. I will take your father, and we will come to you in Chernivtsi, and we will decide later what to do.” ­In the evening, my husband and my father, as well as my ­sister and her husband, arrived in ­Chernivtsi. We all gathered there and started to think what to do.

Oksana Chernova: I was in Kyiv. It took me maybe two seconds to realize that something had gone wrong, and I immediately took my phone, checked the latest news, and understood what had just happened. Next I ­started to collect my documents and put some ­important items in my backpack. ­­War has ­started.

Popovych: The whole day we were thinking: What should we do next? Where should we go? At night, when we again received lots of news, that something will be expected in the night, we decided to move. We just put all of what we saw in that moment in our suitcase, searched for the most important documents. I still remember, I took my PhD diploma. I was thinking it was the most important document that I had up to that moment, and I should take it.

“Everything was happening simultaneously. First I was just trying to find a place to stay for the night, second to find a job. I was not thinking only about me. I was also thinking about my brother and my husband, who were going with me.”

Olga Popovych

Yamnenko: On February 26th, my husband said that I should go abroad. He wanted us to be in a safe place. In this situation, I, my father, my son, and my sister with her two children crossed the border to Romania, just by walking. There was a huge crowd on the border. Romania accepted us and made us feel very welcome. I was crying, because ­I  thought of my husband and I realized I didn’t know when I would see him again. It was ­difficult to leave him, and to leave my country, and on the ­other hand I didn’t know where to go and how to help these people who were with me and whom I was responsible for.

Olga Popovych and her family quickly decided to flee to another country where their two small children would be safer, considering Poland and Germany. While fleeing, Olga Popovych constantly scoured the Internet looking for aid programs for scientists and possible jobs abroad.

Popovych: Everything was happening simultaneously. First I was just trying to find a place to stay for the night, second to find a job. I was not thinking only about me. I was also thinking about my brother and my husband, who were going with me. I found the advertisement from TUM, just a small notice; I think it was on a web page saying the university was in solidarity with Ukraine. And there was only the contact of Dr. Marsch, to whom I just sent a direct message: “Hello, my name is Olga Popovych, I'm from Ukraine.”

This reference on the TUM website was the first official mention of the Fellowship program that President Thomas Hofmann, Ulrich Marsch and TUM had discussed on February 24. But before the Ukrainian scientists could actually come to Munich, Hofmann and Marsch would have to resolve a substantial difficulty: Where would the grant funding come from?

Hofmann: Of course TUM is dependent on external funding, since we're not allowed to fund a grant program directly from our ­budget. Budgetary constraints make this impossible. The only way we can issue grants like these is by acquiring external funding.

Marsch: Installing someone in an academic employment situation means officially announcing a vacancy, waiting for applications, scheduling interviews, calling in the Employee Council … that takes weeks. A grant, based on donations, can be quickly issued. And when it comes to war, you just can't wait that long. You have to act and act quickly.

So now Thomas Hofmann had to raise a large amount of money. The calculations said: 3,000 euros per month for each individual. For ten people over a period of six months, that would amount to at least 180,000 ­euros in advance. Hofmann began the search for donors. He was counting on Susanne Porsche, a film producer and investor.

Susanne Porsche: I have very close ties to TUM, because it is such an incredibly good and interesting and leading-edge institution. Our university is simply fantastic. Thomas said: “Hello Susanne, Thomas here. We have to do something; what can we do? Do you think we could handle the financing, and what do you think of receiving the families as a partner university? We want them to be able to bring along their children; they can bring along the husband if they have three children or more.” I instantly thought the idea was tremendous, and I was on bord immediately. I got on the phone right away to find out who would help. And I encountered a lot of compassion. My son also helped out. It was unbelievable how willing people were to help.

The idea of bringing Ukrainian scientists to TUM found many supporters. Susanne Porsche looked for additional donors within her network. TUM President Thomas Hofmann made more calls and met with ­potential sponsors.

Hofmann: You can only convince individuals to sponsor something when the right idea is brought to the right person. This matching of topics and individuals is decisive to success, since after all money can be used for a number of purposes. We have to make sure that people know the money is well-placed with us, going to a good cause. Most of all for measures that would never be possible without the support of the donors. Within less than ten days, we had the 250,000 euros that we needed in order to support ten grant recipients.

An impressive amount of money raised by Hofmann, Porsche and their associates. But there was hardly a shortage of potential applicants: Even before the grant program was officially advertised on the TUM website, people from every imaginable stage in their academic career contacted Ulrich Marsch at the IAS on their own, independent initiative.

When Oksana Chernova heard of the TUM aid program for the first time, she was still in western Ukraine. A colleague told her about the program by e-mail, and Chernova reacted immediately.

Chernova: The first time I heard about this program, I prepared a CV and sent it immediately.

Julia Yamnenko's first destination was not TUM, but rather Germany. She had a friend here, a professor who went to Bayreuth in 2014 after the occupation of the Donetsk ­region. “Come to Bavaria, I'll help you,” he said. Julia Yamnenko and her family traveled from Romania to Hungary and took a train from Budapest to Munich.

Yamnenko: I just started to search for information about universities, about possibilities for Ukrainian researchers, for Ukrainian ­professors and so on.

At the same time, Ulrich Marsch of the IAS was actually occupied with nothing except ­organizing the grants.

Marsch: I did nothing else for four weeks. ­­I was exclusively dedicated to this topic, from dawn to dusk.

Marsch received more and more applications. The fleeing Ukrainians spread the word among themselves about aid campaigns such as the TUM program. Marsch received well over 400 applications. Like the other Fellows at the IAS, the Ukrainian scientists should have a host professor at TUM with whom they would work closely on a scientific project.

Marsch: This meant the Fellow would not be sitting alone in isolation in some random building, but instead would be closely integrated into our university. From there they'd be able to work up to a position from which they could publish, might acquire subsequent funding, and would be able to ­continue to work in their usual field. That is the reason for the close connection to an existing professorship at TUM and integration at the ­professorship, including a desk, online ­services, and laboratory access.

This also meant Marsch had to find the ­professionally appropriate professors and then select matching Fellows from among the considerable number of applicants. ­He needed criteria he could follow.

Marsch: The Fellows would have to be ­research personalities that fit the TUM profile. There were certainly ten to twenty possible choices for each Fellowship, but the filter I applied was, for example: Is this someone who has just completed a dissertation? Or is it someone who has already held an academic leadership position? The IAS is not an ­entity for promoting postdoctoral ­researchers, but rather for promoting personalities who have already held higher-ranking ­academic ­positions, for example professors or department heads.

In some cases, the host professors directly contacted the applicants or received direct inquiries from them. Constantinos Antoniou, Professor for Transportation Systems Engineering at TUM, worked together with Julia Yamnenko to formulate her application for the Fellowship.

Yamnenko: A friend told me about Constantinos. He is working on topics similar to mine, so I asked him for support, and he agreed enthusiastically, very quickly. So we just prepared this application together on a joint topic that is connected with intelligent control ­­of road traffic.

“It was very fast, maybe less than seven or ten days. I got an e-mail, and even before this Fellowship was confirmed, my host professor wrote to me that ­­­I could come ­immediately ­because he has some funding for ­a visiting ­researcher.”

Oksana Chernova

Ulrich Marsch had to piece the puzzle together, with the Ukrainian scientists forwarding the necessary documents while still fleeing their home country.

Marsch: They were writing e-mails to all kinds of institutions on the fly while in cars and trains. Then they sent on the documents, CVs, diplomas, certificates. I also asked all of them to submit a brief description of a ­program they intended to work on with us. Everyone submitted a project proposal. I had the proposals reviewed by two other professors, not only by the respective Host: Is this a reasonable plan? Does it meet our standards? The response, without exception, ­was always: yes.

As early as the beginning of March, just over a week after the beginning of the Russian invasion, Marsch was already prepared to make the decision, a tough call. He would have to turn down many more people than he would be able to accept. Ultimately, a total of ten candidates were selected.

Popovych: In that moment I didn't believe that I would get a position. Even after he sent me confirmation that I am already a Fellow at the TUM-IAS, it was still for me something ­unbelievable.

She talked it over with her husband, who was not permitted to leave the country during the first weeks of the war. He told her: “Take the kids and your father and head for Munich!”

Popovych: I was going by car, and the car was full of packages. I was going with my mother, my father, and my kids. It was 1500 kilometers.­

While Oksana Chernova looked for offers of support in other countries, she left Ukraine for Poland, where she arrived in Warsaw. It was there, not quite a week and a half after the beginning of the war, that she was notified of her acceptance at TUM.

Chernova: It was very fast, maybe less than seven or ten days. I got an e-mail, and even before this Fellowship was confirmed, my host professor wrote to me that I could come immediately because he has some funding for a visiting researcher. I just came to Munich immediately, in mid-March, then I got confirmation that my host professor can support me with accommodation, and then at the end of March I got confirmation that I now had a TUM-IAS Fellowship. My trip from Warsaw was probably the longest trip I ever had. It took more than 12 hours, because of some train delay, and because trains were full of Ukrainian refugees like me. It was mostly women and children.

Julia Yamnenko was already in Germany when she received word of her acceptance. Traveling with her son, her father, her sister, and her sister's children, she found the search for a place to live difficult. On May 1, she began work as the last of the ten scientists participating in the IAS Fellowship program.

Yamnenko: And at last I received the invitation that I could come and sign the agreement for this Fellowship, so I started it in May, and it continued until the first of September. By then, I had obtained another formal grant, the Philipp Schwartz Initiative Fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Now Olga Popovych, Oksana Chernova, ­and Julia Yamnenko were back to their scientific routines. And what are these everyday routines like? Oksana Chernova is a mathematician.

Chernova: I was fortunate to find my host professor Mathias Drton, who works in statistics. We are doing regression modeling and non-parametric statistics. It is not far from what I was doing. I was very lucky to join TUM and the Department of Mathematics because it is well known for its high-quality research groups. Especially my host professor Mathias Drton is a star in our statistical world. ­Now ­­I have a favorable environment to work in.

The Ukrainian scientists fled to Germany under great duress. In their new research teams at TUM, they are in some cases filling existing gaps, according to Ulrich Marsch.

Marsch: As far as I can judge the results, this has all been very productive. In several cases I have received statements from professors saying: "This young woman is exactly the puzzle piece that has been missing from my project." There have been substantive synergies: In one project the Ukrainian scientist added a further component that had been missing before. It has really all worked very well, also, in substantive, scientific terms. It was very useful to have had an advance look at, for example, whether the candidate had a certain number of international publications, had a certain amount of experience in the ­respective field. Otherwise this wouldn't have worked out so well.

Popovych: Last week I came back from Egypt, where we tried to scan the pyramids in the hope of finding some interesting things there. We were making measurements during the whole week of the field trip. It was ­
very exciting for me because it was the first time that I was inside the pyramids. I was investigating all the chambers, all the ­tunnels, and the parts where usually visitors are not ­allowed to go. I was using my non-­destructive testing technique, and using it specifically for a cultural heritage project, so it was very ­fascinating.

Julia Yamnenko was formerly head of ­her department and as such responsible for students and researchers. She attended conferences, held lectures, and supervised degree projects. She will have to adapt to her new role at TUM.

Yamnenko: I love to learn something new. For me it's a challenge, but I hope I will overcome it. There is a language barrier of course, and there are also other circumstances like new, different demands and techniques for the teachers. But it's interesting just to discover for myself something new and try to improve myself, maybe to change myself in some ­areas. Why not?

Conceived on the day war broke out, February 24, in the office of TUM President Thomas Hofmann, the Fellowships were originally planned to last six months. In the meantime the scientists have been here much longer. What lies ahead for them? The scientists were expected to organize research funding for themselves. For example, refugees can submit additional applications to Germany's largest research support organization, the German Research Foundation (DFG), so that they can be integrated in ongoing projects. Oksana Chernova’s TUM Fellowship has been extended for the time being in order to ­support her.

Chernova: The First Fellowship was for ­­six months, and then in September it was ­extended for six more months. During this time I can apply for some grants at a research program. That is what we are doing now.

In the meantime, top management at TUM has already decided: We'll keep providing support and will find financial resources in case ­someone can't immediately find ­­­­a ­follow-­up project.

Hofmann: Many have already been integrated into subsequent projects at the professorships. That's wonderful, and we've also found additional funding for a number of them so that they can stay even longer. The idea was always not to cut off support after six months, but rather to take a long-term ­perspective, to maintain networks even after the Ukraine ­crisis has passed, the war is over and the people can return to their home country.

Julia Yamnenko has already found a follow‑up project, financed with funding from the German Research Foundation, where she will be able to concentrate on an aspect of her work that she is especially enthusiastic ­about:­ ­promoting talented young researchers.

Yamnenko: Actually I had already started to work with one TUM student here. Thanks to the university’s grant program, I am able to hire this student, so we are working together already. He is a Master's student and very ­talented. I have a huge plan for him and for our joint work. Also I plan to start working with another student later.

But in spite of all the big plans, it's hard for Yamnenko to forget all she has encountered in recent months, the outbreak of war, ­escape, and a new beginning. Her husband is still in Ukraine. As a result, she doesn't want to make any long-term plans.

Yamnenko: For me it's very hard to say for the moment, so I prefer just to put up a plan for a week, for a couple weeks, maybe for a month.

“I feel optimistic about the future, mainly because I have this feeling that I belong here. So I have friends, mainly Ukrainian friends, also colleagues who support me since I'm living in Garching. I found some friends there as well.”

Oksana Chernova

Her colleague Olga Popovych on the other hand is planning farther into the future. She has also found research funding for a project and as a result has received a follow-up contract at her new university chair. She gets along well with her team, she enjoys her work, and most of all she has a feeling: I'm contributing something here, and if everything works out, I'll be here for a long time.

Popovych: I decided to stay here. Actually, ­I hope that after this project ends, I will continue my work here in Germany. At the ­moment the war has not ended. I overcame a lot of hurdles to come here and to settle down, and I think maybe there is a chance for me to stay in Germany and to work. I would like to contribute on the Ukrainian side with new possibilities of coordination between Ukraine and Germany. Actually that is my task for the future. My host professor and ­I have decided to do it together. That will create a lot of proposals aimed at supporting cooperation between Ukraine and Germany.

TUM wants to be sure to continue promoting this side-effect of the Fellowships. The ­relationships between Ukrainian scientists and the university absolutely have to be maintained. President Thomas Hofmann doesn't think this would result in a lack of scientific resources in Ukraine.

Hofmann: No, I don't really consider that to be “brain drain.” That's how science works. Science means dealing with one another openly, transparently, sharing knowledge. And by sharing knowledge we create more knowledge and not less, and I think that's the benefit here. And this is also exactly the way the TUM Institute for Advanced Study works. This is exactly the reason why in the meantime hundreds of Fellows have been here at TUM. They learn here, return to their universities, and of course take along a lot. This leads to a global network in which ­researchers meet up again and again at certain occasions, jointly acquire projects, and send us talented young researchers. So this is a win-win situation ­­for all involved.

Chernova: I feel optimistic about the future, mainly because I have this feeling that I belong here. So I have friends, mainly Ukrainian friends, also colleagues who support me since I'm living in Garching. I found some friends there as well. All of this together contributes to my optimistic feeling and keeps me from feeling that I am not alone. I feel the support. For me it feels like a new beginning of life. I think of it this way: My new life began in March 2022 in Munich.

The interviews were conducted in ­October 2022.

Our Fellows from Ukraine


Institution Expertise / Project TUM School / Faculty Host Future Funding
Oksana Chernova Taras Shevchenko National University
­of Kyiv
Mathematics Mathematics
Prof. Mathias Drton

Continuation from donation program until end

of March 2023

Iuliia Yereshko Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute

Enterprise Economics


School of ­Management
Prof. Hanna Hottenrott
Research Staff position at TUM School of Management since January 1, 2023
Oksana Koshulko Alfred Nobel University, Dnipro Economics School of Social Sciences and Technology
Prof. Ruth Müller

Fellow at IAS Hamburg from October 1, 2022 on

Sofiia Lahutina Bogomolets National Medical University Medicine Department of Sport and Health Sciences
Prof. Manuel Spitschan
Continuation from donation program until end of March 2023
Liudmyla Lisova E.O. Paton Electric Welding Institute, National Academy of Sciences Metallurgy Department of Mechanical Engineering
Prof. Wolfram Volk
Research Position ­­­of German Science ­Foundation with Prof. ­Wolfram Volk since ­November 2022
Olga Popovych Ivano-Frankvisk National Technical University of Oil and Gas Engineering, Material School of Engineering and Design
Prof. Christian Große
Research Staff ­position with Prof. Christian Große from ­October 1, 2022 on
Yuliia Semenova Institute of Geophysics, National Academy of Sciences Earth Sciences Aerospace and ­Geodesy
Prof. Florian Seitz
Continuation from donation program until end of March 2023
Olena Strelnyk Taras Shevchenko National University ­­­­­­­of Kyiv Sociology School of Social Sciences and Technology
Prof. Ruth Müller
Mercator Fellow­­ of German Science ­Foundation from ­Oktober 2022 on
Dmytro Sytnyk Institute of Mathematics, National Academy of Sciences Computational ­Mathematics Mathematics
Prof. Barbara Wohlmuth
Staff position with Prof. Barbara Wohlmuth
Iulia Yamnenko Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute Electrical Engineering School of Engineering and Design
Prof. Antoniou ­Constantinos
Funded from ­September 2022 onwards by Philipp Schwartz Initiative ­of Alexander von ­Humboldt Foundation




Dr. Oksana Chernova (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Mathias Drton (TUM School of Computation, Information and Technology)

Prof. Oksana Koshulko (Alfred Nobel University, Dnipro)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Ruth Müller (TUM School of Social Sciences and Technology)

Dr. Sofiia Lahutina (Bohomolets National Medical University)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Manuel Spitschan (TUM Department of Sport and Health Sciences)

Dr. Liudmyla Lisova (The E.O.Paton Electric Welding Institute, National Academy of Science of Ukraine)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Wolfram Volk (TUM School of Engineering and Design)

Dr. Olga Popovych (Ivano-Frankivsk National ­Technical University of Oil and Gas)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Christian Große (TUM School of Engineering and Design)

Dr. Yuliia Semenova (Institute of Geophysics, National Academy of Science of Ukraine)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Florian Seitz (TUM School of Engineering and Design, DGFI-TUM)

Dr. Olena Strelnyk (Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Ruth Müller (TUM School of Social Sciences and Technology)

Dr. Dmytro Sytnyk (Institute of Mathematic, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Barbara Wohlmuth (TUM Department of Mathematics)

Prof. Iuliia Yamnenko (National Technical University of Ukraine “Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute”)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Constantinos Antoniou (TUM School of Engineering and Design)

Prof. Julia Yereshko (National Technical University of Ukraine “Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute”)

Fellowship for Ukrainian Scientists

Prof. Hanna Hottenrott (TUM School of Management)