Roald Hoffmann. Ukraine’s Nobel laureate

by svit_admus

Ye.Z.: Dear Prof. Hoffmann,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to communicate with you again. Your competent opinion is interesting and helpful to Ukrainian people, and especially to the youth and students, in the time of the aggressive war of Russia on the sovereign territory of Ukraine. In December 2013, you were one of those who signed The Appeal to the world intellectuals for the support of the democratic processes of the Revolution of Dignity in Kyiv. In March 2022, you initiated writing “An Open Letter of Nobel Prizewinners” in support of the Ukrainian people and our free, independent state Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression (at the time of the interview 205 people signed it), which was a unique and decisive step. In your opinion, how do the world and progressively thinking people perceive, gauge and respond to the events in Ukraine?

R.H.: For me, seeing the bombed-out apartment blocks of Mariupol and Kharkiv immediately called up the memory of similar destruction of Warszawa, which I visited not long after its liberation in 1945. I could smell the mix of destroyed walls, decaying food, fire, excrement, dust. Human life, innocent human life in ruins. This is the terrible outcome of Russian aggression today. It will never defeat freedom and democracy; a free and independent Ukraine will live. But the cost of that defense is immense, and my heart goes out to my Ukrainian friends as they bear the cost.

Ye.Z.: The educational sphere of Ukraine is particularly suffering from the military operations. For the time of our interview, the aggressor has destroyed above 1000 schools. Ukrainian universities are being bombed from air and shot by artillery (namely, in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv and many others). Teachers are persecuted in the occupied zones. A large number of students and lecturers have been evacuated to the central and western parts of Ukraine or abroad. Nevertheless, they continue to study actively, mainly online, at their institutions. Despite all that, the Ukrainian government and the people are making plans for restoring our educational sphere according to the best world standards. Dear Professor, what are your recommendations and words of support for the Ukrainian youth in their struggle for life, education and their future after the war?

R.H.: Ukrainian young people took to higher education with great enthusiasm. Just as in America, education was perceived as the way to progress and advancement. And an open society allowed new fields, from computer science, to health management, to flourish. The young people of Ukraine will come back from the war with a seriousness for study and with maturity. I actually foresee a great time of growth for the educational institutions of a renewed Ukraine.

Ye.Z.: I regret to say that the Russian aggression severely affected objects of scientific infrastructure, in particular, research institutes of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Endangered are research objects of nuclear power engineering. Their destruction can cause a technological and ecological disaster not only of the regional but also the global scale. What do you think is an effective mechanism of restoration based on domestic scientific capacities, the activity and potential of Ukrainian academic institutions, in particular, the return of young researchers home? How should be taken into account and applied to practice the experience and partnership support of foreign Academies of Sciences?

R.H.: The Academies of Science and universities across the world will help you. In the short term by providing places for Ukrainian scholars to continue their research, and for students. Their eventual return to Ukraine, to help in its restoration and progress is another question. And here I have to say that it is Ukraine – it’s government, universities, and industry – that will have to be the prime actors. And provide the incentives to return. It can be done.

Let me give you an example, true not one in which destruction of the extent experienced in Ukraine by Russian aggression occurred. The examples are Taiwan and South Korea. At one time, thirty years ago, they were the source of some of the best graduate students in the US. And more than 80% remained in the US. Today, they are still the best students, but now 10% stay here. Why? Because the economies of those countries grew (and with them job opportunities) – then people returned.

Ye.Z.: The Ukrainian and world public have witnessed capturing and plundering by the barbarians the cultural property accumulated for thousands of years. The mission of progressive humanity and especially of scientific circles is as important as never before. What must be preventive measures that will exclude the possibility of destructing cultural properties in the future (in a broad sense), the loss of confidence in the values of freedom and humanism?

R.H.: Yes, one could imagine that the barbarism of Russian destruction of not only factories and military bases in Ukraine, but of cultural monuments, hospitals, and thousands of lives could lead one to bemoan the value of freedom and humanism. I would ask the young people of Ukraine to not go there, not to succumb to that pessimistic view. The value of freedom and democracy is that it allows you to protest injustice and evil. Even in Russia, there are many who do not think this is their war. But in the repressive system that their current regime has put into place, the voices of protest, who would support Ukraine are chillingly suppressed. I would urge young people to fight for a society where this could not happen, where it is possible to be different.

You ask a question “What must be preventive measures that will exclude the possibility of destroying cultural properties in the future”. History invites you to give its pessimistic response of more than 5000 years of “civilized” experience: There are no such preventative measures, in my opinion – when war moves into the hearts of human beings, our evil spirit takes over, and destroys. A world government that values culture? So far a dream. Punishment for the countries or people who destroy cultural properties? Yes, and the current instinctive ostracism of the Russian economy, its culture, and institutions (by a large part of the world) is an example. I’m not convinced it will work.

My own personal opinion is that change must come from within. Young people – build your family, the community where you live and study, build them with a respect for tradition, but open to free speech and dissent. With defenses against corruption, yes. And against demagogues – politicians who call up imagined past greatness. Strive for democracy. If you can do this in your own country, it will be an example to others, a beacon for a world where culture will not be destroyed.

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