The war in Ukraine came as a shock to most as no one believed an invasion of this scale could be a reality in 21st century Europe. As the situation develops, the rippling effect of this act is affecting more and more aspects of the economy and society at large. In this article, we describe how three of the Regional Cooperation projects are affected and examine the relevance of their topics during wartime and postwar.
Introduction to the projects
Circular Based Waste Management – CBWM
The Circular Based Waste Management – CBWM project aims to address innovations in waste collection and recycling towards implementing a circular economy based waste management in three municipalities. There are 4 partners in the project: 2 from Lithuania, 1 from Estonia, 1 from Ukraine and 1 from Norway. To find out more about the project, visitwww.circular-waste.eu or the project social media on Facebook @CircularBasedWasteManagement or Instagram: circularwaste
The overall aim of the EU-WATERRES project is to create tools for the coordinated management and integrated protection of transboundary groundwater through a geoinformation platform. The EU-WATERRES team consists of 9 partners (2 from Poland, 2 Ukrainian partners, 2 from Norway, 1 from Estonia and 2 from Latvia). See more about our project in official homepage: https://eu-waterres.eu/or follow us on Facebook @euwaterres and Twitter @EuWaterres
Tick-borne Flavivirus network – TBFVnet
Ticks can be found throughout Europe. They are carried either by wild or domestic mammals. Most of the time they are not a real threat for health – until they carry viruses or bacteria that can be pathogenic to humans and domestic pets. Among these, flaviviruses such as tick-borne encephalitis virus, Powassan virus or Omsk hemorrhagic fever virus, can cause severe diseases to humans. The TBFVnet project aims to bring together scientific research institutes across Central Europe to study and survey tick-borne flaviviruses to prevent their diffusion and the severe consequences they can cause. More can be found on the project homepage: www.tbfvnet.eu.
The projects during wartime
Circular Based Waste Management – CBWM
During the first days of the war, a sense of disbelief coupled with disjoint on the tragedy that befell our Ukrainian partners, was shared among all of us. It rendered everyone unable to think of anything other than the wellbeing of our partners and friends in Sumy. Communication with them focused on updates on their wellbeing and has taken place through one of the project partners in order to not overwhelm their limited channels.
Yet, even under these circumstances, our Ukrainian partners have been trying to connect to weekly meetings, in an effort to maintain communication and stay updated with the project. We are all humbled by their bravery, dedication and will to move forward no matter what and pray for their safety and a swift end to this nightmare.
CBWM project partner Mažeikiai District Municipality from Lithuania, coordinated humanitarian aid by arranging a van to deliver much needed supplies, including personal hygiene products, baby food, medical supplies, sleeping bags, waterproof clothing and footwear, and household goods. Citizens of Mažeikiai also contributed by donating warm clothing, tents, blankets, sleeping bags, dry and canned food, children’s and hygiene products, survival and first aid equipment.
The journey took almost three days, with the supplies being delivered safely to the Municipality of Sumy. In addition, Mažeikiai District Municipality donated medicine and special medical items that are being delivered via the Lithuanian Red Cross and will be forwarded directly to Sumy Hospital.
Regional cooperation, the key element and namesake of the fund making all these projects possible, is suffering the consequences of this war. External forces are preventing our partners from participating actively and reaping the benefits of the collaborative nature of our project. The dream behind the project is to educate, learn about best practices and eventually build the best infrastructure possible in the path to create a world where waste is no longer a pollutant or even seen as waste, but as playing an integral part of the economy.
But how can one build such a dream, when current infrastructure is pulled apart under a violent act such as war? What role can the circular economy play during wartime? This is explored in the next part of our article.
Similar to the rest of the world, the whole EU-WATERRES team was devastated to hear and see how Russia’s aggression in Ukraine changed the lives of our partners from Ukraine, and consequently, all of us. Over one night the issues we faced before and were dealing with during the project, namely, improvement of transboundary groundwater management, felt negligible and secondary. Our lead partner from Poland took over the direct communication with Ukrainian partners and tried to help in all possible ways. Fears from the situation’s uncertainty and helplessness still accompany most of the partners on a daily basis, but we try to continue the work.
While the partners from Ukraine remain extremely brave. They try to work in shifts, help people to cross the border and some are even on the frontlines. We monitor the possibilities to employ them in other partner countries, but not all are ready to leave. Moreover, during this war situation all Ukrainian partners remotely attended the project meeting in Norway and even gave several presentations that were unfortunately interrupted several times by the sirens demonstrating the need to find a safer place. This was hard to believe in and the rest of the team felt absolutely helpless.
We truly believe that this outrageous invasion of Russia in Ukraine will end soon and will not become the new “normal”. We pray for our partners in Ukraine and all Ukrainian people. Stay safe and free!
A war quickly reaches every aspect of society, and we can certainly say that a war is the nemesis of international cooperation – just as science aims to be its champion. We, from the TBFVnet project were overwhelmed, as was everyone in Europe, by the news coming from Ukraine in recent weeks. Initially, we hoped that our project could be immune to the consequences of this war. We believed that since science has no borders, scientific collaboration could continue beyond politics, economic crisis and maybe even this war. We were naive and soon this crisis had big and direct consequences for our project.
We expected a lot from our project in the coming year. During the past two years of the pandemic, we struggled to see each other and waited for calmer and safer periods to organise meetings and workshops to share scientific knowledge on tick-borne flaviviruses amongst ourselves and with our peers. We were truly excited by the prospect of being able to do so. One of the objectives of our project is to enlarge our network with the aim to foster the surveillance on tick-borne flaviviruses in many other countries of Europe. In this context we were organising a large meeting in Chisinau, Republic of Moldova to take place in May 2022. We had no project partner in this country, but some research institutes had expressed an interest in joining the network. This premise led us to believe that a new partner could be the Nicolae Testemitanu State University (USMF). Regrettably, all of this disappeared with the war. The meeting is being rescheduled, hopefully to September. In reality, we cannot be sure when or if it will take place.
However, the most challenging aspect for the TBFVnet project has been that one of our partners, the Chumakov Institute, is based in Moscow. Soon after the war started and Europe decided to shut down all economic support and relationships with Russia, it became clear that this would affect our collaboration. In fact, our Russian partner was forced to leave the project as it could no longer receive payments from the Regional Cooperation Fund. Notwithstanding this setback, the collaboration continues with partners in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Norway hoping to be able to re-establish connections with our colleagues in Moscow in future, hopefully peaceful, times.
Relevance of the project topics during wartime and post war
Circular Based Waste Management – CBWM
Historically, at times of war, salvaging waste aimed at recovering and conserving critical resources as efficiently as possible. The main objective remained with military focus – waste comprised a type of reserve to be exploited for war purposes and survival.
During the First and Second World Wars, governments of most warring nations implemented salvage drives and collected items such as metals, rubber, paper, bones and food waste, to be recycled into materials to manufacture munitions, ships, vehicles, uniforms and other items, and to produce consumer goods.
These efforts were promoted vigorously by governments identifying the act as national duty and mobilising citizens to retrieve, sort, and accumulate waste for its reclamation.
During World War II, the “Salvage for Victory” campaign in the US is still today one of the most memorable initiatives. In the UK, a similar campaign is known as the Wartime Salvage Effort; this continued after the conflict to speed the country’s post-war recovery. The intense push for people to recycle ended around 1949-1950.
Fast forward to today, society has evolved into one that relies heavily on single use items such as plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass jars, paper and others. Even items such as electronics and household waste are considered disposable after some wear and tear. Concerns over the environmental impact of their disposal has sparked innovation with various solutions developed for recycling and material reclamation. The concepts of reuse and repair are also finding their way back into society. Awareness campaigns towards citizens for recycling and proper waste disposal have focused on such items with environmental protection cited as the main motivator.
The need to salvage and safeguard resources is high at the moment in Ukraine. Salvage efforts similar to those during World War I and II, perhaps for different materials to back then, will help people carry on. The country’s recovery after the war will be a long one and recycling will for sure play an important role in recovering materials to help rebuild the country.
Safeguarding resources so they play a useful role for as long as possible without being disposed of as waste, is of great importance even at times of peace. The earth’s resources are finite and with a growing population and the need to comply with emissions targets, moving to a circular economy is increasingly becoming a priority for policymakers around the world.
Groundwater resources are the main drinking water source in most partner countries, including Ukraine. Long have we worked to ensure safe drinking water and proper wastewater treatment through encouraging households to connect the centralized water networks, especially in large cities. But during the actual war situation with destroyed homes and no electricity, consequently the centralized water supply also does not work and often there is no water available in the tap. In this situation for instance old dug wells can become the only available drinking water sources. At this point also the spring outflows typically valued for their natural heritage and touristic attractiveness can help to survive, and we see the need to map them and evaluate their quality as soon as possible also in other partner countries.
In post war conditions groundwater will become even more important as no food production or construction can be carried out without water. It is expected that groundwater consumption will increase with consequent extra pressure on aquifers. Nevertheless, we hope that people will be able to go home soon and we will jointly re-build a safe and sustainable groundwater management system for Ukrainian people.
We need to be honest: ticks, as well as the viruses they can carry are the very least of the problems being faced by people of Ukraine at this time. Both soldiers and citizens literally fight to survive, and the consequences of a tick bite are not considered a health priority. However, we should also point out that the whole health system in Ukraine is being heavily affected, including the ability to diagnose infections at large, survey infected animals and instruct healthcare providers. It will take years to rebuild all this, while pathogens still circulate across borders. It will be a responsibility of networks such as TBFVnet to reinforce its activities to maintain high the attention in the Region and to provide support also towards refugees fleeing war.
One could also say that science and cross border cooperation are not big matters to lose. However, they required years, perhaps even ages, to build. And many, many years will be needed when this war comes to an end to rebuild cross border cooperation and scientific collaboration.
When Western countries established sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine also many international scientific institutions followed along the same line. A notable example is the CERN Council that decided to suspend Russia’s observer status. CERN has made scientific collaboration the core of its mission: it was funded “with the aim of bringing nations and peoples together around science in a spirit of peace”. Clearly this war affects the fundamental aspect of this international organization. Notably, many Russian scientists have risen up against their own government and its war to stand with Ukraine, the international community and peace.
As the former Director-General of our partner ICGEB, Mauro Giacca, recently wrote in a newspaper in Italy: “It is really difficult to understand whether it is more productive to keep Russian scientists within the international community or to penalise them so that their institutions become vocal in demanding change. Either way, the notion that you can do something in life that has no political implications, including science, remains a myth that again breaks hard against reality.”
Usually, we do not know what scientific research can bring in the future, but oddly, we now risk that nothing could be the answer. Nothing will ever be discovered, explained or developed where there is no collaboration. It will be our responsibility to maintain active all scientific networks of collaboration to minimize this risk and to be able to recover as soon as possible.
Maritsa Kissamitaki – Circular Based Waste Management – CBWM
Inga Retiķe – EU WATERRES
Fabio De Pascale – Tick-borne Flavivirus network – TBFVnet