Olha Lukash

Olha Lukash is an associate professor at the Department of Economics, Entrepreneurship and Business Administration at Sumy State University. Her research is about environmental economics. She came to Mannheim in February 2023 with her daughter and is now working at the Chair of Quantitative Economics at the Department of Economics of the University of Mannheim.

Your hometown Sumy is close to the Russian border and was affected by the war from the very beginning. What was this situation like for you and your family?

Yes, Sumy is located in the north-eastern part of Ukraine, only 40 kilometres from the Russian border. Sumy is a beautiful city with many parks, rivers, and three universities, but now everything is different, no one can feel safe anymore because of the war. Sumy was one of the first cities that felt the aggression from Russia. It was awful. Suddenly, there was the feeling of uncertainty, of horror, of unsafety. And my first thought was, how can I keep my daughter safe?

When did you decide to leave Ukraine?

We realized that we couldn’t leave Sumy because it was already occupied. It’s hard to remember those days because we spent a very long time in a cold basement that we used as a shelter. There was constant bombing and artillery attacks. Furthermore, there was lack of food and medicine supply and the electricity and water supply was also disrupted. We had no heating, no food, and some days no mobile connection, so we couldn’t even call our relatives to tell them how we were.

When could you leave Sumy?

Each day we thought about how we could escape to a safer place. But we knew it was dangerous. Some families risked fleeing, but so many families died in the attempt. When we finally left Sumy, we passed many cars that were burnt. I can’t even tell you about the horrible things we have seen on the road, cars with bullet holes. Many of them had those stickers with the names of the children. We left in mid-March 2022 when the green corridors were provided and went to Poltava for one month. But when the Russian army attacked the Trade Centre in Kremenchuk in the Poltava region, we realized that there was no safe place in Ukraine. We returned to Sumy in May and started to look for possibilities to leave the country and find a place where I could work and get some support.

Why did you choose to come to Germany?

I have been to Germany many times before, mainly to participate in conferences, seminars, and summer schools. I really like Germany, the people, the traditions, and it was my dream to come here one day. So, when I saw the call for scientists at risk at the University of Mannheim Foundation, I applied for a grant scholarship and was thrilled when I got positive feedback. It is a great chance and a very nice coincidence that I can cooperate with Professor Ulrich Wagner from the Department of Economics. His research is very close to my sphere of interest.

How was your start in Germany?

I received a lot of support from the University of Mannheim Foundation and Katharina Bolle, who supports researchers here at the university. However, I noticed significant differences between Ukraine and Germany, particularly in terms of bureaucracy. In Ukraine, if you want to open a bank account and receive a card, it can be done in 30 minutes. Here, I had to make an appointment and wait for a week to receive letters, cards, and pin codes.

Can you tell us about your field of research?

My PhD was focused on investigating environmental aspects of cross-border cooperation. However, I have now shifted my attention to decarbonization processes in Ukraine. I aim to develop practical and theoretical assessments of how these decarbonization processes impact climate change, economic development, regional sustainability, and other related factors. The results of this research could be implemented by politicians, businesses, and households to guide the transition to clean energy, taking into account economic, social, and ecological aspects.

Which measures do you see as particularly promising for decarbonization in Ukraine?

Unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine has changed significantly due to the ongoing war. Prior to the war, the Ukrainian government had developed a roadmap for decarbonization in line with international agreements and to mitigate climate change impacts. However, due to the war, the focus shifted significantly. A large part of the country's infrastructure is destroyed, with houses being bombed and critical systems in need of restoration which means that we need to rebuild the country. This effort will inevitably result in additional emissions, which is why we need to adjust our roadmap for clean energy.

Do you believe the current measures are sufficient to counter the climate crisis?

It's a complex issue as there is often a conflict between economic and environmental interests. Many corporations are reluctant to realize these problems and take actions to make some transformations. In Ukraine, we face challenges due to the old coal assets and the need to consider the employment of coal mining workers in the transition to clean energy. This poses economic challenges, but similar issues are faced in other countries such as Poland. We need to develop regulatory instruments to stimulate businesses to undergo this transformation.

How does the war impact the ecosystems in Ukraine?

Prior to the war, there were significant efforts to invest in solar stations in Ukraine, and the number of solar stations had been rapidly increasing. However, the war has resulted in the destruction of much of this infrastructure by the Russian army. It's heart-breaking to see all the efforts towards clean energy being destroyed in a moment. And nature also suffers: I have read a study on the destructive impact on ecosystems and I just wanted to cry. For example, there are reports of dolphins being killed by mines in the Black Sea. Not only has the war destroyed infrastructure and human lives, it also has had a severe impact on the natural environment.

This is terrible news. Is there anything you can do about it?

Peace is the only solution. I hope that the situation will improve soon, and that peace will come, but I don't know how we will get there. So many people have lost their friends, families, and houses. I just want us to be able to live our ordinary lives with happy everyday moments, and not to face problems that are caused by the war. But I would also like to express my gratitude to the University of Mannheim and the foundation for giving me and my family the opportunity to move here. As we say, there is no bad thing without a good thing.

Text: Moritz Klenk