"We don't know when we will come back to Ukraine"

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Dmytro Minchenko is a Ukrainian pediatrician and researcher in the fields of oncology and pediatric metabolic disorders. As a beneficiary of the national programme for the emergency reception of scientists in exile (PAUSE), he has been hosted at the Bordeaux Institute of Oncology (BRIC) laboratory of the University of Bordeaux since March 2022. He does not know when he will be able to return to his country.

Photo : Dmytro Minchenko, ukrainian researcher hosted in university of Bordeaux
Dmytro Minchenko, ukrainian researcher hosted in university of Bordeaux

Dmytro Minchenko arrived in Bordeaux on March 10th 2022 accompanied by his wife, their three daughters (8, 7 and 3 years old) and his 70-year-old father. First they left Kyiv, where they lived, and then soon after, on February 28th, they left Ukraine in order to travel to Germany by bus, and eventually made the long journey by train to France.

As soon as the war was announced, I decided to leave Ukraine," says Dmytro Minchenko. “First, I thought of Germany where I have friends, but then I received a call from Andreas Bikfalvi, director of the BRIC tumour and vascular biology team at the University of Bordeaux, whom I knew from previous stays in Bordeaux with my father, also a researcher.  He offered to host me in his research team thanks to the PAUSE programme which can finance a 6-month renewable contract. I accepted immediately," he continues.

This was an exceptional opportunity for the Ukrainian researcher and his family, who were initially accommodated in Talence by a friend of his father. His daughters attend the Notre Dame de Sévigné primary school, also in Talence. "The school is very welcoming, but integration is difficult for them because of the language. They are sometimes homesick and miss the snow," jokes Dmytro Minchenko.

A precious collaboration

He himself does not speak French, but does speak perfect English. "I lived in the United States for 10 years. My parents left Ukraine in 1991 and settled near Philadelphia. I did all my schooling there. I came back to Kyiv in 2001 to study medicine, because it was too expensive in the US," he says.

After completing his medical studies at the Bogomolets National Medical University,  Dmytro Minchenko became involved in teaching and research. He specialised in pediatrics and worked at the hospital and in the O. V. Palladin Institute of Biochemistry of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences.

In 2006, he accompanied his father to Bordeaux and spent two months working at the INSERM laboratory currently known as BRIC. On his return to Kyiv, he continued his research work and kept in touch with Andreas Bikfalvi. They set up numerous collaborations and projects with the idea of returning one day for longer. Unfortunately, the war provided him with this opportunity.

A big support from the university

« Bordeaux is a fantastic city, I like everything here, especially the tram. The University of Bordeaux is very supportive and helpful. Special thanks to the Welcome Centre for International Researchers and the services of the International Office", says Dmytro Minchenko.

Now living in the Escabelle Residence, the Minchencko family continues to live from day to day with no prospect of returning. To be on the safe side, Dmytro Minchenko has applied for a two-year MSCA4UKRAINE fellowship via funding from the Pierre and Marie Curie Foundation to extend his stay in Bordeaux.

« We are safe here »

En attendant, ils se retrouvent souvent entre compatriotes membres de la communauté ukrainienne bordelaise au sein de laquelle règne une vraie solidarité.  « Nous avons même réussi à faire venir mon beau-frère et sa famille. Mais je suis constamment en contact avec mon frère et des cousins restés à Kiev. Ils vont plutôt bien malgré les coupures d’électricité qui sont un vrai problème. Heureusement, ils ont la chance d’avoir des abris proches de chez eux. »

In the meantime, they often meet up with compatriots who are members of the Ukrainian community in Bordeaux, where there is real solidarity. "We even managed to bring my brother-in-law and his family from the occupied Donetsk region. But I am constantly in contact with my brother and cousins who have stayed in Kyiv. They are doing quite well despite the power cuts which are a real problem. Fortunately, they are lucky to have bomb shelters close to their homes.

« We will not return to Ukraine until the war is over. But when? We are safe here, but we are worried about our country and everything that is happening there. Poutine decides everything. He has our fate in his hands. This war makes no sense. I don't understand what he wants, what he has to gain. And even when the war is over, there will be mines everywhere, it will be impossible to return. How long will it take to clear the territory of mines?” asks the researcher.

Let’s hope that he will be able to stay in Bordeaux with his family.