Boosting recovery through innovation in post-war Ukraine

Scientists are predicting that much of the reconstruction and economic recovery of Ukraine in the post-war period will be based not on the old post-Soviet industry that dominated much of the country before the Russian invasion but on sustainable and artificial intelligence solutions.

Despite the current conflict causing damage or destruction to more than 2,000 schools and universities, a number of higher education institutions are already laying the seeds for a new sustainable future with the support of a European Union initiative encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Ukraine Aid programme is part of a pilot Horizon Europe programme coordinated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Higher Education Initiative to boost the innovation and entrepreneurship capacity of higher education institutions (HEIs) across Europe and beyond.

It is already producing tangible results, according to Luisa Bunescu, the EIT HEI programme coordinator based at Leuven, Belgium.

Deep technologies

She told University World News that since the EIT invited Ukrainian universities to join the pilot programme, EUR1.5 million (US$1.6 million) had been allocated to 26 Ukrainian universities and the last call focused on deep technologies, such as AI.

Among the Ukrainian institutions involved is Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute (ISKPI), a partner of the EIT HEI’s innovAId project, which includes universities from the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Portugal, as well as Ukraine, working together on developing the use of AI in big data, digital health, wearables and electronic health records in healthcare and research.

Anton Popov, associate professor in ISKPI’s Department of Electronic Engineering, is researching how signal processing and machine learning techniques can be used to analyse and understand biomedical signals and images, with his group focusing on areas like managing epileptic seizures using brain wave and heart rhythm recordings and measuring cognitive workload, emotions and emotional burnout.

Popov said being involved in the innovAld project would “help create a supportive ecosystem for digital health innovation at ISKPI so that anyone who wants to develop their ideas in using AI for improving human health can come and work on their projects with our full support.

“Initially, we are targeting students and researchers, but later we will make our findings available to people from other organisations and fields as well.”

His university was not part of the innovAld consortium until an approach last year from Dr Annemarie van ’t Veen from University Medical Centre Utrecht, but after a discussion both sides concluded that ISKPI could be a useful partner “and we decided to join”, said Popov.

He told University World News: “It has strengthened our capacity to innovate in the field of digital health and means that we will have access to advanced test beds and chances to collaborate with partners from our own country and abroad.

“Participating in innovAId allows us to develop and improve creative ideas within the realm of AI and digital health. Ultimately, this will lead to enhancements in patient care and healthcare practices, benefiting those in need.

“Boosting innovation and entrepreneurship is vital to drive economic growth and enhance competitiveness, especially in the aftermath of the Russian war against Ukraine,” he said.

The war has caused widespread disruption to daily activities, explained Popov, with students unable to participate in webinars due to power outages caused by bombings.

“The internet connection is often weak because Russia is damaging the telecommunication infrastructure,” he said.

“In some instances, due to Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities, students and professors have had to connect to online meetings from basements, subway stations, underground shelters or even bathrooms. But these are things you can live with when you have no other choice.”

Climate action

Another Ukrainian university benefitting from the EIT’s Ukraine Aid programme and its Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) is Yuriy Fedkovych Chernivtsi National University, one of the oldest classical universities in Ukraine.

Ruslan Biloskurskyi, the university’s Dean of the Faculty of Economics, is coordinating the Innovation Laboratories for Climate Action (ILCA) project.

This initiative brings together six higher education institutions and three research organisations under the theme of climate actions.

The lead partner is Savonia University of Applied Sciences in Finland and the consortium also includes Stefan cel Mare University of Suceava in Romania and the University of Forestry in Bulgaria, as well Vilnius College Technologies and Design in Lithuania and two other Ukrainian institutions – the National Scientific Center Institute of Agriculture and King Danylo University.

Biloskurskyi said the project has three main objectives: training and mentoring students as well as academic and non-academic staff to enhance their climate innovation and entrepreneurship; launching climate innovation labs and engaging different “ecosystem actors” in the design and implementation of climate innovation projects; and providing support and resources to small and medium-sized enterprises to help them deal with the challenges and opportunities of climate change and digital transformation.

“We decided to join the EIT HEI initiative community because it provides a platform for European higher education institutions to develop comprehensive action plans that enhance their capacity for entrepreneurship and innovation at all levels and aligns with our university’s goals of becoming a regional hub of innovation, contributing to sustainable growth and job creation in post-war Ukraine,” he said.

Economic recovery

“Ukraine is currently experiencing an active phase of a severe full-scale invasion by Russia. Lives are lost, cities are destroyed, and infrastructure and enterprises are devastated. The environmental impact of this aggression is also severe. However, we are confident that we will emerge victorious. And when that happens, Ukraine will need economic recovery.

“But this recovery should not be about rebuilding the old post-Soviet industry. Instead, it should focus on sustainable and innovative solutions,” he said.

“Therefore, it is crucial to develop scientifically grounded plans for post-war recovery and prepare current and future entrepreneurs for new sustainable business models and solutions.

“Universities play a critical role in this process as institutions that can bridge the gap between research and practical applications,” said Biloskurskyi.

While the Russian invasion has undoubtedly posed obstacles to project activities, Biloskurskyi told University World News: “We remain committed to our goals and continue to explore opportunities for collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship. By staying resilient and leveraging innovative strategies, we strive to contribute to the economic recovery and sustainable development of Ukraine.”

Bunescu said she and the team at the EIT higher education initiative were greatly encouraged by the progress made in the first year of the Ukraine Aid programme and the contribution it was making in enhancing innovation and entrepreneurship capacity, particularly where teaching and research had been disrupted by the war.

“Ukrainian universities are very much committed to enhancing their innovation and entrepreneurship in the long-term and they are also key contributors in the consortia they are part of: they contribute to the achievement of key performance indicators that we have set for our projects [and] bring a fresh perspective and different regional realities to be considered.

“Our last call for proposals, that combined innovation and entrepreneurship with deep technologies, attracted lots of applications from Ukrainian organisations,” she said.

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher education. He blogs at