ONE thing Kateryna Barysenko can't get used to about being in York is that air raid alarms aren't constantly going off to warn of incoming missiles.

She and her family got used to that at home in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.

Since the Russians invaded 18 months ago, bombs have been an everyday feature of life.

"It was very scary, but we got used to it," Kateryna said. "Getting used to explosions was not normal. But we survived."

Kateryna is one of eight Ukrainian Ph.D and post-doctoral researchers who have spent the last two months studying environmental science in York as part of an exchange programme between their universities in Kharkiv and the University of York.

They have been studying the latest techniques in things like monitoring air and water pollution, cleaning up contaminated land, and rehabilitating damaged environments.

They're all skills and methods that could be useful in helping to rebuild Ukraine once the war is over, says Prof Alistair Boxall of the university's environment department, who arranged the programme. "The aim, as Ukraine emerges from the war, is to help ensure the environment recovers from the damage that has been caused," Prof Boxall said.

York Press: The Ukrainian students visit Castle HowardThe Ukrainian students visit Castle Howard (Image: University of York)

Since they arrived in July, the eight have worked with researchers at the university, and have also visited FERA near York, the Yorwaste facility at Harewood Whin, a water treatment works, and visited an environmental project up on the North York Moors.

But their two months here have also been a chance to step away, however briefly, from the chaos that the Russian invasion brought to their lives back in Ukraine.

"I feel so calm here," said 24-year-old Nadiia Herashchenko, echoing Kateryna.

Lysychansk, the city in eastern Ukraine where Nadiia grew up, and where her family - mum, sister and grandfather - still live, is under Russian occupation.

Communicating with her family isn't easy - she recently spoke to her mum for the first time in two months. She can't call them direct, she says, but can occasionally get through online. "But they are all OK, as far as they can be."

Nadiia and her younger brother Kyril, who is also at university in Kharkiv, fled to the north-western Rivne region when the war broke out 18 months ago and bombs began falling on Kharkiv.


They still fall in Rivne - just not quite so many of them, Nadiia says.

Anastasiia Klieshch was born in Bakhmut. The city was in the frontline in the months after the Russians invaded last year, and has now been reduced to little more than rubble.

"There are no buildings left - only bricks," she said.

She struggles to contain her anger. "My father and grandfather worked to build the infrastructure of the city, and now there is nothing left."

Anastasiia, like her seven Ukrainian colleagues, will be returning to her home country on August 30.

Is she optimistic about what the future holds?

"We have no time to cry, no time to worry," she said. "We need to think about our future and learn how to rebuild."

Hopefully what they have learned in York in the last couple of months might help them to do that.