Necessity is the mother of invention for this Ukrainian scholar

Nataliia Kuznietsova. Image: Luisa Low, University of Sydney
Nataliia Kuznietsova. Image: Luisa Low, University of Sydney
The war isn’t over, but Nataliia is already looking to a green future for Ukraine

Professor Kuznietsova is among three Ukrainian researchers who have joined the Faculty of Engineering, with a fourth researcher joining the Faculty of Science in April. From the safety of Sydney, they have contributed to Ukraine’s rebuilding effort with innovative and agile solutions borne from the hardships of war.

Complex systems expert Professor Nataliia Kuznietsova  was scrolling the internet late one night from her home in Kyiv when she came across the Australian Academy of Science’s Ukraine-Australia Research Fund - a program that provides a temporary haven for Ukrainian researchers impacted by the war with Russia, supporting them to continue their research in a secure and welcoming environment. 

She Googled complex systems researchers in Australia and Professor Mikhail Prokopenko , Director of the University’s Centre for Complex Systems came up. "I emailed him straight away and he replied promptly," said Professor Kuznietsova, who researches at the National Technical University of Ukraine - Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. "We quickly realised our research had a lot in common, and the rest, as they say, is history. We prepared an application, it was accepted, and Mikhail became my host researcher." 

Professor Kuznietsova is now working with Professor Prokopenko’s team to develop ways to encourage policymakers and businesses to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and rebuild houses and infrastructure using green materials.  

"So much of Ukraine has been damaged," said Professor Kuznietsova. "When the war ends, we need to rebuild. We shouldn’t do it with the industries and methods of old - it will be an opportunity to create the world’s first wholly green society." 

She is using Professor Prokopenko’s agent-based modelling approach to model the influence and effects of using green finance to spur sustainable development. The technique was used by Professor Prokopenko to predict the spread of COVID-19 , as well as model systemic risks in the Australian housing market.

Professor Kuznietsova is also continuing to work with her colleagues in Kyiv to stabilise Ukraine’s power grid so it can deal with widespread damage caused by missile attacks. She and Professor Prokopenko also plan to model large-scale ecological and humanitarian disasters, like the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, using datasets captured by Ukrainian researchers to understand their wide-ranging, ongoing impact on society and the environment. 

"Mikhail’s methodology and my expertise could also be used outside of Ukraine as a ’test bed’ case for other countries dealing with power grid uncertainty and natural disasters due to climate change," she said. "Sydney’s infrastructure, transport networks and built environment have also given me some great ideas I want to take back home." 

Professor Prokopenko said Professor Kuznietsova’s creative approach had been spurred by difficult circumstances. "Necessity is the mother of invention," he said. "There are several areas where we can leverage our different strengths. We have a strong track record in engineering at Sydney, but these researchers are rapidly developing high-tech innovation, supercharged by pressing needs. Not only was I willing to help fellow researchers, but I was also interested in exploring that dynamic." 

Outside the University, Professor Prokopenko has organised cultural and tourist activities for the scholars and their hosts, including bushwalks in the Blue Mountains and beach trips. 

"These visits have provided a much-needed distraction from the horrors of war," said Professor Prokopenko. "While its shadow still looms over our visitors, I have been so impressed by their resilience. They continue to work and innovate under extremely challenging circumstances, helping save lives and protect critical infrastructure in Ukraine."

Professor Kuznietsova said: "Being immersed in Australia’s multiculturalism and open-mindedness gives me hope for the future of Ukraine. Australia is a country you fall in love with immediately - and I certainly have".  

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