Royal Navy sailors showed their support and solidarity with the people of Ukraine when they visited Vernadsky Station in Antarctica. The British Navy’s only icebreaker, HMS Protector, visited the 21 scientists and technicians who maintain the polar research station to check on their well-being.
More than 15,000 kilometers from Kiev, the Ukrainian flag flies over a handful of various buildings and structures perched on 800-meter Galindez Island near the Antarctic Peninsula. Vernadsky Station is Ukraine’s only research base in Antarctica and currently home to 21 scientists, engineers and support personnel. While they were finishing their current season, Russia marched into their homeland. Now the “Vernadskyans” are stranded in one of the most remote places on earth, while their friends and family at home have to seek protection in air raid shelters or prepare to fight Russian forces.
It is not yet clear when the scientists and support personnel from the Vernadsky station will be able to return to Ukraine. Members of the next crew are trapped in Ukrainian cities under Russian bombardment, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Antarctic Scientific Center said: “Part of the team is in Kiev and part is locked up in Kharkiv. So we can’t plan any exchange of personnel at the Vernadsky station.” Despite this, efforts are being made to get supplies and support to the station before the onset of winter. The Ukrainian polar ship Noosfera was heading for Antarctica via Punta Arenas, according to the website Marine Traffic. However, it has been out of range of the AIS system since February 22, according to the website.
The Royal Navy’s support for the Vernadsky Station members is one of many expressions of solidarity for the country and active Antarctic Treaty member. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, there has been an appeal on social media channels for help for the Ukrainian station team, as well as for Ukrainian seafarers who were or still are on ships in Antarctica. These included appeals for donations of goods and supplies in the Ukraine or offering family members shelter and protection abroad. The issue of relief supplies to Vernadsky Station was also discussed.
Vernadsky Station was originally established as the Faraday Station of the British Antarctic Survey, but was transferred to Ukraine in early 1996 under a memorandum of understanding between the British Antarctic Survey and the National Antarctic Scientific Center of Ukraine. The current Ukrainian polar research vessel was also formerly British, namely the RSS James Clark Ross. She was sold by the UK at the beginning of this Antarctic season to the Ukrainian National Antarctic Scientific Center after her period of service and now runs under the name Noosfera.
From the station, Ukrainian scientists conduct research on the Earth’s magnetic field, radiosounding of the ionosphere in the southern polar region, hydrometeorological research, geophysical exploration of the lithosphere and study the ecology of the western Antarctic biosphere, as well as the medical effects of living and working in such an extreme environment.
Although the base operates year-round, its remote location means that supplies are infrequent and few employees are vaccinated. It has been operated under strict Covid prevention protocols and visits have been scarce since the beginning of the pandemic.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal
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