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Israeli University welcomes Ukrainian math prodigies

A cohort of teenage math prodigies from Ukraine will study in Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, under a special program launched to help them advance their academic goals outside the shadow of war, the school announced Sunday. The high school students, part of Ukraine’s world championship math team, were aided in the effort by coaches on the Israeli team after the outbreak of hostilities in their country.

“One moment all my academic hopes were halted due to the war, and the next, I’m starting university studies at age 16 in Israel,” said participant Boris Holikov, from Dnipro in central Ukraine. “I grabbed the opportunity almost straight away, as I know I won’t regret it.”

Bar-Ilan coordinated the students’ visas and housing arrangements, and crafted a curriculum to meet their needs.

“In just a few weeks we’ve pulled together a program that would normally take months of planning. But extreme times call for extreme efforts,” said the university’s CEO, Zohar Yinon. “From now until October the youth will take courses in math, computer science, and physics, and will learn Hebrew as well. They will receive university credits and some of the students are expected to segue into bachelor’s degree studies in October.”

Leonid Diachenko, a 14-year-old program participant from Kyiv, recounted traveling as far as Poland with his mother before having “to say goodbye.” “It was really hard to say goodbye to my mom because I don’t know when I’ll see her,” said Diachenko. “It could be a long time and I think lots about the safety of my whole family, but I have to live with this.”

“I’m excited about being here in Israel,” he added. “It’s giving me exactly what I’ve wanted, in spite of the war which is disrupting the dreams of so many people from our country.”

The effort came to fruition with the help of tech powerhouse Google and blockchain company StarkWare. Dr. Dan Carmon, an engineer at StarkWare who also coaches Israel’s youth math team, had proposed to his company that they should fund the project — an idea, he said, they immediately supported.

“It’s very personal for me as I know the Ukrainian coaches from competitions — and my colleagues identify strongly with the team,” Carmon said. “Numbers are an international language, and at every contest we see math bringing together kids from everywhere.” “We were crushed by the plight of the Ukrainian team, and this bond made us determined to take action,” he continued. “I feel it’s a privilege to help bring them to safety.”

Bar-Ilan has raised about NIS 1 million ($290,000) to benefit Ukrainian researchers and students, and has received 50 inquiries in the past month from those seeking admission. Thirteen have already arrived, with more expected soon.