Impact of war on children in Ukraine: overcoming psychological problems

Published: Feb 15, 2023 Reading time: 5 minutes
Impact of war on children in Ukraine: overcoming psychological problems
© Foto: People in Need

In Lviv Oblast we helped to establish educational centres with Child-friendly Spaces (CFSs) for children with IDP status. These centres provide assistance in study, decorative and applied arts, drawing, physical culture, dance, and games with peers. In 2022, a total of ten CFSs were opened in the west of Ukraine. During 2023, it is planned to continue this work in the east of the country.

Valeria (10 years) and Vitalina (7 years) have been visiting the "Parasolka" CFS for almost three months. A family from the east of Ukraine, they moved to Drohobych, Lviv Oblast, in April 2022. With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the family moved for the second time: They were looking for a safe and comfortable city where children could grow, and the parents could find jobs. In Drohobych, their father, Roman, is trying to build business anew, and the mother helps him and works in a shop. He notes their situation:

"When we left home in Kramatorsk, nothing worked. The sound of explosions was deafening. Children should not live in such conditions. Here they are more secure. We are now working hard, and thanks to this centre, we get time to solve important tasks, and girls communicate with peers, learn English and geography and every time they perform interesting tasks."
Valeria and Vitalina are sociable and merry; about their classes in the space, they are to partake, noting: 
"We study remotely, but power cuts sometimes prevent this. There is a playground if we want to go out for a short time. And here we have friends who are quiet and interesting."

Before beginning their work, CFS specialists and psychologists will have passed a rigorous training course on the program, which covers socio-emotional and ethical training. The course aims to develop empathy, educational skills, physical data and children's soft skills.

"We care about the comprehensive development of children and support parents. We do not complete, but cooperate and listen", says Hlib Lobanov, a Program Assistant for the CFS.

Hlib is a local star of this CFS and one of the most popular teachers. For most of his life, he has worked with children in summer and winter camps, sports and tourism. In 2022 Hlib, along with his two daughter and wife, fled for Drohobych. For now, the family does not plan to return because it is here that Hlib's dream was realised – to work with children again.

"I was ready to go to any job to feed my family, but everything worked out: I applied and got my dream job. Now I work with the best people. In the PIN team, everything is very professional. We have a lot of resources. I could previously only dream of the novelties and materials we have. Good conditions are created to inspire employees in their work", says Hlib. 

The Drohobych CFS accommodates 55 children aged from 6 to 17 years. Ninety per cent of visitors are children and teenagers from Kherson, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Mykolayiv, and other cities that remain under attack. Together with internally displaced persons, the space is visited by local children from Drohobych and Truskavets. Such cooperation facilitates the rapid exchange of knowledge and skills.

 "At the age of our children, communication is a vital skill. We were in an unfamiliar place, and my 10-year-old daughter lost her circle of friends. Dasha had classes but did not have communication. The space helped a lot. Now Dasha has a lot of new friends and creative ideas", says Mariana Kozlova from Donetsk Oblast.

The CFS also accommodates children from the neighbouring town of Stebnik. The municipal enterprise "People's House" tends to the needs of almost one hundred children and allocated and repaired two rooms. During various classes everyone finds something interesting: adults and children. Here, dialogue is built from a position of respect. 

Facilitator Tetiana Tarasevich says that this facilitates the socialisation process of children in the new environment—this is especially important for teenagers.

"They want to talk to us. They want to be heard. Therefore, for the group aged 10-14 years, I have started meetings called "flashlight talks". Since we started, our teenagers always ask for these meetings. Our little ones want to move. However, physical exercise is not enough; they have a lot of energy. That is why we play with them first and then try to engage in creativity or study," says Tetiana Tarasevich.

Tetiana and her eight-year-old daughter Arina came to Lviv Oblast from Chernihiv. Her family almost failed to escape the region before the Russian Army blocked the escape routes and destroyed the bridges. Before the escape, the family endured 21 days of bombardment. The horror with which they had to endure radically changed everything. After the psychological rehabilitation, Tetiana, who worked as an accountant all her life, decided to adopt a second profession and become a psychologist.

"From my experience, this war is both taking away and giving. I have not seen my husband for a long time, who remains 30 kilometres from the front. But here, I found the job of my dreams. We lose, but we also get new opportunities."

One of the secrets to the success of a CFS is the correct attitude of the facilitators and psychologists towards the children. The adults build upon a program using information about their priorities and preferences and the psycho-emotional state of children.

Krystyna Dolynna, a psychologist from People in Need, says:

"The situation is still difficult. Every person in Ukraine, whether a resettled person or a resident, is living in a war – the most stressful of all situations. Children are a kind of "symptomatic" of the family; therefore, we try to work with children and parents. When we cooperate, children see stable adults together; they get the perception of a friendly environment and, with it, an opportunity to feel and talk—they come to connect. Such an environment stabilises the child. If we teach a child special techniques, we let them beat their emotional state; then a positive result will always appear. Positive dynamics are always present. The main thing is to work on them."

This People in Need project is implemented by the partner youth organisation "Stan" with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada. This project aims to systematically overcome the negative impacts of the war that Ukrainian children face.

Autor: People in Need

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