One boy’s journey of change and coping with crisis
Sashko* and his mom were leaving Luhansk in a deadly haste. They didn’t even manage to gather the necessary belongings and documents. The biggest loss was having to leave his cosy home, beloved school and closest friends. The 15-year-old teen hadn’t yet come to terms with having to give up his promising ballroom dancing career due to health issues. International competitions and hopes for a future as a professional dancer were over. And now another painful loss - having to flee to a different part of the country thousands of kilometres away from his home. As a result, Sashko closed off from the outside world, not willing to talk to anybody. It seemed to him that everything went completely wrong and that life had no sense.
Psychologists say that Sashko missed his first sessions for internally displaced children and avoided all their attempts to talk to him. But eventually, psychologists’ genuine desire and professional tactics did their job – the ice broke and Sashko managed to open up. After one week, individual and group sessions finally helped Sashko to recover, reduce stress and anxiety, and simply recharge. Sashko’s mother Iryna is happy to see her son smile at last. The boy started to enjoy the world around and his eyes are full of joy and hope again.
A UNICEF assessment conducted in Donetsk oblast found that around half of children aged 7-18 had been directly exposed to adverse events related to the unrest in Eastern Ukraine. In particular, they witnessed tanks or military vehicles, fights, people they know being injured and people threatening others with guns. Some children saw people being killed.
UNICEF, in partnership with NGO’s from Western Ukraine, provides psychosocial support to internally displaced children and their families, who fled from Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Such activities help both children and adults to deal with their traumatic experiences, as well as to integrate into the communities that host them. In Lviv, UNICEF has provided assistance to 140 children and their families via individual and group therapy. Besides having their level of stress reduced, children have improved their levels of concentration and fine motor skills through this support.
At the moment it is unclear where Sashko’s family is going to start their new life. Since Sashko’s health condition requires on-going qualified medical care, he and his parents hope to find a new home in or around a city. On top of that, he finds it difficult to find common ground with his relatives and close friends remaining in Luhansk regarding the situation in Ukraine. Yet Sashko’s mom is happy that her son managed to cope with the crisis and believes in a better tomorrow again. “The boy has changed so much, his face is simply shining. These changes are so big that they cannot go unnoticed,” – said psychologist Tatyana who has worked with Sashko. Although many challenges lay ahead for the family resettling into a new place and adapting to changes, Tatyana is confident that Sashko has overcome his main crisis.
Recent events in the country, including armed conflict and geopolitical changes in Crimea and the Eastern region, have caused tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. They experience traumatic events, economic constraints, safety issues, violence and the loss of loved ones, and are forced to relocate. Children are highly sensitive to such events, as they might not yet have the coping mechanisms or understanding to handle the situation.
In addition to providing psychosocial support to children and families, UNICEF is facilitating training sessions in specialized therapy techniques for psychologists, social workers, school counsellors and teachers to enable them to work with displaced children and families. The current projects are short-term, 3-5 months, to provide IDP children and their parents with the necessary support for the summer period and the transition into the school year.
* The name was changed for ethical considerations.