Sisters from Luhansk are overcoming their fears after life in the conflict zone
It was the first time that Galina* made a decision to consult a psychologist and seek help for her 6-year-old daughter Anna. After the girl saw her kindergarten bombed in Luhansk she refused to eat. Mom even made concessions and allowed Anna to eat her favorite sweets, in order to get her to eat at least something but it didn’t help. The girl was extremely worried about her kindergarten teachers and friends, she repeatedly asked: “What has happened to them? Will I ever see them again?” Despite Anna being so young, the memory of her hiding in the basement together with her mother and sister during the shelling is firmly stamped into her mind. And now, when the family has moved to a silent and peaceful, though unfamiliar, city, the girl sees her kindergarten and explosions on TV.
When psychologists started working with Anna and her family, they realized, that her 9-year-old sister Nadia needed more counseling. “Nadia is the older one, she is more sensitive and withdrawn. That’s why the calamity she survived at home has a bigger influence on her. She simply stopped speaking,” – said psychologist Tetyana.
Recent events in the country, including military conflict in the East of Ukraine, has caused tens of thousands of people to leave their homes. Children in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are the most exposed to the aftermath of the crisis. The number of schools in this region stands at 1,735. Many of them are completely or partially damaged. The number of school-aged children in the two oblasts most affected by the crisis is more than 500,000. 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.
Little Anna rehabilitated quickly and successfully. She managed to get over the main difficulties within a relatively short period of time. Yet Nadia’s recovery requires more work. At first the girl didn’t react to any attempts to talk to her. She kept staring fixedly in front of herself, giving short, one-word answers from time to time. Only a month later the first successful results came: thanks to the psychologists’ thorough work, Nadia began speaking and answering questions. Recently she has started speaking to the people whom she can trust – family members and psychologists. However, Nadia is still afraid of speaking to people she knows, not to mention to complete strangers.
The girls keep coming to their psychosocial sessions and will attend them for as long as needed. The moments they have experienced in the zone of military conflict, their fears and overwhelming feeling of danger leave a sad impression in their minds for years. The girls often get frightened by loud noises, which remind them of shelling and explosions. They’re scared of sleeping alone in a room without their parents.
“Many things, including the success of the psychological rehabilitation of children, depends on the parents. Their own condition and ability to overcome their own problems matters,” – explains Tetyana. If parents are able to cope with their difficulties, they are able to help children to do the same. In such cases, the work goes smoothly and the progress is evident.
Difficult conditions caused by economic constraints, safety issues, violence and loss of loved ones leads to involuntary changes in displaced people’s lives. 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 counselors and teachers to enable them to work with displaced children and their families. The current projects are short-term, 3-5 months, to provide displaced children and their parents with the necessary support for the summer period and the transition into the school year.
* The names were changed for ethical considerations.