Psychological first aid for overwhelmed and disoriented families fleeing war
As conflict escalates, Blue Dots in Poland are providing support to new arrivals from Ukraine
Tavita knows too well how important it is to provide immediate help and information to families in Poland fleeing war in Ukraine. Originally from Ukraine herself, but living in Poland for several years, she has been working at UNICEF-UNHCR Blue Dots since May, meeting and assisting many refugee families.
After long and often arduous journeys, people arrive disoriented. Coming to a new country, starting life in a new, unknown reality can be scary and overwhelming, especially for refugees with children. Parents need to understand where to ask for help, how to make sure their kids are well-nourished, healthy and have access to education.
At Blue Dots, they can rest, children can engage in activities and play in child-friendly spaces, while parents get information and practical support to help them on their onward journey or with settling in.
On 11 October, just one day after the conflict escalation in some parts of Ukraine, Tavita and seven other UNICEF Blue Dot workers and coordinators responded to the increasing needs at the Ukrainian-Polish border by setting up a temporary Blue Dot space at Przemyśl train station.
There are many people coming by train. Here in Przemyśl there are four trains coming each day from different cities in Ukraine. All of them are full. Some people have a plan when they arrive, but many of the families need more support to decide what to do next. In this context, the information we are providing is crucial
As we are speaking, a train arrives. As people start filling the arrivals area, Tavita, trained to identify vulnerable families, quickly spots Kseniia and little Misha. They are both crying the moment they step out of the train. Wearing her cyan-blue UNICEF vest, Tavita approaches Ksenia to ask the young mother how she can best support them.
Ksenia is from Luhansk Oblast in eastern Ukraine, but moved to Zaporizhzhia with her husband after the war broke out. She was hoping that they would be safer there, and her three-year-old son Mykhailo (Misha) would not have to see bombings, hear sirens and hide in shelters, but the reality turned out to be different. The conflict escalated again, and the family decided it was not safe for Misha and his mother to stay in Ukraine.
Although Ksenia feels relieved that they made it to Poland safely, she worries about her parents and Misha’s father who are still in Ukraine. “We had no choice. We were very scared. I could not stay in Ukraine with Misha. I had to think about my son and his safety first,” she says while holding Misha in her arms. “My husband could not go with us. He cannot even go to the Western part of the country, because he is afraid of losing his job and not being able to provide for those who depend on him.”
Tavita takes one of the toy planes the Blue Dot team made for children and gives it to Misha. For a moment, the little boy forgets about everything else. He is a pilot of his own plane now.
Even tired and overwhelmed after travelling by train for 24 hours, Ksenia tries to stay strong for her son. Their journey does not finish here in Przemyśl. Tavita takes Misha by the hand and accompanies the family to the train station to help them buy tickets for their onward journey.
Despite the decreasing temperatures Tavita and her colleagues are waiting outside every day for people who are coming from Ukraine to identify the most vulnerable parents and children who need social services and additional protection. All Blue Dot staff, including Tavita, are trained to provide immediate help and where necessary refer families to relevant services. Thanks to their supportive attitude, understanding of the situation and language, refugees like Ksenia and Misha can feel safe.
“I love you mom and I love you Tavita,” Misha says to his mom and the Blue Dot worker as they wait in the queue to buy a train ticket. At the Blue Dot space where they both get some needed rest, Ksenia is looking at her son, smiling, as he plays games and laughs.
Find out more about UNICEF and UNHCR’s Blue Dot hubs which offer safe spaces, immediate support, information and services to people of all nationalities fleeing the war in Ukraine. Link to: https://bluedothub.org/
This work to support refugee children and families in Poland has been made possible by contributions from the government of Japan.