Children bear psychological scars of war in Ukraine

Weeks spent sheltering from the war left 11-year-old Polina feeling hopeless. However, psychological support is helping her to heal.

UNICEF
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UNICEF
07 May 2022

Eleven-year-old Polina has little to remind her of her life in Mariupol, Ukraine. The hospital where she was born, the kindergarten where she played and the school where she studied have all now been destroyed.

While once she was class president, with high grades, close friends and an ever-growing list of hobbies, now, after sheltering in a basement for much of March, Polina is terrified of being left alone in her room.

One day of the war, in particular, still strikes fear into her heart.

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UNICEF
Photos from Polina’s personal archive. Polina, her mother and her grandmother used to go for walk near Drama Theater in Mariupol, which has now been destroyed.

“I was in the basement and my mother and grandmother were on the ground floor,” the young girl recalls. “There was such a strong explosion that it deafened me. Everything fell from the ceiling and I started screaming. The other girls were also screaming and crying, and there was one girl who we couldn't calm down at all, even when it was over.”

Polina and her friends would perform concerts to distract themselves while they sheltered in the basement. But it soon became too much to bear. 

In late March, Polina, her mother Tetiana and grandmother Natalia finally fled Mariupol, eventually finding shelter in the Vinnytsia region. Polina is now studying and socialising with classmates remotely. To help her daughter to overcome her fear of being alone, Tetiana has approached UNICEF for support.

 

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UNICEF

“Psychological trauma is like a wound, so you can't neglect its treatment,” says Tetiana, a psychologist from Vinnytsia regional interdisciplinary mobile team.

Since April, a regional interdisciplinary mobile team has been working in the Vinnytsia region with the support of UNICEF and the Ukrainian Public Health Foundation. Anyone who needs social, medical, psychological or legal advice may contact the team free of charge by phone +380678857107 or +390965241741. Adults should ensure that their children have daily routines, with a predictable sequence of learning, exercise and rest. 

“Games that concentrate on being in a safe place here and now, pulling from the inner world of experiences into the outer world will also be helpful,” says psychologist Tetiana. “For example, a game of ‘three things’ that a child can feel, taste and smell.”