Football helps Ukrainian children mentally recover after witnessing war

Children taking part in the PORUCH project are finding new ways to have fun and work through the psychological effects of war

UNICEF
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UNICEF
01 July 2022

In the small village of Serednie, in western Ukraine, a group of 30 children are playing football, passing the ball between them and through cones. Many of them are laughing and overjoyed at the chance to make new friends. After being forced to leave their homes due to ongoing war, opportunities for fun are few and far between.

Football training during the "PORUCH" project
UNICEF
Football training during the "Poruch" project

The children are taking part in a play session run by psychological support group PORUCH, which uses psychologists and sports to help war-affected children and teenagers aged 6-18 work through their fears and find new ways to cope. In the most westerly region of Ukraine, the project works with the Transcarpathian Football Association.  

Psychologist Diana Sember conducts classes with children at the "Safety Territory" locality
UNICEF
Psychologist Diana Sember conducts classes with children at the "Safety Territory" locality

After today’s game, the children will work in groups with psychologists to think, talk about the things that make them happy and draw. 

"I love football!” exclaims 12-year-old Nastya, who fled Kyiv with her mother. “I used to have weekly football classes back home and here I am doing it again, making new friends. Today we practised with the coach, learned to head the ball and make passes.”

Nastya was terrified when war broke out on February 24.

"I was scared a lot,” she says. “I was afraid that a missile would hit my home. I realised that children like me died. Even though we were hiding in a basement, it was terrifying. There were a lot of people, many children. Somebody brought us a big mattress and my sister slept there with other children. I was sleeping next to them on a roll-up bed, while our mother slept on a chair. There was a baby, who was born right before February 24."

Warm-up at the beginning of the event
UNICEF
Warm-up at the beginning of the event

Her teammate, 12-year-old Yaroslava, fled her home in Kharkiv, after spending 10 days sheltering in a basement with her relatives and neighbours.

"I was worried about all my relatives, we were not sure if we would manage to leave,” she recalls. “I was also anxious about my hamster. Little animals have weak hearts and can die. It was exactly what happened. I miss my classmates a lot, but I have found friends here too.”

Yaroslav Saharva, 12 years old, from Kharkiv
UNICEF
Yaroslav Saharva, 12 years old, from Kharkiv

Veronika, who is nine, fled a Kyiv suburb, together with her mother and grandmother. 

"When this all started, it was horrifying,” says the youngster. “We went to a village and we heard gunfire and bombs there. We were even sleeping with our clothes on, so that we could flee if needed. Explosions occurred every day, waking us up. I dream about the war ending so that we can go home. It's nice here and today it was a lot of fun, so I even forgot about the whole situation, but I haven't been at home for so long.”

Psychologist Diana Sember is helping the children to feel safe again.

“My goal is to provide children with a feeling of relief, to help them make friends, communicate and feel safe,” says Sember. “Each child reacts to the reality in Ukraine in their own way. And the PORUCH programme is well set up, it helps them to work through their trauma. There is a good combination of activities and work in groups, which gives a good result.”

Psychologist Diana Sember
UNICEF
Psychologist Diana Sember

PORUCH is a joint project from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), providing mental health support for children, youth and parents whose lives have been devastated by the war. 

Warm-up for the start of the event
ЮНІСЕФ
Warm-up for the start of the event