Mental health group gives hope to youngsters in Ukraine

Children like 11-year-old Maria and Bohdan urgently need support to cope with their experiences of war

UNICEF
Image
UNICEF
19 July 2022

When war first came to the Poltavska region, in Ukraine, on the morning of February 24, the house of 11-year-old cousins Maria and Bohdan erupted into panic.

“My first thought was that it wasn't real,” says Eva, Bohdan’s mother. “That it was probably a dream or a movie that we’re acting in.”

“At first I didn’t understand what was happening,” recalls Bohdan. “Father left immediately to buy some food supplies. We let our dog in. And later I noticed the missiles in the sky.”

Image
Марія, 11 років

Nobody knew what to do. There had been no time to pack a bag or gather their things, and there was no evacuation plan, either. As the shells began to fall and gunfire rattled through their town, all that Maria and Bohdan and their families could do was hope.

“It was hard to realize that we were living lives described in books, that we had become characters of this unreal horror movie,” says Eva.

During the first few days of the war, three families sheltered together in the same house. It was stressful, frightening, and nobody knew what would happen next. 

Image
Богдан, 11 років

The children were terrified. Bohdan began to dread the sound of planes overhead.

“I started worrying that a missile would hit my house while I’m sleeping,” says the young boy. “I was scared.”

Desperate to find Bohdan some support, Eva discovered the PORUCH project – an online and offline psychological support group for teenagers and parents affected by the conflict. Group sessions enable participants to share their fears, thoughts and worries, while psychologists help them to deal with stress using special techniques and methods. 

Image

Over the course of two weeks, the children learned to speak about their fears and were taught methods to help them cope. Bohdan likes to imagine gifts falling out of the sky instead of missiles, which has helped him with his fear of planes. Maria likes the ‘gratitude’ technique, which encourages the children to write down the things they are grateful for every day. In this way, Eva says, the children learn to focus on the positive aspects of the day.

Eva has also enrolled in the programme with her husband, Oleksiy, and they have learned how to communicate with children during crises. 

Image

However, even with this support, the war is never far from the children’s minds, and Maria keeps thinking of those children still living in conflict zones.

“I was told that people have no food or water – just nothing – while I can eat, drink water, and use the internet,” she says, sadly. “I have a home and I’m grateful for that, but it still hurts a bit.”

Image
Image

Thanks to support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), together with the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Institute of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the Volunteer national public center, PORUCH will continue to help war-affected teenagers, parents and teachers across Ukraine.