PORUCH: a tower of strength for those in need
The story of Maryana, who found the necessary psychological support in a difficult time
Where will we be living tomorrow? Will our new house be safe? Will I have enough money to live in a foreign country? Am I paying enough attention to my child?
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Maryana has been confronted with those thoughts every day. She and her 8-year-old son now live in Germany, after escaping from shellings in her homeland.
The constant shifts between temporary housing, and the uncertainty of the future have weighed heavily on Maryana. When she found out about the psychological support project PORUCH, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she didn't hesitate to take part in it.
“When I found out about this project, I already needed psychological support. When I registered, I felt relieved. I hoped it would help me. And it did,” Mayana says.
UNICEF’s project “PORUCH” offers a mental health support group for teenagers and parents whose lives have been devastated by the war. Qualified psychologists help facilitate the groups for Ukrainians affected by the war.
A cruel new normal
Maryana vividly remembers the beginning of the war and how suddenly it turned her and her son’s lives upside down.
“I wasn’t fully awake when I came to the windows, saw the blaze, and heard those horrible explosions. It was shocking. I thought I was probably sleeping because my brain didn’t realize it was reality,” says Maryana recalling the morning of February 24th, when the war began.
While Maryana was packing things, her son fell to the ground because of the impact of the explosions. She didn’t know where they should take refuge, but ended up spending the first night with other women and their kids in a bomb shelter in Kyiv. Maryana’s son slept on the school desk, while she lay sleeping on a mat on the floor.
“I almost had no energy. We hadn’t been sleeping for two days and were all stressed and nervous. I didn’t understand what I had to do, where to go, what would happen to us, and how to protect my son who I’ve been raising by myself,” says Maryana.
Maryana decided to travel with her son to the West of Ukraine and then to Europe. She drove for 15 hours straight from Kyiv to Kam'yanets-Podilsky without stoping for food or rest.
“ I was adrenalin-driven and felt no hunger or thirst. I was just holding the wheel, and felt calm because my son was next to me,” Maryana says.
The two have since stayed in hotels, gyms, refugee centers, and temporary housing, which Maryana found exhausting.
“I realized I wasn’t paying attention to my son at all. Like, I just thought about feeding him and that’s it. The rest of the time he spent with his tablet, as I didn’t have enough energy to spend some time with him. I was just crying and had no idea what to do”
To find a home in an alien land
Moving to a foreign country, sparked feelings of loneliness and anxiety in Maryana. The different language, new temporary housing, and lack of community in Germany made her homesickness almost unbearable.
“I felt like I had nothing to rely on – even internal support, even myself. At the same time, I realized my full responsibility for myself, my son, and my relatives,” she says.
Maryana tried to combine work, caring for her son, and adapting to life in Germany, but it led to emotional burnout. She came across the announcement of the project PORUCH on social media.
The project employs professional psychologists and specialists with the skills to help those who have fled the war. Maryana has learned how to deal with difficulties and stress with the techniques provided by them.
“When we, the participants, were sharing our experiences, our two psychologists were next to us. They listened to each of us carefully. They were so deep, it felt like they were penetrating our innermost feelings. Then they answered our questions and shared some advice,” Maryana says.
Maryana also found working on mental health techniques in groups very effective. Moreover, the PORUCH groups consisted of other parents and adolescents with the same problems, thus providing a community of people who support and understand each other and can share their experiences and worries about the war.
“For three months, I had been living without my people next to me. I wanted to listen to other Ukrainian women and how they dealt with the situation while sheltering throughout the world”
Maryana adds, she felt less lonely after sharing her fears with others.
During some sessions, as Maryana listened to stories of other women, it felt like they shared the same challenges. “I realized I’m not alone with my pain. And I am grateful for that,” says Maryana, who also suggests other Ukrainian parents, who’ve been displaced, should join PORUCH. “I was looking for a safe place and I found it in the project.”