UNICEF's mobile teams light the way for families in Ukraine
Psychologist Svitlana is helping children and their families to find the support they need, as a member of one of UNICEF’s multidisciplinary teams.
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"Kids, draw your mood for me, please," announces psychologist Svitlana Todovchych to a room of children, at a centre for internally displaced people (IDPs) in the village Perechrestia.
Soon, all of them are discussing every picture in detail and the children, who have lost their homes and witnessed brutal violence as a result of the wr, are immediately calmer.
As a psychologist in one of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s 168 Ukrainian mobile multidisciplinary teams, Svitana is determined to help these children thrive.
"In the early days of full-scale war, together with other psychologists, we created a self-help group and support community called ‘Talk to Me’ on social media,” says Svitlana, who has been a psychologist for 20 years. “I immediately got involved into work with IDPs. And as soon as I got an invitation from UNICEF, I joined the mobile team. I believe it's a really important job. We visit places where displaced people are living to listen to their worries, support them and show them how to overcome all those feelings and find a way to continue living."
Around 80 IDPs, including 36 children, currently live at the centre in Perechrestia. They arrived from different parts of Ukraine, but all share similar stories of war, missiles and bombs.
"Our task is to respond to the living situation of people who came to our region after fleeing the war,” says Svitlana. “And it's definitely a professional challenge for us, as the stories of these people are so complicated and sometimes so tragic.”
“We explain what we are doing and how we can help with different issues or refer them to specialized services if needed. It helps a lot. All our specialists help people solve their issues, such as healthcare services, living places, pensions, registration, passport issuance and so on.”
UNICEF’s multidisciplinary teams consist of four professionals – a social worker, a lawyer, a psychologist and a medical worker. Svitlana’s team regularly visits the shelter in Perechrestia to help with urgent needs, assist with documentation, offer medical support and even just listen.
“Psychology is my life and a hobby I love,” says Svitlana. “I also coordinate other psychologists in our community. My profession is to help and serve people, to support them when needed. A psychologist should bring light when a person is looking for the right way. And I want to be this light. A psychologist lights the way for a person and gently helps them realise where to go.”
"The most important thing is to listen to a person,” she adds. “There are a lot of cases of people losing their homes, the usual rhythm of life, their property and achievements, and, of course, there are a lot of stories of huge pain for their children as you cannot explain to your child why this is happening. There are also many stories of children experiencing the war: some of them became silent, some face stress and start stammering or having nightmares."
Svitlana also find strength in the people she helps. She has been particularly inspired by one elderly couple and their 50-year-long love story. Although they have lost everything, their love is stronger than ever, and they continue to support each other.
"I was always worried about them because of the event they had to overcome, but at the same time, I was happy that they have each other and didn't lose their feelings, which seem to become even stronger,” she says. “When I visit them, I feel empowered.”
However, there are many stories of tragedy, and Svitlana works hard to make a difference.
"One woman lost her husband in a bomb shelter and didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to him,” says Svitlana. “I met her when she had already overcome the first phase of grieving. In such a situation, our task is to provide support, to help find a resource to keep living and don't give up. I'm glad that we managed to do it, she sees a way forward and is ready to keep going after overcoming and releasing everything that happened to her at the beginning of the war."
UNICEF and its partners are working hard to provide support to children and their families in Ukraine. Since 24 February, almost 5 million children and women in Ukraine have been able to access primary health care in UNICEF-supported facilities and through mobile teams.
"Working with UNICEF is a great opportunity,” says Svitlana. “The support they provide is really important and we can not only help people who need it, but also personally develop, as we can learn, get valuable experience and be trained with the help of international specialists and useful sources. At the same time, our working process is convenient for people as they do not need to go somewhere: we come to them, support them and provide all the necessary information.”
"Each person who told us their story, who trusted us, who I made a connection with and who I hugged, as well as each child who told me about their drawing, about their dream – they all turned my life upside down, they changed it. I'm different now.”