A year on, Ukrainians lean more on each other for emotional support

Monday, February 20, 2023

One year of war has taken a heavy toll on many Ukrainians, especially children, who have fled  bombs, life in bunkers and constant fear. Maksym, 14, is one of the lucky ones who made it to safety and is surrounded by care and support at the Borodyanka Center for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation.

“I dream that the war will end, and we will return home,” says Maksym, who is 14 years old. Home isn’t safe for him to return to, so he fled Kherson region in southern Ukraine last year.

“When the war started, I was very scared. I was afraid that a missile would come. I was very scared, afraid for my family, for my friends. Almost all my friends remained in the occupied area and I have no contact with them.”

Today, Kherson is still one of the most dangerous parts of Ukraine.

Maksym is living with his mother, Olena, and younger brother, Oleksandr, who is nine years old, in Borodyanka, which is near Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Both brothers attend school. It’s a reminder about their peaceful life before the conflict started.

However, one year on, many children are still adjusting to their ‘new normal’.

“I have a few friends, but I don't really want to make friends because I already have friends [back home]. I go to school. That's all. I study, I try to study and that's it,” shares Maksym.

His mother Olena is glad her children are again going to school, as it helps them establish a sense of their old lives again.

“Our children are studying at school because it’s important to study, to get their education. Of course, they meet new acquaintances and it distracts you from the war,” says Olena.

According to Ukraine's Ministry of Education and Science, over 2,600 educational facilities have been destroyed during the war. It’s not only children’s education that has suffered over the past year, but also their mental health.

“I think that the war has changed everybody. This war touched everyone, it’ll last forever. It’s impossible to forget. Children ... it scars them forever,” Olena says.

World Vision is working through local partners to address a range of issues affecting children, including helping children like Maksym resume their education and also connect with their peers.

The Borodyanka Center for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation offers a range of activities to suit children’s needs – from education support to art therapy classes and even social activities for displaced children. This work is supported by World Vision and the local organisation ‘Divchata’.

“This year has changed not only adults. This year has completely changed our children, they are different. Now it’s rare to see a group of children behaving like children - screaming, jumping and having fun" says Lyudmyla Boyko, who is the director of the Borodyanka Center for Social and Psychological Rehabilitation.

She added, "Children are filled with fear, they do not leave their parents, they spend less time with their peers ... sometimes they cry for no reason. It’s difficult to watch."

Lyudmyla explains children find support not only from program facilitators, but also from each other. Usually when children reach safety for the first time, they arrive confused and scared. But with time and dedication, staff are witnessing positive changes in the children’s behaviour as they relax and begin to feel comfortable again.

“We prepare children on the principle of ‘all are equal’. Other children help their peers by setting an example, as if they are bringing them back to their former lives. We need to work with children every minute, we need to support parents and help educational institutions,” says Lyudmyla.

The centre’s dedication to help children smile and resume their normal lives as much as possible during these times is a challenge, but an important step to protect the next generation from the long-lasting consequences of conflict.

Story by Oleksandra Shapkina, Communications Officer