UKRAINIAN FAMILIES FACE A FUTURE OF LASTING PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS
By Vincent Lyn
The unprovoked assault by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s army on the sovereign nation of Ukraine has left the world in disbelief. While it is painful to see the direct impact of this war on human lives and livelihoods, this invasion will also produce less visible psychological wounds that could linger for generations.
Until very recently, Ukrainians lived a normal life. But that changed abruptly when, over the course of a few weeks, they witnessed their country being surrounded by Russia, armed by one of the world’s most lethal armies, directed by an unpredictable tyrant of a leader.
This fear and uncertainty was followed by direct threats to their lives and their loved ones when the full invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022. As Ukrainian cities came under attack, civilians saw explosions and death firsthand and began experiencing immediate disruptions to basic resources like electricity, food and water, and problems with reliable communication with loved ones. Explosions, death, displacement, and fear. The Russian invasion of Ukraine will have long-term consequences for Ukrainians and especially for the many children that have been uprooted from when their families had to flee the fighting
Ukrainians are also experiencing agonizing feelings of injustice and unfairness as their hard-earned democracy and freedom are being unjustifiably threatened, leaving some feeling insufficiently supported by their allies.
There are thousands of stories, too many to count, whose lives have been shattered and turned upside down by the unrelenting bombardment of the brutal Russian occupation.
This second trip to Ukraine has been much more punishing and shattering. An overload of information, it has been mentally draining and will take a considerable amount of time to process everything. Upon leaving Ukraine the family pictured here Mother Alyona and her two sons Maksym 13 and his younger brother Makar 8 were leaving Ukraine for a second time heading with our Team to Riga. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th Andrii decided it was better to get his family out and so rented a small apartment in Riga. For the first two months of the cruel and unforgiving war they spent the time in safety in Latvia. It seemed from the initial mass exodus of Ukrainian citizens numbering a staggering 5 million but slowly some mothers and their children returned to Ukraine. But, after more than four months the theatre of war has drastically changed and Andrii has decided once again his family need to leave Ukraine.
The family live north of Lviv in Lutsk which is approximately a 2 hour drive from the border of Belarus. Because of Putin’s recent decision to arm President Lukaschenko’s military and is planning to give Belarus the Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile systems, capable of firing missiles with nuclear warheads.
Putin said, “As we agreed with you, you raised the question about this, we have made a decision. In the coming months, we will transfer Iskander-M tactical missile systems to Belarus, which, as you know, can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting in Saint Petersburg.
Putin suggested that the two countries’ top defense and military officials work out details related to the matter. The two leaders voiced agreement, with Lukashenko noting that NATO has been carrying out training flights of nuclear-capable aircraft near his country’s borders, asking for help “to respond adequately.” He requested Russian assistance to either carry out a reciprocal response or “adapt” Belarusian aircraft to respond to the threat. Putin pointed out that the Belarusian army has a large group of Su-25 fighter jets that could be equipped as needed. “They could be upgraded accordingly. This modernization should be carried out at aircraft factories in Russia, but we will agree with you when to do it and start training flight personnel accordingly,” said Putin.
This has put the entire world on edge and so Andrii thinking proactively thought it better to have his family leave Ukraine again and stay in Latvia. They can then make a further determination on what to do over the course of the next couple of months. Upon the Team’s humanitarian aid to both Lviv and Kyiv we had space in our van enough for three passengers so we were more than happy to get them out to safety.
Andrii arrived with his family to meet us in Lviv and it was heart-breaking when the father dropped them off not knowing when they would all be reunited again. Seeing the father clutching his wife and children in a hugging embrace and everyone crying. Both sons held their father ever so tightly, I had to look away. It was too painful to look at knowing full well this is just the start of their journey yet again. There are so many brutal and painful sides to this bloody awful war. Families split apart all for what a madman and monster destroying a beautiful country. It leaves a wedge in your soul that is a heavy burden to carry.
WAR is horrific. Such a little word, such a depth of agony. Blood, death, conquest, starvation, plague, and always an obscene horror. I’ve witnessed it all but the most agonizing for me is seeing a family split apart. Two brothers Makysm 13 a talented ice hockey player and Makar 8 who’s sleeping surrounded by my Kevlar Vests and mother Alyona sits between her sons. We can all relate to the beauty and bond of family and for her to be now separated from her husband Andrii and their father is a crime in itself. War is brutal and unforgiving.
Nearly a quarter of the world’s children are estimated to live in countries affected by armed conflict or disaster.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the children are experiencing the devastating consequences of living in a war zone — the constant threat of shelling, shooting and losing loved ones, as well as the worry over accessing food, clean drinking water and healthcare, and the breakdown of their usual routines and structures. The legacy of this war will be a traumatized generation.
How a child’s mental health is affected will depend to a large extent on the support they receive from their caregivers. But this, too, becomes difficult during times of war as normal attachments are frequently disrupted. Some children could lose their caregivers, be separated from them as some members of the family flee and others stay behind to fight, or find that their caregivers are themselves too depressed or anxious or too preoccupied with protecting and finding subsistence for the family to be fully emotionally available.
For children, the detrimental effects of war trauma are not restricted to specific mental health diagnoses but also include a broad and multifaceted set of developmental outcomes that compromise relationships, school performance and general life satisfaction. This is exacerbated by the fact that violent conflict often destroys or significantly damages schools and educational systems. Without the structure offered by schools, children will need the adults in their lives to provide this; we have seen videos online of Ukrainian children in underground bunkers where adults are facilitating lessons and designated playtimes.
It isn’t just loved ones and routines children may be separated from. Many will have to flee their homes at short notice, leaving behind their treasured possessions, such as a specific ‘attachment object’ — usually a favorite blanket or a soft toy. Children often reach for these things when they need to feel safe. But during war, when children are forced to flee and need these objects more than ever, many are left without them.
Children have been the innocent victims in so many conflicts. What they see, hear and feel will have long-term consequences for them as they develop into adults. Many organizations are doing what they can to help protect and support children during times of war, but it is hard and, inevitably, many children will suffer. Food, water and disease become issues, all of which hit the most vulnerable the hardest. And even after conflicts end, families are scattered and broken, economies destroyed and neighborhoods obliterated. Some say there are no easy answers, rather naively I would say there is, to use diplomacy over violence.
War is not a symptom of a war-like nature; war is just evidence of how violence begets violence. The vicious cycle is broken only by nonviolence, as demonstrated by heroes of history who had the discipline, bravery and patience to prove it out. If violence were the solution to violence, it would have ended a long time ago.
CEO & Founder of We Can Save Children
Deputy Ambassador of International Human Rights Commission
Director of Creative Development at African Views Organization
Economic & Social Council at United Nations
Editor-in-Chief at Wall Street News Agency
Rescue & Recovery Specialist at International Confederation of Police & Security Experts