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Ukraine: The "Queens of Autumn" coping together with the trauma of war


Emergency | Health | Ukraine | PUBLISHED ON January 24th 2024
A range of tools, like these cards, are used with the participants of these psychosocial support groups to help them share their emotions

A range of tools, like these cards, are used with the participants of these psychosocial support groups to help them share their emotions | © T. Nicholson / HI

HI runs support groups with the most vulnerable war-affected communities to help them share their emotions, forge ties and strengthen their resilience.

A group of around fifteen elderly people, mostly women, are impatient to get started. Some are residents; others are displaced people who have taken refuge in the town of Tsarychanka, where the workshop is being organised. Located to the north-west of Dnipro, this unassuming little town is home to 1,700 officially registered displaced people.

The aim of these support sessions is to reduce the chronic stress experienced by the victims of the conflict and to help them cope with their day-to-day difficulties, as Irina Yashchuk, project manager of HI's health project in Dnipro, explains:

"People are living with constant uncertainty and say they are also living in a state of permanent tension. If you don't know what's going to happen, you can't look to the future. The result of this chronic stress is a deterioration in people’s general health, particularly among the elderly."

By way of introduction, each participant is invited to talk about whatever comes to mind. For many, it's the past – and it stirs up raw emotions. One woman bravely declares:

"I miss my home town. I don't know anyone here and I don't communicate with people, but I can find that in this group."

The theme of the session is "autumn" and the emotions associated with the change of season. Two groups formed and gave each other nicknames: "Autumn Queens" and "Golden Age". On sheets of paper in autumn colours, the groups write what autumn means to them: fresh air, nature, harmony, beautiful landscapes, the birth of family members and the brightly coloured leaves. But when the air-raid siren sounds, their jaws clench and time stands still. The war is never far away.

Olena, one of the regulars at the psychosocial support group run by HI, speaks up. She sometimes feels depressed by the "constant stress of the last two years", but finds great comfort in these regular meetings. They give her "motivation, strength and energy".

"Today, a bloody war is raging in Ukraine. People are suffering every day from anxiety, worry, rocket fire and destruction... everyone is suffering – those under occupation, but also those enjoying relative peace. Everyone is affected by the war. That's why people need psychological relief, positive emotions, psychological support, so that the war doesn’t drive them crazy. Because life goes on," she concludes.

This need is borne out by the figures: the World Health Organisation estimates that more than 10 million Ukrainians have needed psychological support since the start of the conflict.

Providing victims of the conflict with psychosocial support remains one of HI's priorities in Ukraine two years after the invasion by Russia. Since 2022, HI has organised 3,700 individual and group psychosocial support sessions and 6,700 people have benefited from these activities.

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