E. Ukraine Volunteers Help Children Displaced by Violence

June 04,2015

KYIV— Ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine has displaced more than a million people. The violence and displacement have affected the psychological state of many of those, most worryingly - children. Volunteers, including psychologists, are trying to help.

This carnival-like atmosphere is a welcome and joyful distraction for these families, internally displaced persons (IDPs), who fled fighting in east Ukraine.

Maxim Maslyuk, his wife, and five children live in Kyiv after fleeing fighting in Luhansk nine months ago. But they're still having trouble adapting.

“It’s mostly about my daughter Diana. She’s fourteen - years - old and has adapted poorly with other kids of her age. Also, because she’s from the east. That’s a reason for the kids [to tease her] because kids at this age are very cruel," said Maslyuk.

Lesya Litvinova, a founder of the volunteer center that's running the event, says too many dismiss the displaced as rebel supporters.

She and her family got involved when she was a pregnant activist a year ago in Kyiv's central square. She wears a rubber bullet from clashes with riot police to remind herself why.

“Our generation will never come out of this situation of war. It doesn’t matter when it stops. Here and here (points to head and heart), it will stay for the rest of our lives," said Litvinova.

The center registers the newly displaced and arranges donated food, clothing, and medicine. But psychological trauma is a growing concern.

Olga, a mother of six from Mariupol, says they do their best to reduce stress among the families living the last few months at this resettlement house.

“The tension comes when you have to leave the ATO zone (anti-terrorist operation zone) and then you do not know where you will be living or working. And, this is not only reflected on the psychology of kids but on adults as well because they don’t know where they will be with the kids," said Olga.

Olga says while the facilities are cramped and less than ideal, the volunteer psychologists help a lot.

Coordinator Marina Breslavets says displaced children who experience armed conflict can face many challenges.

“Kids are afraid to sleep, to stay without grownups in a room, they also have high levels of aggression. Or, vice-versa, a kid happy with life and active suddenly becomes frozen," said Breslavets.

The Psychological Crisis Service has 500 volunteers across Ukraine, but project coordinator Valentina Bukovskaya says it could use more support.

“We don’t have the amount of help from the government that we need. What we need are governmental standards of rehabilitation, governmental programs of rehabilitation, and support for people who are suffering," said Bukovskaya.