Accessibility links

E. Ukraine Volunteers Help Children Displaced by Violence

  • Daniel Schearf

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.

Maxim Maslyuk, his wife, and five children fled fighting in Luhansk nine months ago and now live in Kyiv, where a recent carnival proved a welcome and joyful distraction.

But they're still having trouble adjusting to their new circumstances.

Maslyuk said his daughter Diana, 14, "has adapted poorly." Other youngsters her age tease her "because she’s from the east," he said. "... Kids at this age are very cruel."

Lesya Litvinova, a founder of the volunteer center that's running the event, said 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 as a reminder.

"Our generation will never come out of this situation of war. It doesn’t matter when it stops," Litvinova said. Pointing to her head and heart, she added: "Here and here, it will stay for the rest of our lives."

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, said center personnel 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 [anti-terrorist operation zone] and then you do not know where you will be living or working," Olga said. "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."

While the facilities are cramped and less than ideal, the volunteer psychologists help a lot, she said.

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

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

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," she said.