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Ukrainian Experts Study Australia's Treatment of Trauma Survivors

FILE - Children attend a group therapy class at the recovery camp for children and their mothers affected by the war near Lviv, Ukraine, Wednsday, May 3, 2023.
FILE - Children attend a group therapy class at the recovery camp for children and their mothers affected by the war near Lviv, Ukraine, Wednsday, May 3, 2023.

Mental health experts from Ukraine say they have been inspired by Australia’s treatment of refugees. During their visit to Australia, the experts said they hope their experience will help Ukrainian civilians and service personnel who have suffered bereavement, displacement and family separation since the Russian invasion.

Seven psychiatrists and psychologists from Ukraine have been in Australia for almost three months gaining insight into trauma treatments, especially for refugees, and the use of community-based practitioners.

Australia grants visas to about 13,750 refugees each year. In 2022, the Canberra government announced 16,500 additional places for displaced migrants from Afghanistan, a plan that runs through the end of 2026.

Advocates say Ukraine has had a tradition of stoicism, with men in particular not willing to speak openly about their problems.

Psychiatry has also faced suspicion in Ukraine because of its use by the former Soviet Union to label dissidents insane and imprison them. In Ukraine, most mental health care is based in hospitals and clinics, rather than in the community.

However, attitudes toward mental health are changing with help from Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska.

Dr. Dmytro Martsenkovskyi is one of the psychiatrists visiting from Ukraine. He told VOA that he is impressed with Australia’s approach to treating trauma survivors.

“It was very inspiring to see that Australia is not such a country where mental health is neglected," Martsenkovskyi said. "Probably this is related to the fact that Australia, every year, receives thousands of refugees, many of whom were war and trauma survivors. So, it is more like proper mental health care is a national strategy for Australia.”

Martsenkovskyi said a similar approach to treating mental health is needed in his homeland.

“A similar thing has to be in Ukraine now, especially taking in(to) account the massive violence, especially towards the civilian population in Ukraine during this war," Martsenkovskyi said. "We unfortunately have so many people who were exposed to various war-related events. We have many people who unfortunately lost some close person, either family relatives or friends due to the war and this definitely has a very negative impact on their mental health.”

The visit was funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and has involved work with the New South Wales state Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.

The Ukrainian experts also met with Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Penny Wong and the New South Wales state Minister for Mental Health Rose Jackson.

Australia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Ukraine’s war effort following the Russian invasion in February 2022. It has sent missiles as well as armored and special operations vehicles, trucks and trailers.

Canberra has also imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian politicians, including President Vladimir Putin, military commanders and businesspeople. They are the most sweeping penalties Australia has ever placed on another country.