A year of war has had a significant impact on people’s mental health, particularly children, which will last long after the war has finished, according to aid agency Depaul Ukraine.
The charity, which has worked in the country since 2007, is seeing children become increasingly isolated and withdrawn after being forced to leave their homes and witnessing horrific attacks.
For the past year, people in Ukraine have lived with bombings and missile attacks which have displaced millions, injured and killed thousands and left some too afraid to leave their bomb shelters.
Depaul Ukraine, part of the wider Depaul International group of homelessness charities, fears that as the humanitarian crisis deepens and millions are still without stable accommodation, the lasting impact on Ukrainian’s mental health will be felt long into the future.
Father Vitaliy Novak, CEO Depaul Ukraine, said:
“One year is a long, long time particularly for a child. Children have become isolated as they’ve lost their homes and can’t attend school. They’ve forgotten how to socialise and play. We see children are too anxious to go outside, the playgrounds here are empty.
“When the war first started people couldn’t believe what was happening and they were paralysed with fear. People are traumatised by the past year. But life has to continue, and people are resilient. We get strength from the support of the international community.”
Led by local people, Depaul Ukraine is providing emergency shelter, food and accommodation services which are vital first steps in regaining stability. Therapists offer psychosocial support on site and via mobile outreach workers in Kharkiv and Odesa. Psychologists are supporting hundreds of children between the ages of 4-16 by running therapy sessions where they get to play and be creative.
Iris* and her two sons aged 10 and 13 have lived in a bomb shelter since the beginning of the war, she said:
“My children started having psychological problems due to fear. My eldest son shut down. He retreated within himself and became withdrawn, stopped speaking, stopped eating and stopped sleeping. My youngest son was in crisis, he wanted to jump off this ‘carousel’ and asked me to stop it all. I had to simply take him in my arms, hug him and physically restrain because he did not understand that it was dangerous outside.
“Then, when the volunteers arrived, they offered psychological help. It got easier and became clear that the children were lacking positive emotions. The children missed their previous lives and were missing their childhood.”
Father Vitaliy adds:
“During our sessions, we create a normal environment where they can smile and play and grow. We see happy children again starting to play, being naughty, but this is a good sign, we are happy, as it shows they are normal children. This is the generation who will be rebuilding Ukraine, we need to support children for their sake, and also for the sake of the country.”
Thanks to generous donations, the charity has been able to upscale from helping 8,500 people a year to a full humanitarian response helping 30,000 people a day across the hardest-hit areas of Kharkiv, Odesa, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Uzhhorod and Zaporizhia.
Depaul helped over 3,500 households to survive the bitterly cold winter by rehabilitating bomb shelters and helping people to repair their homes.
Matthew Carter, Group CEO Depaul International, said:
“Our incredible team in Ukraine were there supporting homeless people before the war and in the last year have stepped up to provide lifesaving aid to thousands of people, day-in-day-out.
“Their work has never been more important. As a global group of homelessness charities, our teams all over the world see that poor mental health is both a cause and consequence of homelessness. It is therefore imperative children and their families have stable accommodation, but also urgent psychological support to begin to deal with the trauma of the last year and beyond.”
To support Depaul Ukraine’s lifesaving work, please donate here.