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“Now the physiological needs have become a priority – to eat and sleep”: Tdh psychologists' in Ukraine account of the current situation of children in their country

2022-03-09

Once they reached a safer place, Yana and Anastasiia, Terre des hommes psychologists in Ukraine, shared their experience and described the current situation of children in their country:

"Before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine we worked with groups of teenagers. The topics we addressed were life skills, stress resistance and team building in the communities near the contact line. The basic needs of the children were met, they had access to water, food and medication. Based on this, it was possible to support their psychosocial well-being.

Over the past 13 days, people’s lives in our country have been turned upside down. The Tdh team has been focused on saving their own lives and those of their loved ones. Similarly, so did we. Many of us have been in bomb shelters all this time with no water, electricity, or telecommunications, and have not felt safe.

Some of us struggled to get to safe regions of the country while leaving families and homes behind. Along the way we saw panic, and even indifference and aggression from some people. We also felt homeless, abandoned, disconnected from our former lives. Only through the support of loved ones, the support of Tdh, and our own strength are we safe at the moment. But we don't know what will happen tomorrow, so the anxiety never leaves us.

As for those parents and children who are evacuating from shelled cities and settlements. The situation, to speak mildly, is terrible. We saw how mothers gave their children to strangers because they did not have enough place on the evacuation train, how children slept on the street because there were fewer and fewer places in temporary shelters. Children are separated from their parents, parents ask their friends and relatives to evacuate their children and simply "throw" children into trains, cars and buses.

Also, children who are evacuated with their parents sometimes spend several days on the road in dangerous shooting areas. There are traffic jams on the roads, and it is impossible to fill a car with fuel. If we talk about evacuation by train, children with parents spend hours in the freezing cold waiting in line for the train, where now the first priority is taken by mothers with babies, while parents with older children may not even get on after standing in line. Also in some settlements near railway stations, there are no shelters and no opportunity to take shelter in case shelling starts.

We are also very worried about the rest of our colleagues with whom we have not been able to contact for a long time. The cities in which they are located have been under fire for days. There is no electricity, water, gas, or telephone service in these cities. The only way for people to get information is through the radio. Ukrainian authorities are demanding that Russian troops respect the silence regime so that Ukraine can evacuate civilians or at least bring to them humanitarian supplies. But at the moment, the attempts are in vain. We hope that our colleagues will be all right. 

Having provided a safe environment for us, we immediately tried to get in touch with our beneficiaries. Many, unfortunately, are out of touch. There was and is terrible fighting in their regions. Only one teenager was able to get in touch with us. He is located in Zolote city, Luhansk oblast. His family cannot leave the city. There is a lot of military equipment around and shelling is going on. There is no water, there are also problems with access to food. The Internet is rare. And this is the situation in many cities and villages.

At the moment, the basic needs of children in settlements where there is active fighting are not met. Children have been in basements for two weeks. The basements are not adapted for living: there is complete unsanitary conditions, there are no toilets (children go to the toilet using buckets, which parents cannot empty outside because of the shelling). In some basements there is no water, parents have to wash their children with wet rags and napkins.

The food provision situation is even worse. Food for babies has run out on the shelves in stores, and the previously purchased supplies have run out, too. If parents manage to get food - it is not always suitable for children, children's bellies hurt, children experience constipation, and therefore they are constantly crying and yelling.

The older children eat only noodles and cereals, which, as long as there is electricity, are cooked by parents in multicookers in shelters. Food supplies are rapidly running out, and parents cannot take the humanitarian aid that is delivered to communities because of constant shelling at the point of distribution of humanitarian aid.

Due to the fact that children live in shelters, where there is mold and dust on the walls, they begin to get sick, runny nose, cough, fever, acute respiratory viral infections, bronchitis, and there is no medicine.

On the positive side, parents, neighbors, and kids unite and support each other, help each other. They share with each other everything they have.

Children react to stresses in different ways. Some sleep during shelling, some worry about their parents and don't let them go anywhere, not even to move a little. For some children, socializing with their peers during this time is enough. Younger children start crying, covering their ears and eyes.

Parents are under constant stress, which continues because of the constant shelling. Therefore, there is no energy left for psychological support for their children, children are afraid, loud noises cause them panic attacks, and they do not know how to cope with them and in general cannot adequately assess their condition and those basic psychological self-help skills that children have are not always remembered by them at such moments.

Adequate psychological help and support is possible only when basic needs are met.

As for remote psychological help and support – in some of the shelters there is no mobile communication. Perhaps mobile communication only appears when there is no shelling and people get to the surface of the shelters, and with a charged phone.

Therefore, unfortunately, the psychological state is now in second place. Now the physiological needs have become a priority – to eat and sleep. And then comes the sense of security."

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Terre des hommes has been providing various services to children and their families in Ukraine since 2015, with a strong focus on psychosocial support. Tdh is present with an office in Kyiv, a second one in Mariupol and a third one in Severodonetsk.

Tdh is setting up mobile teams in Moldova, Romania and Hungary to provide emergency help to refugees from Ukraine. Please support these efforts by donating here.