Side by side. Psychological and social support

STAN NGO together with an Austrian organization Hilfswerk International is providing psychosocial support for people who suffered from war. The teams have already been working in Ivano-Frankivsk, Zakarpattia, Volyn and Zaporizhzhia regions. We will tell what exactly and how exactly they are doing it, and why it is important, on the example of psychosocial support in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Sharing the burden

There is an old cartoon about a goat and his grief. Poor one, he cried a sack fool of tears, loaded it on his shoulders and started walking. Alone, silent, weighted down and in sorrow. He met a young goat and squirrels on his way, and they have taken a bit from his burden. The rest was eaten by chicken, and the goat’s grief was gone. 

This is a wise story. It reminds how important it is to have someone to share your pain. How important it is that people affected by war are not left alone. There should always be someone to help them to keep up. 

STAN NGO has been providing mental support almost since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Since then, they have managed to engage professionals from diverse fields, to support the internally displaced people and volunteers. This experience has shown the importance of comprehensive work. That’s why now, in the framework of a project “Emergency relief and protection of conflict affected IDPs in Ukraine, and of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova” STAN has created teams for psychosocial support, consisting of psychologists, social workers and educators. 

A bunch of inevitable problems 

Apart from mental support itself, the teams help people to adapt in new communities, to solve a whole bunch of inevitable problems. For instance, to register for humanitarian aid or social payments, to find an apartment, to send children to school or kindergarten. People need access to medical services, that means they need to understand where the nearest hospitals are and how to register with a family doctor. Need, need, need. Every matter is not highly complicated. It is possible to find out, to discover, to work it out. However, when one is distressed, and in a strange city – all these small things add pressure. And support with such issues is not less important than the mental help. The two things are indissoluble, after all. Try to focus on overcoming anxiety when you have no money and no place to live. 

The comprehensive approach is not just right, it is almost inevitable. People would always ask about different everyday matters, and one cannot ignore this. 

“Back in the summer, we were providing mental support at the hospital, and people had so many social requests. They did not have anyone to address. So they addressed us: how to find out about retirement payment, to bring something or buy something. It was all mixed together, which made our work more complicated. Now, in this project, we have an opportunity to separate. If someone has any questions, we direct them to a social worker. This is great”, says Anna Bivolkevych, a psychologist. 

 Daria Lahutina is responsible for the social work in the Ivano-Frankivsk team. She came from Vuhledar in Donetsk region. As an internally displaced person herself, she understands well the circumstances and the requests people have. 

“When I started working here, and before that, I’ve been waiting in the lines for humanitarian aid or to the administrative service center too. I talked to people giving them the same information I do now. It is not difficult for me, helping people is a nice thing”, says Daria. 

She gives advice where people could go with their different requests. Where they could get food or some household items like blankets, pillows, kitchen utensils. People often ask about their children’s education, and then Daria directs them to Nadiya Yarema, the educator. 

Nadiya organizes creative and educational classes in the spaces of friendly organizations such as Ya – Mariupol (I am Mariupol), Vdoma (At home). When people have specific requests about foreign languages or a speech therapist, Daria is looking for free opportunities for IDPs in the city. People ask about mental support too. 

We and our emotions

There are two psychologists in the psychological support team. For instance, in Ivano-Frankivsk, Anna Bivolkevych works with kids, and Olena Liuklian – with adults.

 First, there are open group sessions. Art therapy classes with clay workshops for adults take place every week. They are called “My clay house”. Craftswoman Zoriana Hoshovska is working alongside the psychologist Olena Liuklian. Similar classes are available for children, like drawing on water in ebru technique. 

“This is psychotherapy by itself. You can simply give children water and these paints – and you already have mental work. This is like magic. A picture is floating, moving, you can take a stick and mix it up. In such a technique, everyone can feel an artist. You don’t need to be good at painting, everyone is a creator”, says Anna Bivolkevych.

There are sessions of a deeper level. A mental support group “Me and my emotions” is run by Olena Liuklian. The idea is to have eight meetings with the regular participants. People meet each other and gradually they become more open. 

“They share their experiences and worries, and we find a response for them. Additionally, I’m giving them psychoeducation, explaining some basic things. It often happens that one participant tells about her worries, and another one responds with ‘I’ve thought it’s only me who has experienced this’. They can recognize something from themselves in another person. It helps to open up to another one, to recognize, and live through such things in a safe, acceptable environment”, says Olena.

“I feel relieved at every session. After all, we speak about things we normally don’t talk about with most of the people”, says Uliana, one of the participants.

Additionally, adults and children can register for individual consultations with the psychologists. They often do this after they try group sessions. 

“We have leaflets with our contacts. There are names and numbers, and people come with something very personal. With something they are particularly vulnerable at. They bring their pain. When someone does not find the courage to come for an individual consultation, he or she attends a group work. It is always easier to hide in a group. And they have a chance to get acquainted, to look at psychologists from afar”, Anna Bivolkevych explains.

Today and tomorrow

The leaflets with direct contacts of all psychological support specialists are distributed in every region where the shelters are located, no matter whether there are psychological support teams or not. Somebody from Zaporizhzhia or Nikopol can call a psychologist based in Zakarpattia. This information is also shared in the social networks of STAN, in messengers, in IDPs online communities. People need to know there is an opportunity to get help for free.

 Ihor Trydub, the project’s psychosocial support coordinator, underlines that currently it is not deep work with trauma they focus on, but the work intended to help people to collect themselves and find strength to move on. 

“Our work is mostly directed to lowering psychoemotional tension, to search for resources. It’s not a time to address deep problems when a person is not resourceful”, he says.

 On the other hand, it is important to plan work for the future. The project is a long term one, it will last at least until October 2023. But even if the war ends tomorrow, society will need to fight its consequences for a longer period.

 “We need to plan our work for several years, or even dozens of years. People often need time for self-recovery. They either wait for something, or firstly they adapt to a new place and after that they go to a therapist. It can happen even in two years. And we need to plan our work in a way that in two years we would be able to provide free support for those who need it’, says Anna Bivolkevych. 


 The project “Emergency relief and protection of conflict affected IDPs in Ukraine and of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova” is implemented by Hilfswerk International in partnership with NGO  “STAN” (Ukraine), Public organization for children and youth “Moştenitorii” (Moldova) and Public Association Gender-Centru (Moldova) and funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, and fundation “Nachbar in Not”.

 The main aim of this program is to contribute to providing humanitarian aid and enhancing the resilience of IDPs in Ukraine, and of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova by an emergency humanitarian relief and protection.

 It is expected, this program will respond for the needs of about 37500 the most vulnerable IDPs affected by the full-scale Russia’s invasion, and for the needs of Ukrainian refugees in Moldova through providing inclusive and safe access to humanitarian aid and the most necessary goods and services for women, men and people of all genders and ages.