Letters on Ukraine

We have reached out to those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and will share their letters and calls for support here.

24 February. I woke up near 4 a.m., because of the explosion near my house. We live between the military airport and proving ground, so are used to such sounds. But this was different. Viktoriia, my wife, opened Facebook and said that war had begun. We were under attack. 

All necessary things had already been prepared, just in the case. We woke our son, called parents and made emergency plans. My first thought was the safety of my family. I planned to move them as far as possible, make them safe, and then return to fight by all means. All the way, we argued about my returning and tried to make plans. We saw the endless column of the cars moving to the safe regions, the vehicles with supplies and reinforcement, and faces of territorial defence on the block posts. It was frightening and inspiring at the same time. 

We made it to Lviv, had a short sleep at night, were in the shelter from air attacks a few times, and moved further. We were lucky to rent the hotel room, as there were no free places around. Now hotel owners accept all people and let them stay in the schools, private houses etc. After sheltering the families, many men came back to resist, fight, join volunteers, or help with the transportation of supplies.

First thought was to flee across the border. But after a while, after seeing the brutality of attacks, after deaths of children, bombing children’s hospitals and living quarters, we understood that we have no right to be away. So, we are staying to fight by those means that we have – redirection of the Mental Health for Ukraine Projectactivities from developmental to MHPSS scheme, preparing and sharing a recommendation on Psychological First Aid, children's psychological safety, and support for people with mental disorders, supporting the psychologists-volunteers on the hotlines and those who are working in field. 

Yesterday a bomb hit 300m from our house… good that we decided to leave. Another bomb hit living quarters near a perinatal centre, a few kilometres from the house of our parents. All are frightened, but all are angry and staying to fight back, to support defenders, to show that we are the nation of freedom. 

What are the needs for now? 

Direct provision of supplies will be a challenging task. A lot of needs, from the tourniquets to protection equipment. You can help. You can make donations directly to the Ukrainian government, or if it is your personal choice not to support armed forces, you can donate to the charitable fund ‘Povernys zhyvym’ (‘Come back alive’). Your donation will be used to buy the protection and medical supplies. 

Even a small donation will make a difference, particularly if you can help us to reach many others. Please post about the invasion, and ask your government to close the sky for Ukraine. 

Thank you, all my friends and colleagues! Together we stand, together we win! 

Vitalii Klymchuk is a coordinator for a community-based mental health services development, Mental Health for Ukraine Project. Viktoriia Gorbunova is a Professor of Psychology at Zhytomyr State University.

 

'Imperial stereotypes about Ukraine and the world in general should be destroyed' 

As a political psychologist, I have hundreds of associations with the current war. I could write about the state and dynamics of the Ukrainians' political consciousness, which I have been studying since 1994. About interaction of the pro-Ukrainian majority and the pro-Russian minority in Ukraine. About the polarization of political attitudes. About the Ukrainians’ paradoxical attitude to the government (one of my favorite topics).

However, I feel that I do not want to talk about all this. I have written and talked too much on these topics, so the brain refuses to analyse them.

Instead, I will tell you about today's exit to the city.

In the morning there were three air alarms, which my wife and I spent in our apartment on the corridor between the two capital walls. 

My wife needs medicine, which is allegedly in a pharmacy 3.5 km from us. I'm going out.

There are few people on the street. Cars drive sparsely. I am walking fast (I usually walk fast). It snows a little, so I threw a hood over my head.

Suddenly I hear a "goop-goop-goop" behind me – as if someone is running after me. I look around. There is no one. I go on; it is stomping again, and again no one. What the hell? I listen carefully and understand that this hood rubs against my head and creates such a noise for the ears. I've been wearing this jacket since the autumn, but I've only heard that "stomping" now. Just the feeling intensified.

A dog runs out of the side street, where some warehouses and workshops are located, and looks at me intently. Obviously wants to eat. Apparently, there is no one to feed him. Sorry. Our professional trait of empathy is sometimes troublesome.

An accident can be seen at the intersection. Three cars, two of them seriously have broken, one easier. There is no one left – no drivers, no police. It seems that the guys relaxed because of the small traffic on the streets and allowed themselves to speed.

The siren begins to howl. The wife begged to hide during the air alarm. I look around. There are no signs of shelter nearby. The few people walking the streets do not run away or hide. I succumb to collective reflexes and move on.

Near the small kiosk with the proud name "Baking" there is a queue of 20 people. The siren is ignored, they stand quietly. I decide to stand in line and buy some bread and sweets. While standing, I hear that people are buying a lot of different products. It turns out that this small kiosk has an assortment of almost a big deli. Since my wife complained that we have too little stock, I also decide to buy a little more.

At first it seemed that the queue was 15 minutes. But it took more than half an hour, because everyone was buying more than usual. The elderly saleswoman communicates wearily, but tries to be clear. I bought almost everything I needed. Only sour cream remained from the dairy. I also bought a jar of cat food for that dog (dog food was no more).

The bag turned out to be heavy. I decide to return home with it and go to the pharmacy again. There were fewer impressions on the way back. Probably because the heavy bag distracted me. 

I have not met the dog. So I gave the cat food to a concierge who, as far as I know, feeds cats in a house next door.

I also wanted to share the products with her, but she assured me that she had enough. She offered to pass them to one of the apartments where the elderly couple lives. Of course, I agreed.

I came home. The wife said she had medicine for two days, so I don't have to go to the pharmacy today.

I sat down at the computer to do my usual job of writing texts, but with new content and new purposes.

As a political psychologist, I believe that an extremely important area of ​​our work is to influence the Russian citizens' minds. Their imperial stereotypes about Ukraine and the world in general should be destroyed.

We are doing this now, but we have few channels of communication with the Russians. Perhaps our Western colleagues could help us in this by conveying to their Russian acquaintances their European view of the Russian-Ukrainian war, of Russia's place in the modern world, and of Putin as a person and as a phenomenon.

Part two

Today is the 20th day of the war. Ukraine is holding up amazingly!

Today is a special day for me because my 93-year-old mother died on this day two years ago. I am not a religious person (she was not either), but to honour her memory I went to church, put a candle in front of the icon, even whispered ‘Our Father’…

It is alarming in Kyiv. Compared to less fortunate cities such as Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Mariupol, Sumy, Bucha, Irpin, etc., the capital is better protected by the air defence system. Only some of the missiles fly here. Artillery shelling has intensified recently. Air alarms last longer than non-alarm intervals. We react sluggishly, hiding in the corridor between the load-bearing walls, because it is far to the nearest bomb shelter. We did not sleep for several hours that night because of loud explosions nearby.

There is a lot of information about the general situation, and it is terribly diverse. We try to get information from official sources. It sometimes looks embellished, but it is a little reassuring. I have always believed that the truth must be told in every political situation. Now I understand that during war unpleasant truth undermines and weakens. I become a supporter of propaganda.

There is fatigue around. People communicate calmly, even exhausted, they save energy. I do not hear conflicts and hysteria.

Friends and acquaintances write and call. I receive dozens of invitations to move to them – both from Ukraine and abroad. I have to explain why we are not going. Every time I look for some convincing reason, but it does not always work.

I ask myself this question. I don't want to leave. My wife wants to, but she won't leave without me. I persuade her to go alone. No. In addition, her son, daughter-in-law and grandson remain in Kyiv. So we are not leaving yet.

I analyse myself: why don't I want to leave Kyiv? Here is a list of reasons I realised.

I have a strong Ukrainian identity. It tells me that our main and probably only mental enemy is Russia. It is important only to the Russians that we stop being ourselves and become them. I don't want to give in to them, so I don't want to back down.

During our second Maidan in 2013-2014 and the subsequent fighting in the Donbas, I was mostly passive, because in the autumn of 2013 I had a major operation and became disabled. Now I have a complex that important events of that time went without my patriotic contribution. I think I want to make up for it now.

Some of my friends admire my ‘heroism’. I don't feel like a hero, but some part of my ambition has awakened. Strange, because I thought I had long since overcome my former young ambition. I have the status and authority in scientific and academic circles, I live an interesting scientific life, and I have repeatedly refused attractive career offers. And now I feel a kind of excitement, a desire to express myself again. Is this the return of youth?

I'm a little curious: how will one live in the conditions of Russian occupation? What will there be more of – the horror of the occupation itself or the realities of the Soviet past? Some kind of irrational masochism.

I want to think that my stay here will make some sense and be useful for the common cause. It is a naive desire, because it is of little use, and what I do here can be done in evacuation. However, the opinion that one of ‘ours’ should stay here supports me. It would be better if it was me than someone young.

I try to do what I can. I write psychological texts for the military at their request. I am waiting for the resumption of classes at universities. Here at home I have everything at hand. I will feel a lot of inconvenience on the way out. I'd like to be inert and, as far as possible, change nothing.

This is a brief rationalisation of the reasons for my stubborn behaviour.

Vadym Oleksandrovych Vasiutynskyi is Professor of Psychology at the Institute of Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine

The merit of the invisible

On 23 February, my daughter turned 8-years-old. The country was already tense – at the leadership level there were talks about a possible invasion. We invited children to the party and for the first time in my life I was worried not about the cake and entertainment, but about the fact that nothing happened. We celebrated her birthday. On this day, everything was quiet.

But on 24 February, at about 4.30, I woke up to my husband's words, ‘Irusya, it seems to have started!’. We heard explosions. They were somewhere far away and not very audible. At least we weren't terrified.

My first predictions were that they would shoot at Kyiv. Even the eastern regions and cities would not be touched, because there are many Russian-speaking Ukrainians there. Putin's government seeks to ‘protect’ them – at least that's what he says. We in the suburbs of Kyiv will be relatively safe in general, I told myself. I even wanted to invite my colleagues from Kyiv to come to us.

At first it was decided that the whole family would stay at home. I could not even imagine that by the evening of the same day and for all the following days, my city, small, cozy, almost a resort, will be one of the hottest spots where battles are going on.

I am infinitely grateful to those people who warned and insisted on our departure and to those who took us away and offered us all the living conditions in a safer part of Ukraine. We hide in the shelter several times a day, but there was no shelling here. But my husband remained in our city. I am extremely worried about him, as well as for everyone who is now in the shelling zones. There are my friends, relatives, my students.

At first, I felt ashamed that I had left with the child, and some stayed there and sat around the clock in the cold basements with small children. Then I accepted this fact and realised that being relatively safe here with a stable internet, I can do much more for my country than if I were there.

Now I act from my different professional positions.

As a psychologist-practitioner with many years of experience, I provide psychological assistance and conduct crisis counseling and mass educational activities online to stabilise the emotional state. This direction helps me to stabilise myself, to feel that you are really helping someone. And it gives strength and inspiration to work.

As a social and political psychologist, I try to write about what is happening. To some extent to analyse, but mostly to reflect. Analysing the psychology of the situation is very hard, under excessive stress. Even this letter I could not begin for several days. Through my text, I communicate with other Ukrainians and acquaintances abroad. I receive feedback how it is extremely important, necessary and supportive for them.

As the President of the Association of Political Psychologists of Ukraine, I coordinate the work of several working groups of experts who solve current issues.

As a scientist, I have a lot of contacts abroad with professional communities. We have prepared a number of appeals to our foreign colleagues and they have already united in support of Ukraine. We are grateful for the opportunity to communicate with foreign colleagues, to tell the truth about the horror that is happening right now in Ukraine, in our hometowns and villages.

It so happened that the hottest spots in Ukraine are cities that are close to my heart. Gostomel and Bucha are my hometown where my family and me live, where my child goes to school. Here, next to our house and school, there are the fiercest battles for access to Kyiv. Destroyed infrastructure, blasted airport, cut off communication with Kyiv, because bridges and roads were broken-down. But Bucha is under the control of the Ukrainian authorities and this is the most important thing.

My nativetown Sumy, where I grew up, where my family and friends live. Lebedyn and Okhtyrka (North-Eastern border with Russia) are the region where my parents come from, where my relatives live now. Active bombing is constantly on these areas. Russian equipment is passing through the villages. And Russian saboteurs are hiding in our incredible pine forests.

Kyiv is the city where I work. My colleagues and friends are under constant fire.

Newborn babies, orphans – all have been sitting in shelters for a week. The beautiful city Kharkiv is Russian-speaking, bombed by Russian military aircraft, Russian ‘peacekeepers’ who seem to be rescuing Russian-speaking people in Ukraine.

And every time I get terrible news from those places, my heart breaks.

Before, even thinking that Russia could launch a full-scale aggressive war against Ukraine, it was scary and Ukraine's relative weakness was felt, because this great power even inspires fear with its size. It has now become absolutely clear the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Territorial Defense will defend every inch of our land. Most of our men were mobilised. There are queues at the military enlistment office, and they do not end. Those who did not mobilise help as a volunteer. This is the merit of the Ukrainian people, who united, mobilised and felt their invincible strength. There are already jokes about this people, our cleverness and feats, and they will do it for a long time. Society is looking for a way to heal. 

This is the merit of the invisible but extremely powerful information front, which has been joined by millions of Ukrainians. This is thanks to our international friends and partners, who have imposed extremely strong sanctions that will simply force the Russians to take to the streets against their authorities. 

We Ukrainians have never had hated for Russians and Belarusians. My inner feeling is that Ukrainians are defending not only their lands, but also helping Russians and Belarusians to free themselves from their internal enemy, their authorities. The regime, against whom they themselves are afraid to go out. There will be no better time and no better opportunity.

Iryna Hubeladze, Doctor of Sciences, head of Mass and Communities Psychology Department at the Institute for Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukrainepresident of Association of Political Psychologists of Ukraine.

'War rages not only in Ukraine'

I am a wholly pacifist person. I graduated from school in Makeyevka (which was occupied in 2014) but since 1996 I have lived in Kyiv. For almost a year, after receiving reports of a bomb hitting the house where I grew up, about heavy artillery shelling of the yard of my home school, I rebuilt my picture of the world. First, with the aim to overcome fear and not be scared to die. And only in the second year – to be ready to kill if the enemy threatens my loved ones. 

I understand how wild what I am writing may seem to people who live in peace, who want to stay away from a war that is going on somewhere far away. The war is not far away. Our planet is very small for this war. The whole of Europe is already facing potential risks from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was captured by Russian troops. Zaporizhzhe nuclear power plant (in town Energodar) is under Russian bombing. Everyone should know this. Don’t waste time rebuilding your picture of the world. There may not be enough time.

Lyubov Naydonova

As a result of the unambiguousness of our desire for freedom to choose the European vector of development, including geopolitical and ethical, we have tremendous experience of the dynamics of the inner world, including where ‘civilization’ sits in the conceptual confusion between Nazism and nationalism. We feel more keenly the fear and pride of Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, the Czech Republic (all countries of the so-called socialist camp), which had a similar history of losing people and territories during World War II. We better understand our current fears and anger together.

All of these countries have experienced suffering from totalitarianism. We can create a ‘cognitive outline’ of understanding the current problem, insights from those who have already experienced the effects of weakness in the face of a global threat of totalitarianism. These are the consequences in the form of war. The experience of overcoming this duality (living in alternative realities of a torn consciousness) is what the civilized world should be based on, a civilized world which even finds it difficult to imagine that such cynical meanness can exist. Civilization must not fall into the trap of involuntary support for information and military aggression.

Mykhaylo Naydonov

We truly thank you for the international support we feel for Ukraine. This inspires and helps us all to withstand and repel the attacks by the Russian Federation on our peaceful cities and villages.

War rages not only in Ukraine. This is an attack by totalitarianism on human civilisation in general. Totalitarianism with its technologies of creating an alternative (false) reality primarily for its own citizens, through the transformation of the state into a terrorist machine using intimidation, arrests, falsification and information blockades. Totalitarianism must be destroyed. It is a psychosocial pathology that needs treatment, because it lies outside a civilised ethical system. It is a pathology of consciousness, given a voice by the media as an alternative reality.

We must work on the criteria of such pathology, formulate them clearly and professionally. Create new rules. This is one of the fuses to light: there must be many of them. You can't put it off.

Today, the request from Ukrainian psychologists to international organisations and foreign countries is to ensure the organisation of green corridors of humanitarian aid to each of the settlements that are blocked by Russian troops. Women, the elderly, children, have been trapped in basements for more than a week without the most basic life needs – water, food, medicine. It is important for us to save every life. These green corridors, the establishment of logistics in light of the ongoing missile strikes, are the main demand for today.

Lyubov Naydonova and Mykhaylo Naydonov
Ukrainian Psychologists

Nothing but reality

I’m from suburban Kyiv, one of the ‘hot spots’. Not the hottest one, but Russian helicopters which were flying above my yard on the first day of the war was good enough reason to leave. 

Now me, my three kids (4, 11, and 16 years old), my husband, my two cats, and my dog are safe in Lviv. We’re volunteering here now and my husband is going back to Kyiv to help there. My parents stayed in Kyiv, they refused to leave their home. Every time I call them, they say, “Everything is ok, don’t worry, explosions are not that loud, and take care of the kids and yourself”. Many of my close friends stayed in Kyiv and suburban, some of them are blocked by occupants. I’m a volunteer but it seems that almost everyone is. 

Those are the facts. That is the reality, a new reality of mine. Compared to thousands, millions of Ukrainians it’s an extremely good, great, and comfortable reality. We have just left the home of our dreams (we’ve moved in a few months ago) but we are safe.  

It’s hard to write something beyond the facts. What I can write about feelings? As a CBT therapist, I used to teach people to name their feelings. But it doesn’t work now. We’re feeling something more, something that can’t be named and can’t be classified. You knew everything from the news – our shock, our grief, our helplessness, our courage, our braveness, our fear, our kindness, our guilt, our compassion, our hate, our humor, and our rage.  Could you imagine that you feel all the feelings, literally all, at the same time and in the strongest way? Could you imagine that everyone near you feels the same? Could you imagine that all this happens in the dangerous, unknown, and extremely unstable world? 

It’s hard to write something beyond the facts. How can I analyze what’s going on? The war is going on. When you take one fact of reality and try to explain it, it’s the same that you try to catch and describe one piece of mosaic created by an insane kaleidoscope rotating at the craziest speed you can think of. Being a PhD in Social Psychology and researcher working in Social Identity Theory framework, I used to analyze and explain social processes, but I won’t do it now. Theoretically, I can find some explanations and ‘scientific’ words for what’s going on. But in reality, it means nothing, absolutely nothing. 

The war is our new reality. Dreadful, shocking, but the only reality we have for now. And we are doing our best to change it to the peaceful one. Ukraine is our home – the one and only we have and we have no other way than to fight. But we do need your help. On behalf of myself and my friends, who are in extreme danger now, I’m asking you to push your government to close our sky. Then, someday soon, maybe we’ll together analyze and describe all this in proper scientific terms.

Olga Kukharuk

PhD in Psychology, Researcher at the Institute of Social and Political Psychology of the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of Ukraine, CBT therapist

What war does to us…

I live in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. From the first day of the war, Ukraine became the scene of protracted battles, artillery and rocket attacks, air raids. It’s a tragic situation, which politicians and journalists often call by the abstract term ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ (HC). What is the Humanitarian Catastrophe in Chernihiv as of March 2022?

It is regular artillery and rocket attacks on the city, and shelling with cluster munitions of Chernihiv residents’ queues standing for bread or water. It’s the casualties among the civilian population, which no one can accurately calculate. It’s days and even nights spent in ordinary basements, are officially called ‘shelters’ although there are simply no conditions for salvation there. We see the psychological traumatisation of ‘people from the basements’: in particular, tantrums and nervous breakdowns among adolescents who have been in a state of fear for a long time.

It is a complete lack of hot water and heating, with the temperature outside dropping to freezing or even lower at night. This is the lack of gas in many areas of the city, leaving us struggling to simply cook food. We constantly search for water throughout the city, walking several kilometers with 10-15 litre plastic water bottles. I was without electricity for nine days… refrigerators and freezers defrost, many prepared foods deteriorate. Shops, pharmacies, ATMs are closed, or at the few exceptions there are long queues and no guarantees they will open or have stock. 

Mobile communications and the internet are only partially working – you cannot contact other people, or even find out what is happening in the country and the world at all. It was initially difficult to leave the city, with no official ‘green corridors’. At the end of March, after the automobile bridge across the river Desna was bombed and the pedestrian bridge was seriously damaged, this possibility just disappeared.

Perhaps most of all, there is almost complete uncertainty. No one has clear answers to the questions “Will the lights be turned on today?”, “When will there be water?”, “Will they bring bread?”, “Will they shoot today?” , and most importantly – "When will it all end?".

Under these conditions, the phenomenon of psychological adaptation begins to manifest itself actively. As a teacher of psychology, I often told my students about the amazing plasticity of the human psyche, its ability to adapt to the most difficult, sometimes unbearable circumstances. In February-March 2022, I (like many other Chernihiv residents who stayed in the city) had a chance to experience this for myself, along with the peculiar dynamics of this adaptation.

Initially, you get used to the sight of armed people and military equipment in the city, checkpoints, empty streets, long lines. Later, adaptation to more extreme events and situations begins. You gradually get used to the sounds of air raid alerts, volleys and explosions, even little by little you begin to distinguish between them: “allies are shooting – enemies are shooting”, “cannon – mortar - “Grad”, etc. But full adaptation does not occur. For residents of Chernihiv, one of the most terrible memories is the sound of low-flying aircraft, which, as a rule, was followed by an explosion of dropped bombs.

You begin to get used to the sight of ruined houses, which stand with broken window frames and glass, torn apart or burnt walls and roofs. The crunch of broken glass underfoot in many areas of the city becomes a familiar sound. You get used to the sight of clouds of thick smoke that rise from behind the nearest houses, and the thought “What was fired this time?”.

You gradually get used to the new rhythm of life, in which many familiar things become completely inaccessible (working at the computer, watching TV, reading a book in the evening, regularly observing the usual sanitary and hygienic standards, cooking the usual food, etc.). For example, you get used to ‘ostensibly washed’ (that is, slightly rinsed with water) cups and plates, hands and face, uncleaned dust on the floor and furniture.

You get used to denying yourself and your child simple things (an extra piece of scarce bread or some sweets, habitual walks, etc.). You get used to a cold apartment and being at home, dressed in a few sweaters, socks and wrapped in a blanket.

You get used to falling asleep and waking up thinking about how many loaves of bread, litres of water and phone battery charge are left...

Then you begin to gradually get used to the most terrible consequences of war – human deaths (though strangers’). You are no longer touched by the sight of a huge refrigerator-freezer which is installed near the city morgue, which you regularly pass when going for water. You are no longer that shocked by the information that as a result of this or that shelling, so many inhabitants died, and they are buried in temporary graves (because the city cemetery is under shelling).

Your consciousness goes into some kind of ‘energy-saving mode’, in which emotions try to save themselves and thoughts try not to linger on everything that happens for a long time ...

From time to time there is an acute desire to wake up and realise that all this was some kind of protracted nightmare. But alas, this is the reality for inhabitants of Chernihiv. 

Oleksandr Drozdov, Doctor of Psychology, Head of the Department of General, Age and Social Psychology named after M.A. Skok of the National University "Chernihiv Collegium" named after Taras Shevchenko.

Needs, stereotypes and reasons for helping

Yustyna Holubets, a member of the British Psychological Society, on the reception for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

On 5 March, after my mother and I stood in the crowded queue for 12 hours, we travelled in a crowded train for 20 hours until we appeared at the refugee shelter in the middle of Poland. The shelter where we stayed was in a rural province called Swietokrzyskie Voivodeship, with an administrative centre in Kielce. 

The way we were received went beyond the basic, if we think in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs: 

-physiological: heated rooms, fresh beds, hot shower, everyday cleaning, humanitarian help; 

-security: the hotel provided privacy and relaxation; full board of diverse and delicious fresh food served in enormous portions, homemade cakes brought by local people; the feeling of home. 

-social: the hotel management engaged priest, lawyers, bankers, doctors and university tutors with assistance of translators to organise legal consultations, medical care, Polish lessons, free transfers to the city, and children registration for school and sports. The reception workers demonstrated attention to even a smallest request. Fast wi-fi connection was available in every room.

-self-actualisation: the shelter location was a holiday resort in a pine wood with a lake. Nature had a therapeutic and healing effect upon mental and emotional health.

Some of the refugees were impressed by the unexpected comfort, felt gratefulness and appreciated each day in calmness. Sadly, the behavior of others left a lot to be desired. People were throwing food, demanding service, ignoring Polish lessons, attempting a drunken party the police put a stop to. Maybe that was down to post traumatic stress, or not fully taking in the situation. It was sad to watch how in just two weeks the openness and acceptation of Polish people were replaced with puzzlement, bewilderment, frustration, and disappointment. 

The Stereotype Content Model, proposed by Susan Fiske and others,  may illustrate this transition. The intensity of the ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’ dimensions defines four attitudes: pity, admiration, contempt and envy. As refugees would presumably be considered of ‘low-status’ on the ‘competence’ dimension, the change in perception occurs across the ‘warmth’ scale, varying between paternalistic and contemptuous attitudes. It seemed to me that the level of Polish warmth decreased and compassion turned to contempt.

Thankfully, my own relations with Polish people at a personal level were characterised by high warmth. My gratefulness motivated me to write to the Kielce administration, and to my surprise I received a warm response from the Mayor. My Polish friends and their families – despite their issues, pregnancy, funerals, job change – were emotionally involved in our situation, hosting and providing us with all necessary things.

The Polish help perhaps supports the ‘mutualism’ hypothesis, when tendency to help derives from survival purposes and solidarity with a fraternal Slavic people, or even a ‘competitive altruism’ hypothesis when helping others enhances status and national self-esteem. We have now moved on to Germany, where the attitude in Rottweil seems watchful. German people appear curious, critically evaluating the situation and the refugees. Perhaps their helpfulness stems from high empathy towards this particular situation (see Batson’s empathy-altruism hypothesis). Despite the economic consequences of war, German people are still ready to host, feed, deal with registration bureaucracy, and involve us in their everyday life of hiking, cultural events, and socialising.

'Time has turned into an ongoing now, today'

What change did the war bring to my life? Well, it's still going on. The first days, even a couple of weeks, there was a feeling of unreality. There is still a strange sense of temporality and ‘not-quite-reality’ of that life in another city, in another country that exists now. How long are we here? I want to go back, but it's too early. Displaced people from Donbass, when they write, they say, ‘settle down, wherever you are, for a long time. We also left Donetsk in 2014 with the thought that we would return in two weeks...’ So the usual way of life remains far away, physically and in time. Another life. Before the war. 

Here everything is new: you have to learn routes, roads, where and how shops work, how to set up your phone (it took me a week to connect the SIM card). Other dishes, a stove, the rules of the house we live in. There is practically no private space, no solitude.   

Friends and even relatives from Russia ‘cleaned up’. After the first attempts to show what was happening, to convey, to shout and explain, to get a response, an adequate reaction, the understanding came that it was useless. Surprise and sadness. Wow, how the human psyche is defenceless against propaganda. Then there was anger, then impotence. Then anger at impotence. Now – indifference. Quietly and silently I clean up the ranks of ‘Friends’ on Facebook. No, this is not indifference. Russians have merged into a collective image, for which there is only a deaf hatred of different temperatures. Contempt.

The most difficult thing is to be able to save a loved one and the inability to do it. Because that is their decision. Stay there. Correspond, call each day and, saying goodbye, not be sure that tomorrow you will contact. Guilt, despair, impotence, disagreement, anger, grief. The desire to leave everything and return. To pull them out of there. 

When we moved to Warsaw with my son, we were ill for the first week. A friend's house is located near the airport and planes fly frequently. The first week or a little more, there was a bodily reaction to the sound of a flying plane: you freeze for a couple of seconds and listen to what it is, how it flies. I had to mentally say to myself every time ‘this is a different city, you are in safety’. 

The first thing I wanted to do was find a job. By profession, this is important. I contacted the psychologists in Poland. When I could, I went to volunteer, my former clients are partially returning: for now, crisis consultations are with them, free of charge. I got a part-time job at a crisis psychological help hotline. During the interview, a question was asked – ‘why did you want to do this?’. It even seemed strange to me. But what else can I do now? If I had stayed in Kyiv, most likely, in addition to consultations, I would have made Molotov cocktails or dealt with delivery. Here, too, we reload and sort things that some people bring, while others take to Lviv and beyond. Everyone turns on and somehow helps… themselves, or information, or physical force, or money, or premises, or a machine. All these droplets and streams flow towards the house, the front. Participating at least a little in these processes, you feel belonging to a common field, connection with home, contribution to victory. This is what helps to survive this situation, it gives energy. 

Values ​​and identities change. I never had a strong pro-Ukrainian position before, I am a cosmopolitan who grew up on science fiction novels about ‘humanity against aliens’. National differences seemed unimportant, secondary. Now, for the first time, I feel the desire to attach a yellow and blue ribbon and speak Ukrainian. 

My perception of time has changed. A personal future is almost impossible to build. I see this day and maybe the next one. There are a couple of longer-term goals, until the summer. But mainly, time has turned into an ongoing now, today. Life before the war, it seems, was about ten years ago. And like yesterday.

Day 45. During this time, Irpin and Bucha were liberated. Yesterday there was an explosion at the railway station in Kramatorsk. It's quiet in Kyiv now. There is anger, fatigue, devastation inside me and, at the same time, hope. Slovakia sent us an air defense stuff. Britain is going to help. Thank them. Effective help inspires better than ‘a thousand words’ and ‘concerns’.

These days are relatively calm, although fighting and shelling continues in the southeast. We left almost immediately, so I am not an eyewitness to how the country is going through this period. I follow it on news, photos, correspondence with friends. Most of my entourage is actively involved in helping the front. Regardless of whether people stayed in their city or left, everyone participated in the resistance as volunteers. They are experiencing and meeting all this horror with unprecedented dignity.

-       Hanna Hromova, psychologist, trauma therapist, EMDR Consultant

 

- If you are working directly with people who are impacted, or if you have an evidence-based view on the psychological dimensions which make this situation different from so many other wars we have seen in the last 100 years, do reach out to me on [email protected].

Sadly, there is much that is relevant in our archive, and we have been sharing some of it on Twitter. See also this BPS resource on talking with children about the conflict.

There's also 'Psychology in the Ukraine' from 2006, and this more recent interview: 'People have started to understand that we have a soul, that we have a psychology'.

See also other recent articles: 

Dr Lorraine Haye with reflections on working at an evacuation centre for Ukrainian refugees.
 
Stephen Blumenthal with thoughts on leaders.
 
Bruno de Oliveira writes.
 
Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, a British Psychological Society Fellow at the Centre for Compassion Research and Training, University of Derby, with a warning to us all…
 

We will also be linking to responses from psychological societies and associations, including our own, as they evolve. The BPS made this statement on 25 February, and then on 3 March voted to support the expulsion of the Russian Psychological Society from the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations. Read the EFPA statement.

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