‘The international psychological community must now stand together with our Ukrainian colleagues’

Ella Rhodes reports.

Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance following Russia’s full-scale invasion in late February. Ukrainian people mounted a fierce resistance, with citizens being given arms to help defend their country while many thousands fled across European borders. The International Criminal Court planned to launch an investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict. And the international community, including professional Psychology, largely came together in solidarity and support.

The Executive Council of the National Psychological Association of Ukraine urged the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA) to exclude Russia from the organisation. ‘… Russian psychologists have undeniable responsibility for what is happening today on our land, in Europe, near the borders of your countries. The work of many of our colleagues from Russia aims to support the propaganda of the terrorist regime in Russia, and they work with their military, which today came to our homes to kill us, destroy our lives, fake the past and steal the future.’ 

The BPS initially expressed its concern over the conflict, saying the society stood shoulder to shoulder with its Ukrainian colleagues and would draw on the BPS’s membership to provide any psychological aid and human rights support during the crisis. ‘We believe in the values of freedom and democracy, and the role of psychology and psychologists in uniting and finding shared beliefs, over those that try to divide us.’ 

Then on 3 March, The British Psychological Society voted to support the expulsion of Russia from the European Federation of Psychologists' Associations (EFPA), as a demonstration of solidarity with Ukraine. The vote to expel Russia was held at a special meeting of EFPA’s Presidents’ Council, which was attended by the BPS. Following support from the majority of members, EFPA will now move forward with the formal process of expulsion, according to the processes set out in their statutes. 

President of the BPS, Katherine Carpenter, said: ‘The decision to support the expulsion of Russia from EFPA was not been taken lightly, as we know many of our Russian colleagues will also strongly oppose the war. However, in the face of the escalating conflict and growing Russian aggression, of paramount importance to us right now is supporting our colleagues in Ukraine. One of the greatest strengths of our profession is how we unite together in order to protect our core values of democracy, freedom and human rights. The international psychological community must now stand together with our Ukrainian colleagues in their time of urgent need.’

In 2015, the BPS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Russian Psychological Society. The BPS’s board of trustees is meeting shortly to progress a recommendation that it withdraws from the memorandum. 

Further solidarity

Along with widespread protests in Russia, hundreds of Russian scientists also signed an open letter condemning the war in Ukraine saying there was no rational justification for it. ‘Our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers fought together against Nazism, and unleashing a war for the sake of the geopolitical ambitions of the leadership of the Russian Federation, driven by dubious historiosophical fantasies, is a cynical betrayal of their memory.’

Across the Atlantic the American Psychological Association sent a message of solidarity to Ukraine. ‘We are gravely concerned about the immediate and long-term trauma and psychological impacts on people of all ages, families, communities, and the environment. We deplore the human cost of such aggression, including violations of human rights, adverse humanitarian consequences, deep psychological distress, and the loss of dignity and freedom. We stand in solidarity with all who are raising their voices and working tirelessly to protect and safeguard human life.’ 

Sharing resources

Meanwhile Professor Vivian Hill (UCL), a committee member of the BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology, shared ideas on how to speak to children about war, conflict and crises. She suggested listening to children’s questions and giving honest answers, ensuring they felt safe and supported, planning how to cope with the situation and emphasising ways to help, for example through fundraising, avoiding constant news, and for parents and caregivers to seek support if they were worried about their child.    

Social Psychologist and founder of Rethinking Refugees Sindhuaja Sankaran took to Twitter to appeal for the support of volunteer psychologists to give psychological support to displaced Ukrainians. A Twitter account Science for Ukraine shared information on practical support and research placements being offered by the international community for researchers and students in Ukraine including jobs, internships and research opportunities. Psychologist Pete Etchells was thankful for a massive response when he shared a request from colleagues in Kyiv for health care professionals with expertise in crisis counselling victims of war.

On The Psychologist’s Twitter feed we shared numerous articles related to the conflict, including stories of psychologists working with children who have witnessed war, an interview with Professor Mari Fitzduff on global peacebuilding, and articles and interviews around Psychology in Ukraine. We also reached out to psychologists impacted by the conflict, and have started to share their experiences and calls for support.

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