“How are you, really?” Tackling mental health issues in eastern Ukraine

Published: Jan 25, 2021 Reading time: 4 minutes
“How are you, really?” Tackling mental health issues in eastern Ukraine

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world and upended countless lives in 2020, the eastern Ukraine posed a particular challenge, as the pandemic compounded the difficulties of living near the frontlines of a conflict that has dragged on for nearly seven years. Residents near the contact line have lived through fighting, shelling, the disruption of basic services, the severing of family ties, and death. Their emotional state is of particular concern for organisations such as People in Need (PIN), which is why we initiated an open dialogue between people living in the region and well-known Ukrainian celebrities.

Through the project, “How are you, really?”, ordinary residents in the settlements of Donbas were asked about their well-being, and had the opportunity to share their experiences with celebrities and PIN’s psychologists. To facilitate the dialogue, kiosks were set up in the central squares of three towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and anyone passing by could talk to the celebrities and PIN psychologists via a computer link. The conversations were held during 14th and 15th of November.

More than 50 people spoke about their fears, the challenges they’ve faced due to the pandemic, the difficult situation in the region, and what has helped get them through these tough times.

Olena Kravtsova, a PIN psychologist who took part in the dialogue, said: "Men and women from a variety of different social backgrounds, TV presenters and singers from Kyiv, entrepreneurs, pensioners, schoolchildren, and volunteers from Donbas took part in the dialogue. The conversations turned out to be very frank, and many personal questions and experiences were voiced. Over the last year, the isolated have become even more isolated, the lonely have become lonelier. Currently, five out of seven checkpoints in Donbas are closed, and people have not been able to see their relatives for almost a year.” 

PIN psychologists providing long-term support to people in eastern Ukraine were accompanied by Ukrainian celebrities such as Jamala, a singer, songwriter, and actress, who says: "I have never felt such closeness to the whole world, though it sounds sad. All of us are united by the fact that there is nothing we can do about it. I, too, am angry and annoyed by the restrictions on my freedom. In addition, the future of my profession is now in question. But I believe that all this will pass, and everything will be fine. With these words I start my day. I plunge into motherhood. I am immersed in my work as much as possible. I find time to eat something delicious. But the most important thing is giving support. Helping others is what helps me.” 

Ukrainian singer and musician, Alexander Fozzy Sidorenko, says: "By overcoming this year, we have gained skills that can be useful for us next year. We have become, on the one hand, a worse, more nervous version of ourselves, but, on the other hand, we can use and pass on new experiences. If you don't use this crisis as an opportunity, your neighbour uses it and you lose. The one who reacts survives. It's like tigers in caves – those who didn't pay attention [were killed]; they didn't leave heirs and didn't have time to paint anything on the walls. We are the descendants of those who paid attention, who reacted." The project was supported also by other famous people like Yaroslav Lodygin well known Ukrainian producer, or presenters of public TV channel UA: Pershyi.

PIN psychologists identified the most pressing issues voiced by the project participants, as well as by people who called the PIN psychosocial support hotline. Concerns included fear of being infected with COVID-19, fear for the health of loved ones, irritation due to quarantine restrictions and facemask requirements, inability to visit relatives living in other regions of Ukraine or in non-government controlled areas, difficulties due to distance learning or working online, stress, and learning how to support loved ones who have experienced loss.

Using videos to disseminate information

As a continuation of the project, well-known Ukrainian celebrities have also been recording videos in which they discuss what has helped them cope with the pandemic, and encourage people to call the psychosocial helpline if they are feeling stressed.

In addition, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in eastern Ukraine, PIN has prepared a series of animated videos on topics such as how to safely visit public places and what to do if you come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. Three short, animated videos specifically target older people. The animated videos were broadcast on local TV in Donbas, shown on the intercity trains connecting different regions in Ukraine, and posted on social media channels.

The project "How are you, really?" was created by PIN with financial support from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. The information partner for the project is UA: Suspilne. More information is available on the project’s website, www.yakspravy.org.

Author: Alyona Budahovska, PIN Ukraine Communication Officer

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