Thrive’s ANASTASIA THOMAS is a member of our psychosocial team from Kyiv, Ukraine. A year on from the start of the war, this is what she’s noticed about the psychosocial health of her compatriots, and what organisations can do to support Ukrainians in their team.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has had a profound impact on the psychological health of Ukrainians. The prolonged active phase of the war, the lack of a safe place, the uncertainty of the future, the separation from loved ones, and a variety of other factors are continuing to add to the stress and anxiety of the whole nation. It is having a destabilising impact for surrounding nations as well.
Since the start of the war, Thrive has given psychosocial support to organisations and individuals working in both Ukraine and neighbouring countries. This has led our psychosocial team to hold a weekly reflective space to share our observations, thoughts and feelings together. And to support each other.
I want to share with you some of the things we’ve noticed.
After the war started on February 24th 2022, we saw the peak of immediate shock and trauma come in March. Anxiety then peaked in April and subsided in June. Now, a level of resilience is building.
People understand the risks. They are fully aware of the consequences of their collective choice of freedom and autonomy. And they are ready to persevere through all hardships.
Even though the majority of Ukrainians still experience high levels of stress and anxiety, most complaints now are about fatigue and poor sleep due to repetitive attacks, which often take place at night.
Ukrainians are in need of mental health support due to direct danger to their lives, violence, injuries or death of relatives. And there are other stressors too – growing economical difficulties and the uncertainty of life and the future. However, many still consider psychological support as something only for people who are severely mentally ill, or as something not necessary until the war is over. Instead, they tend to seek help from relatives and friends, on social media, in volunteer organisations, and churches.
Generally we see a good level of resilience. People have a desire to be involved. To be useful on any level. To make plans for the future, including travelling and rebuilding what has been destroyed into something even better. Trying to bring ‘normality’ where possible. And maintaining a sense of humour.
This level of resilience is made stronger by the ability to work in the current reality of uncertainty, with power cuts and other limitations. Being busy, being part of a group, as well as having a salary to cover basic needs in security and belonging. All of these things help sustain this resilience.
If you are Ukrainian, here are some practical steps you can take:
- Acknowledge your emotions and make space for them to be. Do not block them because you think you need to be strong for others. You are a human and you have normal emotions in an abnormal situation.
- ‘Check-in’ with yourself regularly. This means asking yourself some questions. How was your week? How do you feel physically and psychologically? How tired are you? Why are you feeling this way? Have you been caring enough about your level of resourcefulness (body, mind, spirit, social connections, environment)? If not, what happened and why? How can you keep it up or change it?
- Develop your planning skills. Prioritise tasks by level of urgency and importance. Is there something that can wait till tomorrow? What is really doable today? Be aware of your current capacity and maintain boundaries to have enough time to resource you. And make a plan to recharge yourself in the coming days by varying passive and active rest.
If you are in HR or leadership, and you have Ukrainians in your team, here’s how you can support them:
- Offer psychological support. This might include a Resilience Check-In for groups or individuals, or Counselling with us.
- Develop key skills in your team. In our Psychological First Aid Training team members will learn how to give crucial support to others in a crisis. And our Thriving In Highly Stressful Environments training will help a team do exactly that.
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