Two months into the Ukraine conflict, the number of Ukrainians forced from home continues to hit new highs, with total refugees recently reaching 5 million and more than 7 million internally displaced people. More than half of them are children.
With the violence intensifying across eastern and southern Ukraine, the situation is likely to get worse. Refugees require not just food and shelter, but also protection from violence and mental health support.
“The goal is to normalize normal reactions in an abnormal situation,” says Melinda Endrefy, Emergency Psychologist with the NGO Amurtel, during a recent interview with Michael Messenger, President and CEO of World Vision Canada, at the Siret border crossing between Ukraine and Romania.
Importance of psychological first aid
Endrefy describes her job as an emergency psychologist as, “the pillow that protects glass from breaking as it falls.” With most Ukrainian refugees being women and children, Endrefy often uses art therapy as a first step to get them to open up and share their experiences.
“Many of the children are feeling anxiety from being separated from their fathers who are back home,” she says. “And many others are scared by noises because they remember the bombing. It’s about what they can do and how they can begin to go through this normal process.”
Endrefy believes young children are highly aware of what’s happening during a crisis and can teach everyone the value of a positive attitude.
“One mother told me that her four-year-old daughter calmly put on her coat after a bombing and told her mother that it was time to leave and that she wouldn’t cry. They can be resilient, but they need that space where they can work on that trauma,” says Endrefy.
“Ukrainians need psychological help to help them adapt to what has happened after feeling so much emotional trauma and anger,” says Julia who is staying with her two children at a Ukrainian refugee shelter in Moldova.
Photo: Brett Tarver/World Vision
How Canadians can help
World Vision has been working in Ukraine and Romania since the first week of the crisis and is quickly scaling up its work to support children and their families with essentials and other critical services. The goal is to reach 300,000 people in Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia within the next few months.
“We can prevent further mental health problems,” Endrefy says. “We can change the direction of that trauma. We can provide a healthier life. And we can create happier and healthier adults. To create a healthy society in the future.”
Learn more about how you can help