Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine in February 2022, eight million people from Ukraine have become part of the largest human displacement crisis in the world today, including five million children.
With the violence continuing across eastern and southern Ukraine, these children face a heightened risk
of physical harm and severe emotional distress and displacement. Refugees and internally displaced children 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 an 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
How Canadians can help
World Vision has been working in Ukraine and Romania since the crisis began in February 2022 and has supported children and their families with education programs, essentials and other critical services. In the year since the conflict began, over 36,000 children
and their family members have received psychosocial support from World Vision.
“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.”
Support children from Ukraine today