Supporting mental health in the Ukraine conflict

Updated Feb 24, 2023
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.

A woman kneels in a parking lot between a young boy and a girl on a scooter.“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

More stories for you

Three ways toys are making a difference across the world Find out all the ways toys can make a positive change in the lives of children across the world, courtesy of Spinmaster.
Ending gender-based violence starts with empowering youth Gender-based violence is a major global public health and human rights issue. AHADI, a World Vision project, is tackling this problem in Tanzania.
5 tips for talking with children about conflict and refugees We try to shield our children from some of the world’s toughest realities, including armed conflict and forced displacement. But kids don’t live in a bubble.