“They left for Europe, what should they complain about?” – such reproaches can be heard in the direction of refugees from those who decided to stay in Ukraine.
In reality, psychological challenges for Ukrainians abroad are no less. They often experience “survivor’s guilt”, experience difficulties in adaptation, strain in family relationships and feelings of loneliness.
About a hundred adults and children contact the “Voices of Children” fund’s hotline every month, half of them from abroad. We collected the main requests and asked Yuliya Vihrova, a psychologist of the foundation, to comment on these situations and advise how to act when moral resources are scarce.
Spouse problems: quarrels and divorce
A mother with a younger child is abroad. The eldest daughter stayed with her father in Ukraine. Communication becomes more and more detached, and it is not possible to find a common language – this is how the spouses find themselves on the verge of divorce. This is a fairly common situation in families separated by borders.
A significant part of the requests that come to the online support line relate specifically to the relationship between parents who have been separated for a long time. Some families could not withstand such a test and broke up. However, psychologist Yuliya Vikhrova emphasizes that a separate life is rarely the root cause of a breakup.
“Most often, the couple’s relationship already had its own difficulties, and the experience of war and separation only exacerbated and intensified the previous problems.” – says the expert.
She explains that sometimes the impetus for the decision to divorce is the realization that life apart is not as difficult as it seemed before.
“People might not have dared to do this because they didn’t believe they could manage without a partner, or they wanted to keep the family for the sake of the children. Now they have seen that they can take care of themselves, and this decision is easier.” Yulia comments.
How to act
It is extremely important not to involve children in finding out the relationship between father and mother and in no case to manipulate children. The psychologist explains that it will not be possible to completely isolate the child from such a situation, but he should not become an intermediary between adults or a means of influence – this is a prohibited technique. Instead, it is important to tell honestly about what happened in the family.
The decision to divorce should not be kept a secret from a son or daughter of any age.
“It is necessary to explain that you are separating as husband and wife, but you continue to be her father and mother. For a child, the most terrible thing in this situation is the loss of stability and support. Her usual world is destroyed in addition to moving and adapting to a different society.”– Yulia explains.
The child must understand that he can address any question to both parents, as before.
Crisis moments in the family always affect children, sometimes it changes their relationship with their parents. There are also many such requests from abroad. This is confirmed by Olga Mykytchyn, head of online support of the “Voices of Children” foundation:
“Children who do not understand how to stop troubles in the family often apply. They are mostly teenagers. Now we have more such requests than from adults. This is also influenced by the autumn adaptation to the school regime: it exacerbates personal issues.”
There are cases when children ask their parents to find a psychologist, because they are not ready to discuss family problems with mom or dad. But when adults themselves try to take the child to a psychologist without her request, it does not work.
“In such cases, we try to organize an introductory meeting with a psychologist, but if the child is not included in the process in any way, then it makes no sense– explains the coordinator, – a lot depends on the client’s motivation.”
If there is interest in working on the request, the foundation can offer up to 13 free sessions with a psychologist.
“It is very individual, because sometimes one meeting is enough, for example, when it is necessary to explain how to act during a panic attack”– adds Olga.
Social isolation of mothers and feelings of loneliness
The mother and the child left for another country, and there are no connections or support in the new place. There is strong homesickness and a feeling of psychological pressure. It is difficult for the child to adapt in a foreign school, and the conflicts between mother and son only increase. The woman feels completely confused.
The feeling of loneliness and detachment from the usual reality is an equally frequent request addressed by Ukrainians abroad. Mostly mothers write about it, who lack the usual circle of communication and support of the part of the family that remained in Ukraine.
It is difficult for some of them to find an environment of like-minded people in another country. On the one hand, they live in a constant desire to return, and on the other hand, they do not have such an opportunity, because they lost their home due to the war.
The psychologist explains that often long-term stress affects us in such a way that we simply do not see opportunities that we could take advantage of. The so-called tunnel thinking is activated.
How to act
The expert advises first of all to pay attention to your own psycho-emotional state.
“Rate how you feel now from 1 to 10 and remember what brought you pleasure and gave you a resource before, – says Yulia, – try to bring these activities back into your life.”
Even in a small town or village, you can find opportunities to maintain communication. These can be volunteer organizations, communities of Ukrainians who ended up abroad because of the war, or people from the diaspora who have been living there for many years. You can also take advantage of the opportunities that are available online. This is how you can build new connections and maintain relationships with friends and relatives at a distance.
A child who feels lonely without friends can also be advised to resume communication through messages and calls, offer online games with friends who are now far away.
“At the same time, lively communication and socialization where the family temporarily lives is important. This can be Ukrainian Sunday school, children’s groups or meetings with other immigrants. Another option is the organization of joint events that present Ukrainian culture and help raise funds for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine border”, – adds Yulia Vikhrova.
If the family has been in another country for a long time, its experience can be valuable for those who have just decided to move. Thus, supporting other Ukrainians will help to socialize, build a community, and also realize one’s own need to help others.
Changing children’s behavior: withdrawal and apathy
After the evacuation from Mariupol abroad, the teenager became aggressive. Avoids communication with parents or is rude. Detached behavior appears, some days he doesn’t want to get out of bed, skips school. Mom does not understand how to help.
Sometimes a difficult and long adaptation to life abroad turns into detachment and apathy: the child does not see the positive in the new experience and misses home very much, does not want to study and make new contacts. Adults often experience the same.
“An unplanned sudden move is sometimes compared to transplanting a flower that has suddenly found itself in new conditions: at first, in the new soil, it drops its leaves, but after a certain time it adapts, takes root and blooms again. A person also needs this time and additional support for adaptation abroad.” , – comments the psychologist.
How to act
Julia explains that the first thing in such a situation is to find stability in unstable conditions:
“You can try to bring back some family traditions that the family is used to at home: cooking pancakes on Saturday or watching a movie together – everyone has something different that can support the usual routine of life.”
However, it is worth setting realistic goals: if today the resource is only to cook dinner or submit documents to local services – do not demand more from yourself.
Sometimes this fails and there is a feeling of guilt, thoughts returning to the past that you want to change. In this situation, it is worth reminding yourself that the decision to evacuate was the best one possible at the time.
“We cannot know how things would have turned out if we had chosen another country or city, but now we can look for opportunities to adapt where we are.” Yuliya Vikhrova comments.
Any physical activity is also helpful. This is a way to regain control in a situation where it is difficult to predict something. While feeling the boundaries of your own body and controlling movements gives you the opportunity to feel more confident. It can be both sports and just regular walks in the fresh air. Breathing exercises also have a good effect on the psychological state – it lowers the level of cortisol.
It is also important to understand the relationship between the condition of an adult and a child.
“I felt it well from my own experience, when I also found myself abroad with a child– shares Yuliya Vikhrova, – once in the first weeks, my son was putting together a constructor and he failed. He became frustrated, cried, scattered pieces of the toy around the room and repeated that everything he tries to put together falls apart. I felt the same way.”
Then Julia started a conversation with her son about the fact that many people feel this way now because of the war and moving abroad. She shared that it is not easy for her now either, because she has to rebuild what at one point fell apart like fragments of a constructor. The psychologist adds that you should not be afraid to tell your child about your feelings and communicate openly. At the same time, it is good to focus on the positive points that have already been overcome, and on the belief that together you will cope and pass this way.
When the child does not accept this and stubbornly asks to return home, most often he hopes that there everything will be as it was before. Here it is important to explain that even when after returning, life will already be different. Unfortunately, it is impossible to regain the reality in which we lived before February 24. Share that you miss home too, but it’s still too dangerous to go back to.
You can’t promise a child something that you have no influence on. Therefore, I honestly explain that you do not know when you will be able to return to Ukraine, although you also dream that it will happen as soon as possible. This will save the child from unrealistic expectations that can be traumatic.
Olena Visokolyan, especially for UP. Life