Normal reactions to an abnormal situation
Our teams have held consultations with displaced people in Berehove, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Vinnytsia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhhorod, Kropyvnytskyi, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia.
Many of the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, are isolated; having been separated from their neighbours and relatives who formed a support network. Meanwhile children often pick up on the stress that adults around them are feeling.
“One issue we deal with is trauma-related stress; for example, people’s memories of hiding in basements during heavy shelling could be triggered by words, sounds, smells, or scenes that are reminiscent of the original trauma,” says Vykhivska.
“We also see people with a lot of anxiety-related symptoms, such as insomnia and constant worry about the future. People who normally are not affected are now stressed.”
"Struggling with the fear of death"
Kateryna had to flee her home in Irpin with her mother when their village was attacked. They were evacuated and are now living in a shelter in Mukachevo in the far west of Ukraine. Here, Kateryna sees an MSF psychologist – she has suffered from panic attacks since escaping her village.
“One of the things I’m struggling with is the fear of death. I’m scared that I will fail to do something, or that I’ll do something wrong and won’t make it. I think about it again and again, and it prevents me from doing anything,” she says.
These reactions are not unusual when living through war, says Lina Villa, MSF mental health activity manager in Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia. Our teams here visit shelters where hundreds of thousands of people have escaped the heavy fighting in the east and south of Ukraine.
Here, psychologists try to stabilise patients by identifying the issues they are facing, and then help them to find coping mechanisms.
“We try to help our patients to regain some level of control in a very uncontrollable and uncertain situation, by understanding and expressing what they feel. We try to reassure them that stress, fear, anxiety, sleeplessness are normal reactions to this abnormal situation,” says Villa.
“It’s vitally important that people can express and exercise their feelings and emotions after facing traumatic situations. If not addressed, these emotions can snowball and become more severe.”