Ukrainian refugees in Poland get help for trauma you can’t see — mental health.

Now, she can only practice alone in an open space at a refugee center here in the Polish capital.

Yana is one of millions of Ukrainian children facing change: forced to leave her home, her passions, and her father following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of her country.

“There were explosions there and stuff like that,” he said quietly, remembering that he heard more than he actually saw.

“I’m just not that scared of him,” he added.

Her mother, Liudmyla Bats, said that Yana is very strong and that she hopes that when her daughter tells her that she is fine, she really means it.

But sitting in her bathrobe after a welcome shower at the Arena Ursynów, a sports complex now used to temporarily house Ukrainian refugees, Bats spoke about her own trauma.

“Even here, every time I hear some sounds and when the plane is flying, I’m scared,” he said.

The bats and their children benefit from the well-documented generosity of Poles: shelter, food, even a well-stocked table with pencils and paper for Yana to use while she attends virtual school on her phone.

But less well known is the help that Polish leaders and private organizations provide to Ukrainian refugees who face what we cannot see: the mental health of most of the women and children who crossed the border.

More than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to Poland, and according to Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, there are some 300,000 in the capital alone. He said 100,000 are children and there are already 15,000 Ukrainian refugees enrolled in Polish schools, some with children of their own.

“I talk to my children because they attend schools in Warsaw with Ukrainian children. They say that these children are incredibly resilient, but you never know what lies below the surface. And of course this is one of the main problems. I mean to health, care, psychological health,” said the mayor.

Trzaskowski said he has temporarily directed many of the city’s psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health social services to help Ukrainian refugees.

Private organizations are also prioritizing attention, leaving flyers at train stations for arriving refugees to see.

“We’re all traumatized, especially after what we’ve seen in the last few days on TV. And some of those kids were just running away from the bombs. Some of them were watching their family members get killed. I mean, this is something that we have trouble imagining,” Trzaskowski said. “We have a lot of traumatized children in Warsaw who need help.”

“My friends from Ukraine tell me that they can focus on fighting and rebuilding their country because we take care of their families and their children,” he added, referring to the men left behind.

It’s no longer an afterthought

The emphasis on mental health is a very modern approach to the care of war refugees. It wasn’t that long ago that it was an afterthought, if it was an idea at all.

At a Hillel Jewish Center in central Warsaw, Milena Konovalova leads group therapy sessions for refugee women. She herself recently fled Ukraine.

“Every woman needs another woman who can listen to her,” she said. “Before the war in Ukraine, I worked as a women’s psychologist. I worked only with women, and I understand how important it is for women to talk, to talk to other women.”

Konovalova is not Jewish, but the Hillel Center is one of many organizations that open their doors to all Ukrainians in any kind of need.

During a recent shoot, Konovalova and five other women sat around a table covered in rose petals in what she calls a women’s circle.

The lyrics of the song “Be Yourself” by Peruquois filled the room as the women took turns lighting candles. Emotions rushed to the surface. Tears flowed as the women connected and shared their experiences.

As the women talked, their children played in a makeshift nursery across the room. Some of them were too young to understand, happy just to be playing with toys and other children.

But some of them understand. Young girls like Antonina, eight years old, who said that she knows that she is in Poland because of the war.

“Because Putin has something on his mind,” he explained.

It turns out that not all adults make good decisions, we said during our conversation.

“When it comes to Putin, yes,” Antonina replied.

Refugee children, just like children in the United States, were already dealing with mental health issues from being isolated for nearly two years of the pandemic. Now, having left the warm comforts of home, not to mention her parents left behind in Ukraine to fight, any movement towards a pre-pandemic normalcy has been cruelly cut short.

Their mothers across the room are seeking emotional support to help themselves and put them in a better place to address their family’s needs and traumas.

“When we talk to other women, we hear that we have the same problems, and when we see our situation from a distance, we can solve it,” Konovalova explained.

“The most prominent trauma is that women do not see tomorrow. They are not sure, they doubt, they are scared or scared, they don’t feel protected anywhere,” she said. “And it is important to convey to them that there is a tomorrow, that they are in a warm and safe place, that the children will have porridge tomorrow, and she will be able to tuck him in, go for a walk with the child. important to know what will happen tomorrow”.

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