The number of calls to our psychosocial hotline increased by 73% after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to the psychologist of People in Need – Ukraine
Elena Kravcova works as coordinator of psychosocial activities of People in Need in Ukraine. Today, she leads a mobile team of 14 psychologists providing support in 4 oblasts of Ukraine and 10 psychologists providing support through a national hotline. “The hotline psychologists receive up to 50 calls a day. The number of calls has increased by more than 73%,” she shares, describing the situation after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kravcova adds that people will need psychological support for at least 5 years after the end of the war.
You have worked for a long time as a psychologist for People in Need. How did the psychological well-being of the people you meet daily change before and after the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
The war has changed a lot. There is a collective psychological trauma at the state level. People have been plunged into a whole series of situations where there is horror, panic, shock, confusion, rejection of the situation, fear of sudden death, loss of relatives, friends, property …
Many have become internally displaced and have left their homes, some have already lost their homes and the ability to return, some have lost contact with loved ones, and some have lost loved ones and are grieving. All of these events, complicated by the lack of security and confidence in the future, have a serious negative impact on the mental and physical health of the people I work with.
Speaking of well-being, all areas of well-being are experiencing disruptions at different levels. Basic needs are not met and there is no unconditional security on the whole territory of Ukraine.
How would you describe the psychological impact of war on the people we support?
Various reactions to stressful situations are identified among those affected – starting with blocking, expressions of external aggression and self-aggression.
On the one hand, there is a lot of sadness and apathy related to the fatigue caused by the prolonged war, due to the uncomfortable living conditions, the lack of work and the uncertainty for the future. The plans that were made before the war are destroyed and it is not possible to plan ahead. Many people’s homes were destroyed or damaged.
On the other hand, there is a lot of aggression. Many people who were pulled from the rubble and fled under the bombardments have lost their papers. And for many, the waiting time to renew the documents is more than a month. The passport factory was destroyed, which caused great problems. People wait long weeks to receive their documents, and without these documents there is no chance of receiving cash assistance payments. It turns into a vicious circle where people are not able to influence their situation and it causes a lot of anger.
Moreover, there is a language problem in the western part of the country, and cases of intimidation and mobbing are already recorded. We expect this problem to intensify in September when the school year begins.
Anxiety, fear, uncertainty, difficulty adapting…
Do you think that psychological support will be more necessary in the near future?
Yes, of course, the needs will only grow, and the changes will only be possible in complete safety. People need their basic needs met.
What are the main issues people share with People in Need psychological teams in the field?
The main problems are anxiety, fear of the future, uncertainty about the future, complaints about one’s physical condition, depression, less control of one’s emotions, apathy, sadness, aggression, irritation, adjustment difficulties, desire to return home, search for friends and relatives, conflicts with local people due to language barriers, fear of losing property, experience of loss, sadness due loss of loved ones, breakdown of family ties, lack of work and dissatisfaction with living conditions.
How many PIN psychologists are currently working across Ukraine?
To date, we have 14 psychologists in mobile teams and 10 psychologists on the psychosocial support hotline 0800210160.
How many regions of Ukraine are currently covered by PIN psychological services/teams?
The hotline operates nationwide throughout Ukraine. Mobile teams work in 4 oblasts: Lviv, Ternopil, Kirovohrad and Dnipro. Additionally, we provide support through our partners in 3 oblasts: Mykolaiv in Lviv oblast, Khmelnytska and Chernivetska oblasts.
Do you plan to extend your geographic coverage?
Yes, we plan to include psychological support in all regions where we are present.
Who are the main clients of our psychological services? Is the focus mainly on displaced people or also on host communities?
If we talk about the hotline – our customers are all residents of Ukraine. Our mobile teams mainly work in collective centers for internally displaced people; On top of that, we provide support to volunteers and host communities, as they often need help.
Do your teams offer psychological support to children? How is working with them different?
Yes of course. Children are among the most vulnerable categories. Our work is different and is built according to age characteristics and perceptual abilities.
Psychologists use the same skills and tools that they provide to people. Personally, I practice meditation and use grounding techniques. Breathing exercises help a lot.
How do you choose the place that will be visited by our team of psychologists?
The service of a psychologist is included in the composition of our general humanitarian response, if the need for psychological support is identified during the needs assessment on site – we definitely provide it.
Do people understand what psychological support means and what are the benefits? Or does it take a while before they start sharing their problems?
It really depends, some people are aware of their psychological needs and respond to them immediately, while others need preliminary group sessions to build trust in the psychologist. Psychological education sessions are very useful in this case, where people begin to distinguish a psychiatrist from a psychologist and what can be expected from working with a psychologist.
After the consultations, the emotional state of the people stabilizes
What is the general feedback of people on psychological support?
After the consultations, people reported that with the self-regulation tools and skills they received, their emotional stress, anxiety levels and muscle tension were reduced. They noted an improvement in their mood and their emotional state became more stable.
How many counseling sessions do you usually hold in a collective centre? How often does your team return to the same location?
Support is offered according to the needs of the population; it all depends on the number of residents in a collective center and the length of their stay. There are places where people live for up to 5 days, someone leaves, someone comes.
Do you also organize individual consultations?
Of course, we focus on them as part of crisis counseling.
How do you work with people who have serious psychological problems and need long-term professional support?
If we find that our support is not enough, we refer them to specialized professionals from other organisations.
You said that 10 psychologists from People in Need provide support via the hotline 0800210160. How many calls do they receive each day?
Hotline psychologists receive up to 50 calls a day, usually over 300 a week and an average of 1,300 a month.
Did the number of calls increase after the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Yes, the number of calls has increased by more than 73%.
What are the main issues that people share via this hotline?
From the first days, they shared shock, panic, decision-making problems during evacuation, suicidal thoughts, despair, and all kinds of fears…
Helping others is a source of energy for psychologists
Listening to stories of people fleeing war every day can be very demanding. How do you relax?
Psychologists have the opportunity to receive unlimited group and individual supervision support. Plus, they use the same skills and tools that they provide to people. Personally, I practice meditation and use grounding techniques. Breathing exercises help a lot.
PIN psychologists interact with people displaced by war, separated from their families, etc. Where is your source of energy to continue and help others?
Helping others is what energizes me as a psychologist.
Do you offer the possibility of psychological support to colleagues within the People in Need team? Are they using this offer?
Yes, we offer this type of support and have already organized several group meetings.
How long do you think Ukrainians will need professional psychological support to cope with the trauma of war?
At least 5 years after the end of the war. War trauma heals over several years, provided the person is already safe and living under normal conditions, including economic stability.