Mental health training at center of healing for victims of war in Ukraine

Mental health training at center of healing for victims of war in Ukraine

by
Eurasia Region Church of the Nazarene
| 05 Apr 2023
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Ukraine Mental Health

This January, at the Polish/Ukrainian border, a handful of Ukrainians gathered together. The event was a collaboration among the Eurasia North Field, Central Europe Field, Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM), and Global Care Force. Men and women from all backgrounds met to learn more about the effects of trauma. Eurasia Region Church of the Nazarene sat down and interviewed several participants during the training.

In early 2022, Svitlana Kleshchar fled Ukraine at the onset of war. She returned months later to face a new reality: the reality of life lived in constant, toxic stress.

“When I came back, I saw that a lot of people are in trauma,” Kleshchar said. “And so the same was with me.”

She reached out to her colleague at the Church of the Nazarene, Crystal Gibbons, explaining what she was seeing in her own church and community. 

“We need help, psychological help,” Kleshchar shared with Gibbons. “Not only food or clothing, but mostly psychological help.”

Kleshchar’s experiences dovetailed with other reports coming out of the country. Through a partnership with Global Care Force, the Church of the Nazarene and NCM had been supporting teams of healthcare providers entering Ukraine. Each month, a team led by Global Care Force’s Roxanne Jones spent time in different cities, providing medical care wherever needed. The reports back were sobering.

“The thing that they were seeing most, overwhelmingly, was PTSD, anxiety— major complex trauma,” Gibbons said. “And they didn’t have anything to help with that.”

Armed with this information, Gibbons, Kleshchar, Jones, and a small team of Nazarenes from multiple fields began crafting an intentional, immersive experience that would aim to provide hope and healing to Ukrainians experiencing the toxic stress of war.

“It seemed this overwhelming thing,” Gibbons remembers. “Everybody in the country is experiencing trauma in some way. How could we ever make a difference?” 

But, she adds, “We just decided, let’s try and do something.”

The team got to work compiling trauma-informed care resources from global leaders in the field. The goal: equip laypeople with a basic understanding of trauma, empowering them to share skills to increase resilience. 

Kleshchar acted as a country coordinator, providing cultural insight and ensuring materials were relevant to a Ukrainian audience. Ukrainian trauma therapist Olya Pavlishina agreed to be an on-site counselor throughout the week. Trauma-informed specialist Kate Reed signed on to present the material and tools. She was thrilled to connect with a faith-based collaboration that prioritized mental health healing.

“It’s been so exciting to see the church and people all over the world be a part of this movement to acknowledge the impact of trauma,” Reed said. “We know that if an individual has six or more traumatic experiences before their 18th birthday, that their life expectancy is 20 years less.”  

But, she adds, what is predictable is preventable. 

“Let’s build the systems to support them,” Reed said. “We’ve been very intentional that it’s not just a one-time training. It’s a culture shift; it’s a paradigm shift; it’s a new life way. The way we view how trauma affects everything. And we build the support from the beginning.”

This is an abbreviated version of a story that ran on the Eurasia Region website. To read the story in full, click here.

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