While the world watched in horror as Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Medical Teams jumped into action. Alongside our partners, we helped thousands of people who were forced to leave home by violence get essential medical care and medicines. We also knew that the toll the conflict would take on people’s mental health would be enormous. Sadly, we were right. Today we’re bringing you a story from one of our partners, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about two Medical Teams psychologists caring for doctors in Ukraine.

It’s both heartwarming and heart-wrenching to hear their stories! You can also read the original in Ukrainian on IOM’s website.

Odesa —Yevhen and Yana are psychologists working with IOM’s mobile medical teams in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. Because of the proximity to active hostilities, doctors are frequently forced to leave this area, resulting in local towns and villages not having the necessary medical support.

The IOM mobile teams are dedicated to covering these towns and villages, providing support to those doctors that remain. Psychologists play an integral role in these teams because the demand for psychological support has risen during the war, affecting both patients and healthcare workers.

Yana and Yevhen in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

“We offer one-to-one consultations as well as group sessions. Additionally, we provide socialization support for children and offer specialized training sessions for adults upon request. For instance, we receive requests from people experiencing panic attacks or struggling with anger issues that impact their personal and professional lives,” explains Yana. 
Yana and Yevhen are facilitating burnout prevention sessions for healthcare workers in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Many people who have endured the atrocities of war find themselves without anyone to confide in. There’s a shortage of mental health professionals to address these specific needs. Consequently, those affected often turn to other medical professionals such as general practitioners and surgeons to share their feelings. 

“In Snihurivka, we worked with doctors who’d lived under occupation. The occupation itself, coupled with constant explosions, had a profound impact on their emotional well-being. And they find themselves working with patients who require emotional support and someone to confide in. Though their primary professional focus should be on the physical healing, rather than psychological,” explains Yana.

IOM staff discuss the operation of mobile teams with Yevhen and Yana in Snihurivka, Mykolaiv region, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

This imposes an extra burden on the medical staff and can quickly lead to burnout. Yana and Yevhen organize group sessions with healthcare professionals to prevent burnouts. Additionally, they conduct individual sessions for patients in medical facilities lacking consistent access to psychological support. This approach helps to absorb the workload for local health workers, enabling them to focus on tasks within their area of expertise.

“We visited a school, and the first thing the principal did was share with us the challenges they had faced and continued to face in this situation. It was evident that she really needed someone to talk to. Despite the initial impression of her strength and determination, when she opened up to us, we realized how exhausted she truly was. In the end, she shared that even though it was our first meeting and we had only been talking for 15 minutes, she already felt much better. Interestingly, we hadn’t even begun our formal work during that visit, we were simply establishing contact,” recounts Yevhen.

Yevhen running the training in Mykolaiv. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

The war is deeply personal for Yevhen and Yana. Yevhen had to leave his hometown, Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, which is currently under Russian control. When Yevhen and his family decided to leave, all the routes were already blocked. 

“The only viable option was to go by the sea. We boarded a fishing vessel ill-equipped for transporting people, yet 50 to 70 people gathered on board. The captain had to repeatedly instruct people to huddle together and avoid spreading out on the deck to prevent the vessel from taking on water and sinking. Due to bombardments, the journey took around 3 hours instead of the usual 30 minutes,” recalls Yevhen.

Currently, Yevhen’s family resides in Khmelnytsky, while he works in the Kherson and Mykolaiv regions.

Healthcare workers participating in burnout prevention session in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Yana has stayed in Mykolaiv since the onset of the Russian full-scale invasion.

When her husband went to war, Yana found herself alone with her children: “We lived in the basement since the bombardments were almost constant. Venturing out rarely, we would dash out when it was relatively quiet to cook, warm up, perhaps take a shower and then hastily return underground. On the coldest days, dogs sought refuge in the basement for warmth, and we relied on their heat. My children became my lifeline, requiring my attention and they helped me navigate through this challenging time.”

Children who have endured the horrors of war and been forced to leave their homes also require psychological support.

Yana at a health facility in Mykolaiv. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

“I’ve frequently observed fear in children, stemming from the war but extending into broader anxieties. With my children, I employ a simple yet effective technique: I ask them to draw what they fear. Then, we take matches, burn the drawing and flush the ashes. This process helps the child feel calmer,” shares Yevhen.

Yevhen and Yana observed a prevalent sense of apathy among the residents of the areas where they work. Psychologists emphasize that the extensive nature of this phenomenon signals a lack of systematic psychological support. The IOM mobile teams are directed towards addressing the shortage of medical assistance, including psychological.

Yana and Yevhen are facilitating burnout prevention sessions for healthcare workers in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

“Many people from the communities we have visited have undergone psychological trauma. It’s challenging to deal with as it may seem at first glance. A person may appear healthy and friendly, but upon returning home, they may withdraw from social interactions, lose interest in activities, and experience disruptions in normal sleep,” says Yana. She adds, “One of our objectives is to convey to people that they need to prioritize self-care. It’s essential for them to find activities that bring joy, even amidst the harsh realities of the war we all find ourselves in.”

Yana and Yevhen are demonstrating exercise during burnout prevention session in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Photo: IOM/Stanislav Kalach

Currently, Yana and Yevhen continue their work in Kherson and Mykolaiv regions. The people they assist encompass a spectrum of needs: children and the elderly, displaced individuals and those choosing to remain, patients in health facilities, and their doctors. IOM recognizes the crucial significance of prioritizing mental health support for the people in Ukraine. Through the deployment of mobile teams, IOM endeavors to support those who have endured the impact of war, even in the distant and challenging-to-access regions of the country.

Copy written by Stanislav Kalach. Reposted with permission from IOM.

Learn more about our work in Ukraine.