How is the War Affecting the Psychology of Ukrainian Children?

May 15, 2023
The war is affecting all Ukrainians’ mental health, but children are suffering the most.

UkraineWorld asked Yuliia Hrushetska, founder of the KI(N)D’S charitable foundation, about the problems Ukrainian children are facing and how to help them. Key points — in our brief. #UkraineWorldAnalysis

1. On the general psychological state of Ukrainians

It is not really possible to define any general psychological state for Ukrainians, because the situation differs from region to region. The further people live from combat actions or bombardments, the better their state may be. However, the dynamics of people’s psycho-emotional state resemble a pendulum: from exaltation to frustration. People also feel general fatigue from the war stemming primarily from the feeling of uncertainty.

2. On the psychological state of Ukrainian children

  • This war affects all Ukrainians, but children’s psyches are the most vulnerable. During wartime, parents mostly live in survival mode and can’t focus on finding the right way to explain to their children what is going on and what will happen.
  • Luckily, children’s mental health can recover quickly, but this requires professional help. That’s why it’s very important to provide children and their parents with qualified psychological help.
  • According to the results of a survey of mothers of Ukrainian children between the ages 3 to 17 carried out by the Rating Group at the beginning of 2023, 60% of Ukrainian children have witnessed or participated in events related to a full-scale invasion. The main traumatic events children have experienced were: separation from family and friends (28%), moving to another country/region (25%), bombing/shelling (24%), and staying for a long time in a cold place, like a bomb shelter or basement (17%).
  • Furthermore, 11% of children have moved abroad, 8% have fallen under occupation, 6% have witnessed the deaths of relatives or loved ones, 5% have lost their homes, and 5% have experienced hunger and lack of water. The survey did not include any respondents in the occupied territories.
  • Monitoring the state of children’s psychology in Ukraine now is particularly important, not only to provide them with psychological support, but to better understand the devastating consequences of Russian aggression.
  • There is currently a wide variety of camps for children in Ukraine and abroad that are focused on psychological rehabilitation and assistance. But they didn’t exist at the very beginning of the war. That’s how our idea for a project aimed at psychological assistance to Ukrainian children and families was born, and was later transformed into the KI(N)D’S charitable foundation.
  • Since the first days of the war, the organization held online group consultations with psychologists for children aged 6-12. Children were divided into groups according to their age. An online format was used to make it available to Ukrainian children all over Ukraine and abroad.
  • These sessions had a positive effect, as the children’s parents confirmed. The children became less anxious, showed less aggression, or started communicating with other children. The drawings the children made speak to significant improvements in their mental state, reflecting feeling of security and confidence.

3. On children with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) living through the war

  • Children with ASDs are among the most vulnerable in terms of mental health. These children require uninterrupted work with psychologists and social workers, which wartime makes very difficult, due to the lack of time, money, and specialists.
  • KI(N)D’S is now focusing on providing psychological assistance to children with special educational needs. Individual support to families with children on the autism spectrum is provided. A psychologist conducts interviews with parents, diagnoses the child, and creates an individual program. Having an individualized approach is important, because the special needs these children have are different with every child.
  • It’s important not only to help children with ASD in wartime, but to have a strategic vision of how to support them in the future. That’s why it’s already necessary to work to destigmatize people with ASDs and focus on integrating them into society.
  • Another important mission is to raise the awareness about children with ASDs, as this is a big step towards creating an inclusive society. Starting in childhood, people on the autism spectrum often require a great deal of help in becoming full, productive members of their communities. It’s hard, everyday work. And it can’t be more difficult for neurotypical people (those who do not have ASDs) to be accepting of people on the autism spectrum than it is for people with ASDs to be accepted in the neurotypical world. Society needs to help.
Yuliia Hrushetska, founder of the KI(N)D’S charitable foundation