Young Ukrainians Share Struggles Amid War
February 25, 2021 – Hypervigilance, sadness, rage, anger.
Many young Ukrainians have taken to Instagram to express their emotions as Russian forces continue to push inland. Political unrest between Ukraine and Russia has a long history, but this is the first major conflict in the region since 2014.
Recalling childhood stories of past crises with Russia, millennials and Gen Z Ukrainians are on social media saying, “I was always afraid of war,” as well as “How could this happen in the 21st century?” st.
Expressing these thoughts and feelings online is a great way to help young people deal with fear, anxiety, and other anxious emotions they may have, says Shari Botwin, licensed clinical social worker and book author. Thriving After Trauma: Stories of Life and Healing.
Focusing on creating physical and emotional security is also critical.
“Talk on the phone, talk on FaceTime, talk, write,” says Botvin.
“I think it is so important now to communicate and talk with people, especially with young people. [in Ukraine] being able to use things like social media,” she says.
“It’s one of those situations where we can’t control what’s going on, but I think being able to talk and talk and connect with other people about those feelings can make things a little more manageable.”
Asya, 36, from central Ukraine, is now in California.
“Honestly, I just cried all day. I feel helpless, and I am very scared for my family and the Ukrainian people.”
“My friends react in different ways; some are calm and ready to fight, others are scared and trying to escape the country. My cousin lives in the middle of this whole mess, and the only thing he says to me is, “don’t worry, everything will be fine,” and I’m panicking here.
According to Botvin, it is important for young Ukrainians to understand that what they are now feeling is normal and makes sense.
“Any emotion associated with PTSD is an emotion they will experience,” she says. “I think some of them felt it even before the bombs started going off 48 hours ago. As soon as there was an immediate threat of Russian attack, I think PTSD had already set in.”
Tanya, 28, from eastern Ukraine, is now in the UK.
“No one should be woken up by the words ‘the war has begun,’, especially by the sound of gunshots or bombs. I now live far from Ukraine, but even I am shaking all morning. I can’t imagine how my friends and family are there now. I don’t know what to say to people in this situation. And I’d rather not find out. But since we’re here guys, just don’t panic and have a clear plan of action just in case.“
Actively voicing one’s frustrations can also help, Botvin says.
“They can’t stop it, but they can certainly protest, talk about their feelings and do everything in their power to take some action,” she says. “I think it’s all about expressing your emotions and trying to find a way to deal with a situation that’s bigger than ourselves and feeling like they can find some control in that situation.”
Keep talking about it.
It is imperative that Ukrainians continue to talk about their feelings even after things settle down because such emotions are not going anywhere, says Botvin.
In fact, these feelings may intensify.
“Some people will feel the war after a few weeks,” says Botwin.
“That’s when you will understand how terrible everything that you went through or what you saw, was, or is. So sometimes it’s more important to tell people, “Even if you can’t talk much right now, you’ll need to talk more about this once things start to calm down.”
Continuing to unpack the entire experience, not just what happened during the invasion, will be a major way to help prevent severe chronic post-traumatic stress, major depression, or anxiety disorders in the future, according to Botwin.
Talking to a mental health professional will certainly help, but talking to other people who have experienced something similar can help promote “that feeling of connection” and “not feel crazy or alienated about your feelings.” When people go through these things — even if they know other people have gone through this — if they don’t talk to other people, they will still feel stuck,” says Botvin.
“Then they can also offer each other suggestions and resources, and they can encourage each other.”