Ukrainians are trying to confront the war’s psychological wounds even as the battles wear on.
Author: Amanda Taub
Published: 2022-06-23 06:17 am
Shared Suffering

Ukrainians are trying to confront the war’s psychological wounds even as the battles wear on.

A destroyed building in Lysychansk, near neighboring Sievierodonetsk. Bombing continued between Russian and Ukrainian forces here, where a majority of the population has fled.Credit...Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Kate Pokrovskaya, a 39-year-old psychotherapist, was asleep at her home in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 24 when she and her husband were awakened by the sound of explosions. Russia had launched its invasion. “At that moment, our life stopped,” she said.

Pokrovskaya tried to help her patients cope with the stress and trauma of war. But she was living through it herself.

“We began to sleep badly; my body was tense,” she said. “The sirens became more and more frequent, especially at night. All this was very oppressive, and mentally and physically exhausting.”

In early March, Pokrovskaya saw on Telegram that Israeli psychotherapists were offering free support to their Ukrainian colleagues, drawing on their country’s experience of war. She reached out for help and found something transformative. “It is very valuable for us that we can discuss our issues with such great specialists,” she said.

The Israeli group was started by Jenya Pukshansky, a Ukrainian-born psychologist in Israel. Pukshansky initially posted her phone number on social media, offering support to Ukrainians, but was quickly overwhelmed with requests for help. Along with colleagues, she organized hundreds of Israeli mental-health professionals who volunteered their services, first as crisis support to people seeking help, and then as longer-term guidance for therapists in Ukraine.

They are now engaged in a dauntingly ambitious project: helping Ukrainians to address the mental-health consequences of war, even as the war is ongoing.

Most people who go through a traumatic event — defined clinically as an episode of actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence — have some period of symptoms like nightmares, anxiety or headaches, experts say, but then recover.

A smaller subset develops debilitating long-term distress, or post-traumatic stress disorder. George Bonanno, a clinical psychology professor at Columbia University who studies trauma and resilience, estimated the total as less than 10 percent. In a country where millions have experienced traumatic events, that adds up to a lot of people. And in some circumstances, the percentage of people who develop PTSD can be higher.

One factor in whether people develop long-term problems is whether their community shares the trauma, said Patricia Resick, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University who developed cognitive-processing therapy, a specialized form of trauma treatment. “We see lower rates of things like PTSD after natural disasters than we see after individual events because of community involvement,” she said. “They’re supporting each other, and sometimes that’s a crucial difference.”

War can be that kind of shared experience, particularly when the nation unifies against a common enemy, as Ukraine has against Russia.

But some kinds of trauma are more isolating. “When you’re raped, you’re raped alone,” Resick said, referring to both the typical circumstance of the crime and the stigma that follows.

Ukrainian volunteers training near Kyiv.Credit...Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Soldiers experience trauma but often feel isolated and ashamed of it as well, said Valery Hazanov, a psychologist in Jerusalem who helps lead Pokrovskaya’s supervision group. In the “macho” Israeli Army, he said, the view used to be that “if you came back with PTSD, then something is wrong with you.”

That mind-set has begun to shift, particularly since the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. “Nowadays, it’s much more in the discourse,” Hazanov said. “There’s more of an understanding that trauma is part and parcel of what’s happening here.”

He hopes the Israeli project will help Ukrainian therapists foster a similar adjustment in consciousness. “We’ve been directly talking with them about this, and kind of anticipating and thinking together about this shift,” he told me.

Pokrovskaya wants to make a priority of correcting public perceptions of trauma and destigmatizing the notion of going to therapy. She wants Ukrainians, she said, “to develop a culture of seeking help from specialists, rather than cope on their own.”

For now, the war is ongoing, for therapists in Ukraine as well as their clients.

Pokrovskaya was temporarily displaced to a nearby town but still felt she couldn’t escape. “There were days when the explosions did not subside. Emotionally and physically, it was very hard,” she said.

Over time, she marked the progression of the invasion through the shifting needs of her clients. “At first, it was crisis assistance,” she said. “There were many requests to cope with panic attacks.”

Later, people sought help with the problems of displacement: conflict with new neighbors, or between family members hosting once-distant relatives. Relationships cracked under the stress of mothers taking children out of the country while fathers stayed behind to fight.

Now, Pokrovskaya said, many patients are struggling with longer-term trauma and grief as they grapple with the magnitude of their losses. “It is difficult for them to cope with their emotions,” she said. “The realization of the scale of losses for their families is coming.”

In April, she and her husband returned home to Kyiv. They hope to stay but are ready to flee at any time. “We always have a plan in our heads,” she said. “We have everything ready, emergency suitcases.”

Television crews, reporters and photographers have gathered in force for the Jan. 6 hearings.Credit...Sinna Nasseri for The New York Times
The ruins of a home in Khost Province, Afghanistan.Credit...Associated Press
  • The toll in the earthquake in southern Afghanistan continues to rise: At least 1,000 people are dead and another 1,600 are injured, officials said.

  • Afghanistan’s military and aid workers are racing to help survivors. The Taliban government, distanced from the West over women’s rights, has called for support from aid organizations.

The first ever bloodhood to win Best in Show.Credit...Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Louis Theroux at his home in London.Credit...Alexander Coggin for The New York Times

Louis Theroux, 52, is hardly an obvious hip-hop sensation. Yet a short rap by Theroux, a bookish British American documentary filmmaker, is storming the internet. If you’ve been on TikTok, you’ve probably heard the hook: “My money don’t jiggle jiggle, it folds.”

The song was born in 2000, on “Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends,” a BBC series in which he delved into various subcultures. Reese & Bigalow, a rap duo in Jackson, Miss., helped whip the song into shape. But it took off this year, when Theroux recited the rap in an even deadpan on the popular web talk show “Chicken Shop Date.”

That clip has inspired D.J.s and dancers alike, prompting legions of videos of the same languid moves. Stars like Shakira, Snoop Dogg and Megan Thee Stallion have all danced to the track. Theroux, not wanting to miss the moment, has rerecorded it. “I sincerely hope we can all make some jiggle jiggle out of the phenomenon. Or maybe some fold,” he told The Times. — Natasha Frost, a Briefings writer

Credit...Rikki Snyder for The New York Times

And here’s today’s Wordle. After, use our bot to get better.

Read Full Story

Crowded Events. No Masks. Then a Covid Diagnosis for Gov. Abbott of Texas - 10 months ago
The announcement that Gov. Greg Abbott had tested positive for the coronavirus came amid a pitched battle over public health measures in schools and a new surge in hospitalizations.
Read More

What’s in Biden’s Spending Plan: Free Preschool and National Paid Leave - 1 year ago
President Biden’s latest proposal is funded by raising taxes on wealthier Americans, and it is likely to encounter Republican resistance for that reason.
Read More

How to Start Liking Running - 12 months ago
It’s good for your mental and physical health, and doesn’t require any equipment. So why does it seem so hard to get started?
Read More

Tiny Love Stories: ‘Who Has Time to Feel All Day?’ - 8 months ago
Modern Love in miniature, featuring reader-submitted stories of no more than 100 words.
Read More