A group of 21 psychologists from the State Emergency Service of Ukraine have returned from Sloviansk. They were on the road for three days providing counseling and humanitarian assistance for city residents. Deutsche Welle spoke with the director of the group, Anatoliy Kornev, head of the Psychological Services Department at the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.
What was your first impression of Sloviansk?
I saw many buildings completely destroyed, burned out, or shot through. The residents of the city still do not believe that everything will be all right and that no one will frighten them. In the regions where battles are taking place, shots can be heard from time to time. Who is doing the shooting, I don’t know.Anatoliy Kornev
How many residents were you able to help?
We created a center for serious psychological help in the city administration building. Some 127 people came to see our psychologists on duty. Many retirees came, especially elderly women. The elderly women and children suffered the most stress from the fighting.
We also went door to door and in the homes to offer help. In three days, we visited about 466 buildings and counseled more than 570 people. Most of them were retirees. We also met about 50 disabled individuals. We gave them food — flour, grains, oil, sugar, etc. , because the stores are closed and people are sometimes afraid to leave their homes and don’t know what is happening in the city. We also handed out pamphlets and brochures that describe where to turn if you home has been destroyed.
What is of most concern to the Sloviansk residents?
Social issues. The elderly people are most interested in knowing when the pension payments for the last three months will be adjusted. Some people were paid in other cities because they had left Sloviansk, and now pensions need to be readjusted. This process takes time.
Those whose homes were destroyed worry if they will receive any compensation for rebuilding and in what form — money or materials. This has not yet been decided on the state level. Electricity and water supply systems have not been restored in all the areas of the city. The power lines have been broken and therefore the trolleys are not functioning. The separatists are gone, so now the residents are wondering when everything will start functioning again.
But the questions remain — how do you continue to live in a situation when, for example, your closest relative or neighbor supported the separatists and you did not. I heard people discussing this among themselves.
Have you met people who still support the militants of the Donetsk People’s Republic? Whom do the Sloviansk residents consider guilty in the armed conflict, in the destruction of their city?
Generally they did not want to talk about politics and to discuss whom they supported. Now they are primarily concerned with arranging their lives and finding out who will help them.
Clearly, most say that the separatists were guilty in the destruction of Sloviansk. They started (the conflict) first and as a result of their attacks many building were destroyed. Most people are happy that the separatists are gone and that the Ukrainian Army has come and is beginning to restore the city. Many people, who had evacuated and left their homes, came back to discover the separatists has robbed them.
What is the general psychological situation in the city?
There is no one in Sloviansk who could have avoided fear and stress. The residents told us how they hid in cellars to avoid the shelling. Everyone was afraid — those who supported the separatists and those who opposed them. Because how could you possibly know which building would the shelled next?
How do people view the help offered by your group?
The vast majority are interested. Right now they are really afraid of any type of body armor. We wore ordinary T-shirts. People asked who we were, where we came from and then they started talking themselves. You could tell that some of them haven’t spoken to anybody for a long time.
Is the outreach psychological counseling addressing the problems of the residents in the ATO zone? Are additional measures required?
We have established cooperation with the local psychologists volunteers as well as with the education department in the city council in order to get psychologists involved in helping the residents at all the local schools. I think that in 3-4 months our group is supposed to go back to Sloviansk to see how the atmosphere in the city has changed. But the decision on that must be made by the leadership of the State Emergency Service.
How can the children who witness battle scenes be helped to avoid the negative consequences to their psychological health?
Children as well as adults really want for the shooting in their city to stop. Most of all, they want to return to normal life: to take walks, to play, to go to school, to meet friends — for everything to be as before. I would recommend that parents regularly take their children to see a psychologist because they may have deep traumas remaining from what they have experienced. Our group visited the first children’s city hospital of Sloviansk. The local doctors told me that parents could bring their children there and that their staff psychologists would provide assistance.
What do the Sloviansk residents expect from the future?
First of all, the restoration of their city, which they love and call the best. People often ask when the government will restore Sloviansk. I think this is their main dream now. The local residents said that if necessary they themselves would dismantle the blockades. However this is dangerous. First the engineers need to inspect all the buildings where the separatists could have hidden.
Where are the people staying whose homes have been destroyed?
In the sheds by the ruins, with friends, with family. Wherever they can.
By Anita Hrabska, Deutsche Welle, July 22, 2014
Translated by Anna Mostovych