"War" with yourself outside the battlefield
One photo Warrior Valeriy Chobotar (nickname Gatylo), "Every unnecessary hour spent on the battlefield takes away a part of soldier's life. The war changes a person physically and physiologically more than we can imagine. I believe in the future of Ukraine, and there are people I want to fight for, and rescue them. And when these people return home from the war, they need our help, because Ukraine needs them."
This past Friday, November 20, 2015 was the One Year anniversary of Wounded Warrior Ukraine (WWU). The Shevchenko Scientific Society, USA held the panel discussion with the founder of this project and a few other Maidan-born organizations and initiatives, such as Razom for Ukraine, Ukraine Prosthetics Project of Canada by Antonina Kumka, and Save Lives Together by Dmytro Topchiy.
"It is so important that the soldiers speak and understand what happens in their inside world after they return from the war, and learn how to fight their negative thoughts. The soldiers, who overcome the post war traumatic stress disorder, can help their comrades. Then they become more open to professional phycological assistance," said Roman Torgovitsky, the founder of Wounded Warrior Ukraine.
The event was moderated by an Assistant Professor of History at Hunter College, City University of New York, Iryna Vushko. Prof. Vushko has been actively involved in Ukraine affairs since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine. She is also a member of Wounded Warrior Ukraine, and several other organizations and projects. It is true what Roman, a founder of the Wounded Warrior Ukraine, said about Iryna, "she is an activist of an absolutely fierce determination in advancing humanitarian projects in Ukraine."
We had a chance to ask Prof. Vushko a few questions.
Interview about Wounded Warrior Ukraine: what, why, and how.
UaPost: What is the Wounded Warrior Ukraine (WWU)?
Iryna Vushko: Wounded Warrior Ukraine is a project of psychological rehabilitation offering assistance to veterans and civilians affected by the war in Ukraine. The project was founded in late 2014 by Roman Torgovitsky – a Harvard-trained biomedical scientist. A native of Moscow currently residing in Boston, Roman travelled to Ukraine in February of 2014 to see the events there first-hand. He was there during the funeral of the Heavenly Hundred and made a promise to himself to help in any possible way.
The Wounded Warrior Ukraine project is ran by a group of volunteers in the US, psychiatrists and coordinator in Ukraine. We look for volunteers in the US to help with a variety of projects.
UaPost: What are the main points of the event?
Iryna Vushko: The idea behind this discussion was to present the opportunity for several Majdan-born organizations to talk about their work, discuss challenges and achievements as well as possible cooperation. Each presented their work towards humanitarian and medical aid to Ukraine: medical assistance, psychological rehabilitation, prosthetics assistance, help to hospitals and the wounded.
UaPost: What are the accomplishments of the Wounded Warrior Ukraine?
Iryna Vushko: In February of 2015, Wounded Warrior Ukraine launched its first pilot training in Ukraine headed by Ditte Marcher of Denmark – world’s foremost specialist on war trauma. After working in Yugoslavia, the Middle East and many other conflict areas, Marcher developed a unique model of peer-to-peer support in working with veterans. The approach is based on the premise that veterans are unwilling to contact mental health professionals who have not endured a trauma similar to their own, but are much more likely to open up to their peers. WWU program thus teaches people to overcome their own trauma. It also coaches them in providing peer-to-peer help to many others in need of rehabilitation. WWU does not substitute the existing medical and psychiatric system. Instead, it facilitates quick real-life intervention and create bridges between those affected by trauma, on the one hand, and mental heath specialists on the other.
Our pilot project ran in four stages between February and July of 2015, and we graduated 19 peer-instructors – veterans and civilians, including a Greek-Catholic chaplain, a man who lost a limb, and a father who lost a son. All graduates are now prepared to work as peer-instructors and many have since launched activities of their own, organized veteran centers and worked as co-trainers during subsequent trainings.
Since July, Wounded Warrior Ukraine has ran trainings all over Ukraine employing a team of Ukrainian psychiatrists and peer-instructors, all graduates of the first pilot project. Alltogether, we have offered help to around 200 people – most of them veterans returning home.
Our graduates all commented on how the trainings helped them recover from the war. Father Mykola Kvych, a Greek-Catholic Chaplain, served in Crime during the Russian invasion, was detained by the Russian security forces. He commented how the training helped him recuperate from the experience and how it helped him to deal with veterans: he has since returned to Ternopil and helped organized veteran centers and retreats for veterans and families. Our other graduate – Afghan veteran, Dmitrii Telechkun commented how the program helped him “find way back to himself.” The program received phenomenal response across Ukraine. We have been running trainings regularly but can only accommodate a portion of those willing to participate.
UaPost: What are the challenges that the injured soldiers face in Ukraine?
Iryna Vushko: Ukraine has no experience in dealing with war trauma – it has neither facilities nor experience in treating war induced shock. The psychological trauma then goes undetected and untreated for years, but its effects can be devastating – resulting in family break ups, violence, and suicides. Statistics of western countries shows that more veterans die after their return home than on the front lines – a result of their inability to adjust and overcome the war trauma. Ukraine also have no specialists on war trauma – our psychologists and psychiatrists facing a totally new situation. The mental care facilities in Ukraine are in awful conditions and mental care is generally stigmatized – partly as a result of the Soviet legacy. Veterans who endure extreme physical strain during their service are reluctant to talk about their weakness and their problems. Yet the experience of those who have return demonstrate that they are having a hard time adjusting. The psychological trauma can worsen months or even years after the veterans’ return, and the veterans often times land in the medical system too late, when their symptoms become severe. The Wounded Warrior Ukraine project ensures early intervention and it maximizes the efficiency of the treatment at the early stages thereby also serving as a preventive strategy for the post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ukraine will deal with psychological trauma of the war for the years to come. With current focus on the military developments and physical wounds, psychological effects of the war can become neglected. They can be equally devastating.