PLACE offers a chance for war-torn souls

Published: Sep 1, 2023 Reading time: 6 minutes
PLACE offers a chance for war-torn souls
© Photo: PIN Moldova
The war in Ukraine has left a deep imprint on the souls of those who have fled its path. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Moldovan border carrying a heavy emotional burden. Many had to leave loved ones behind and set off into the unknown with just one suitcase, unsure if they would ever be able to return. People were often gripped by anxiety, panic attacks or depression. Some of them, once they reached safety, began to suffer from survivor's syndrome, feeling guilty for staying alive and seeking refuge, while others failed to do so. For war victims, psychological support was often more important than material assistance.

To help them overcome their suffering, People in Need (PIN), in consortium with its partners and with the European Union’s financial support, launched services to provide a multi-sectoral humanitarian response to Ukrainian refugees and vulnerable households in Moldova. As part of the project, PIN Moldova's partner, ‘REthink Counselling and Personal Development Centre’, is providing psychological support to both Ukrainian refugees and the local population affected by the war. "None of us were prepared for this tragedy. In the first few days we met people who were in pain and didn't want any advice or counselling. Some just needed a hug, others just wanted someone to listen to their pain", recalls REthink psychologist Elena Andronic.

Through the PLACE project, Elena was able to help dozens of people affected by the ongoing war. During our conversation, the psychologist mentioned two people whose stories have touched her heart.

One of the beneficiaries of REthink's psychological support is Irina, a mother of two, who fled to Moldova shortly after the fighting began. The day she crossed the Moldovan-Ukrainian border to save her younger son, who was only four years old, she was separated from her mother, husband and older son, who had turned 18 and was not allowed to leave the country. The situation became even more dramatic when her seriously ill husband died while she was in Moldova. It was a huge challenge for her, which she was only able to overcome thanks to the psychological support she received from Elena Andronic. "I never went to a psychologist until the war. Even I was forced to move, I didn't understand why I needed help, I preferred to face my problems by myself. At some point, however, I realized that I couldn't take it any longer and I accepted the help of the specialist. Elena helped me to overcome all my fears, regain my emotional balance and gave me the motivation to resist and face all the challenges that I and my family were fronting. At the same time, the specialist also worked with my child, who was also stressed by what had happened. And after accepting this psychological help, the quality of my life changed for the better", says Irina.

Irina lived in R. Moldova for more than a year, meanwhile she managed to integrate into the host community, find a job and even help her relatives back home. Recently, however, she decided to return to Ukraine, to her family, and try to build a life at home, even though the situation there has not changed for the better since the war began. Just hours before I contacted her to get feedback for this article, her hometown of Odesa came under massive attack from Russian missiles and drones. One of the missiles destroyed a supermarket opposite her grandmother's house. "Not having psychological help made it much harder for me to cope with such moments. I remember my past states of mind when such tragedies happened... It was very difficult for me. Now I am much calmer and feel more emotionally balanced", said Irina.

Sama, another Ukrainian citizen of Azerbaijani origin, also found refuge in Moldova with her two children. The journey to Chisinau was very difficult for her. As soon as the war started, she went to Azerbaijan, trying to find refuge there, but without success. With the help of Moldovan citizens, she finally decided to return to Ukraine via Moldova. But when she arrived in Chisinau, she decided to stay. All the hardships caused by the war were compounded by the divorce proceedings she was going through. Her difficult emotional state led her to see a psychologist for the first time, although she was not yet sure how the specialist could help her solve her problems. "During the first sessions I was very closed, I couldn't talk to anyone about my pain. I was like a hedgehog, protecting myself from the world around me. But after a few sessions, the REthink psychologist found the right 'key', thawed me out and gave me a lot of confidence in my own strength", says Sama, who recently moved to Germany with her daughters.

Despite all the hardships she faced as a refugee, Sama says that it was in Moldova that she felt the most help from people, and that is why she loves the country so much and would like to return. "Moldovans are extraordinary! My family received the most help in Moldova. Chisinau has stolen my heart and has become not my second home, but I could say my first. I dream of returning and settling there for the rest of my life", Sama concluded with a wistful smile.

The online format of the sessions proved to be very convenient and appreciated by the beneficiaries, and the psychologists quickly became their true friends. Many of the refugees, even though they left Moldova, can still get psychological help from the specialist they used to work with. "This project has made life easier for many people in difficult situations. I would be very happy and grateful if the project would continue, because the war in our country is still going on and we still need this help to overcome the suffering", Irina concluded.

The PLACE project "Providing a multi-sectoral humanitarian response to Ukrainian refugees and vulnerable households in Moldova", funded by the European Union, includes the following components: free psychological counselling through online sessions on the REthink platform; emergency telephone counselling; and psychosocial activities in the southern regions of the country.

Autor: Dmitrii Vosimeric, Communication assistant

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