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Tackling the trauma of war experienced by Ukrainian women and children /

When we discuss the impact of war on health, our focus often narrows to the physical injuries sustained by combatants in the conflict zone or the emergence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans. However, it’s crucial to recognise that the horrors of war cast a long shadow, touching the lives of everyone connected.  

According to research conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), one in five individuals who have experienced conflict will grapple with conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. In Ukraine, the WHO estimates that approximately 9.6 million people may be suffering from mental health issues post the Russian invasion. 

Crown Agents’ has been working with the Mariupol Women’s Association (MWA) to provide psychosocial support to individuals grappling with the aftermath of war, a year and a half since its onset. MWA is a human rights organisation that has been working since 2015 to provide social, psychological, and other types of assistance, primarily to women who have suffered from the consequences of military operations.  

Building a new life amidst emotional unrest  

In conversation with Psychologist Kateryna Shukh from the (MWA), we discuss her experience since the war started. 

Kateryna has observed a growing number of patients—predominantly women and children—struggling with PTSD, war trauma, depression, and insomnia. Shockingly, UNICEF estimates that 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety, and PTSD, with a staggering 5.2 million women acknowledging a significant negative impact on their mental well-being. 

The root cause of these psychological challenges often lies in the disruption of basic needs, with many having to leave their homes, and fathers being sent off to fight, leaving their families in uncertainty about their return. Women in particular carry a large amount of war anxiety, not knowing the whereabouts of their partners while taking on added responsibilities as they navigate life as internally displaced individuals. 

As time has passed, the initial shock of war has faded into the new reality for Ukrainians; with support for individuals becoming even more paramount. From addressing the initial shock of trauma to the challenges of assimilating into new countries as refugees, the realisation of the events that have transpired becomes etched into people’s psyches. Learning to cope and rebuild lives under these circumstances is a journey fraught with emotional turmoil. 

Using a holistic approach to improve wellbeing  

At the MWA, they use a case management approach, which considers the interconnectedness between the physical, emotional, social, and environmental factors in each individual’s unique journey to recovery. Recognising that each person’s experience is distinctive, a tailored support package is crafted for every patient. This approach helps them process their thoughts and behaviours, manage stress, discover new coping mechanisms, and, most importantly, equips them with the tools to support themselves when a therapist isn’t available. 

One of the most popular therapeutic methods is art therapy. Here, patients work alongside an art therapist to use art as a medium to express and articulate their traumatic experiences, which may otherwise remain unspoken. 

The support provided also extends to coordinating with various stakeholders, including employment services and hospitals. Many patients find even the simplest tasks, like job applications or scheduling hospital appointments, to be overwhelming due to the pervasive sense of insecurity. The MWA team provide a safe space for individuals to know they are not alone. 

This differs from conventional therapy which primarily addresses emotional and psychological issues through talking with a trained therapist or counsellor to explore feelings, thoughts and behaviours.  

Helping People Adapt to a New Reality 

Kateryna recounts a story of a family of five fleeing the occupied territory. Tragically, as they embarked on their journey to safety, the husband was shot in front of his wife and three children. Despite enduring such traumatic loss, his widow had to persevere for the sake of her family’s safety, whilst struggling with suicidal thoughts. When she sought help from MWA, she received extensive psychological support along with assistance in obtaining the necessary documents and tools for a fresh start. Over time, she began to eat again, communicate, and develop coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma. 

In Kateryna’s words, “The fulfilment in working with refugees lies in witnessing individuals regain control of their lives, allowing them to work, connect with friends, and engage in everyday activities.” 

Crown Agents’ Collaboration with MWA 

Thanks to the generous support from GSK and the Citi Foundation, Crown Agents has been able to provide six months of psychosocial support to over 2000 adults and children. Working alongside dedicated psychologists like Kateryna, our aim is to facilitate the psychosocial recovery of women, the elderly, and people with disabilities who find themselves in a profound state of psycho-emotional distress due to Russia’s military aggression. Our goal is to ensure that no one is left behind in their journey toward healing. 

A Message for World Mental Health Day 

This World Mental Health Day, we are reminded of the fundamental importance of mental health as a human right. The MWA emphasises that

“Recognising mental health as a universal right underscores the critical need for accessible and high-quality mental health care for everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.”  


Kateryna Shukh, from the Mariupol Women Association