Young Ukrainians share struggle amid war

February 25, 2021 — Hypervigilance, sadness, anger, anger.

Many young Ukrainians have taken to Instagram to express their emotions as Russian troops penetrate deeper into the country.

Political unrest between Ukraine and Russia has a long history, but this is the region’s first major conflict since 2014.

Recalling childhood stories from past crises with Russia, a common sentiment among millennials and Gen-Z Ukrainians on social media is, “I’ve always feared war,” as well as, “How could this happen in the 21st century?”

Expressing these thoughts and feelings online is a great way for young people to manage anxiety, fear, and other distressing emotions they have, says Shari Botwin, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Thriving After Trauma: Stories of Living and Healing. .

Focusing on creating physical and emotional security is also critical.

“Phone, FaceTiming, talk, write,” Botwin says.

“I think it’s so important now to connect and talk to people, especially the younger people there [in Ukraine] can use things like social media,” she says.

“This is one of those situations where we can’t control what happens, but I think being able to talk and say and connect with other people about these feelings can make the situation a little more manageable.”

Asya, 36 years old, from Central Ukraine, currently in California.

“Honestly, I cried all day. I feel helpless and I am very afraid for my family and the Ukrainian people.”

“My friends react differently, some are calm and ready to fight, others are afraid and try to flee the country. My cousin lives in the middle of all this mess, and all he tells me is ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine’ while I’m here in a panic.”

It’s important for young Ukrainians to understand that what they’re feeling right now is normal and makes sense, Botwin says.

“Any emotion that would be attached to PTSD is emotions that they will experience,” she says. “I think some of them felt this 48 hours ago when the bombs started going off. As soon as there was an imminent threat that the Russians would attack, I think PTSD was already set in.”

Tanya, 28 years old, from Eastern Ukraine, currently in the UK

“No one should wake up to the words ‘the war has begun’, especially not to the sound of gunfire or bombs. I now live far from Ukraine, but even I am shaking all morning. I can’t imagine what my friends and family are like there now. I don’t know what to say to people in this situation. And would rather not know. But since we’re here guys, don’t panic and have a clear plan of action just in case.”

Being proactive in expressing frustrations can also help, according to Botwin.

“They can’t make it stop, but they can definitely protest, say how they feel and do what they can to take action,” she says. “I think it’s all about expressing your emotions and trying to find a way to handle a situation that’s bigger than ourselves, and feeling like they can find some control in that situation.”

keep talking about it

It’s critical that Ukrainians keep talking about their feelings even after things are done, because these kinds of emotions won’t go away, Botwin says.

In fact, these feelings may increase.

“Some people will start to feel war over the weeks,” Botwin says.

‘Then you start to realize how terrible everything you’ve been through or what you’ve seen was or is. So it’s almost more important to sometimes say to people, ‘Even if you can’t talk much now, you’re going to have to talk more about this when things start to calm down.’”

Continuing to unpack the whole experience — not just what happened during the invasion — will be an important way to avoid severe chronic post-traumatic stress, deep depression or anxiety disorders in the future, Botwin says.

Talking to a mental health professional will certainly help, but talking to others who have been through something similar can promote “that sense of belonging” and “don’t feel crazy or alienated in your feelings.”

“When people go through these things — even though they know other people have experienced it — unless they’re talking to other people, they’re still going to get stuck in it,” Botwin says.

“Then they can also offer each other suggestions and resources, and they can encourage each other.”

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