Most of the 2.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine have suffered traumatic experiences – among them Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees who had to escape yet another war. Psychologists and social workers say counselling for the new arrivals is crucial.
Anna Potapola fled the city of Dnipro in Ukraine and is now safely in Poland. Yet she and her family still have very real fears. "When we had to leave Ukraine my children asked me, 'Will we survive?'
"I am very afraid and scared for the people left behind," the mother of two told reporters from the AP news agency.
Poland has taken in more than 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine and there has been a huge amount of support from the country's citizens. But in addition to practical help, many of the refugees – most of whom are women and children – will likely need counselling.
The problem has not escaped the attention of the UN migration agency’s director general Antonio Vitorino, who this week reiterated the urgent need for trained psychologists, especially people who are Russian and Ukrainian-speaking, to help those fleeing the crisis.
Learning from 2015
In Germany, where police said Friday that at least 110,000 people had arrived from Ukraine, psychologists and therapists who help migrant communities have warned of "dramatic consequences" as a result of the war.
As in Poland, volunteers and official agencies in Germany have been busy trying to meet the immediate physical needs of those arriving, but that does not not mean it's too early to talk about psychological care, said Vanessa Höse from Xenion, a center for refugees and survivors of conflict in Berlin.
"The first thing they need is safety, shelter, medical assistance. Those are the urgent things," Höse said. "But we also learned from what happened in 2015 that we need to have a long-term view and make sure that people receive psychological care for what they have been through."
Re-traumatized by the war
It's not just Ukrainian nationals who are in need of psychological support. Höse said that there are also many refugees who had fled from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and who were seeking asylum in Ukraine when the Russian invasion began. "These people are very affected and re-traumatized by the war in Ukraine, and they are in a very difficult position because […] many of them are not benefiting from this 'solidarity movement'," she told InfoMigrants.
Most organizations offering psychological care like Xenion are open to all migrants seeking help, regardless of their background. And when face-to-face therapy is not possible, they make use of digital platforms to reach as many refugees and internally displaced-people as possible.
However, many of the organizations have limited capacities -- especially for people in need of counselling in a foreign language.
Also read: Safe but not sound: Syrian refugees on a hard road to mental health
'I am from Ukraine and I need help'
In Germany, finding enough therapists who speak Russian or Ukrainian will likely be difficult. A call by the German association of psychotherapists (Deutsches Psychotherapeuten Netzwerk) for volunteers to help traumatized Ukrainian refugees and other affected by the crisis has resulted in offers from about 50 professional psychotherapists so far, the media officer Ulrich Hanfeld says.
The association also published a note in Ukrainian on its website which read: "I am from Ukraine I need help," and included a phone number and an email address, leading to a flood of responses.
As for whether there will be enough counselling and psychotherapy support for those who need it, Hanfeld could not say.
Xenion’s phone consultation hours are Monday - Thursday, 10 am to midday (Central European Time): 030-880 667 322.
DOWERIA offers 24-hour telephone advice for migrants in Ukrainian and Russian: 030-440 308 454.
Information for Ukraine refugees in Germany in German, Russian and Ukrainian is available at Handbook Germany.