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Ukrainian Refugees Heal by Keeping Hope Alive

"How do you even begin to establish a sense of normalcy when your entire life has been uprooted? How do you maintain hope and keep your spirit alive?"

The lives of millions of Ukrainians have been shattered by the Russian invasion. For many, life changed in an instant… one day people were going to work, and playing in the park with their families. The next day they were fleeing for their lives — leaving everything behind as bombs obliterated their homes. Civilians continue to be killed as the war rages on. 

Laurie and refugees
Laurie participates in an art workshop with Ukrainian women

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit our partner in Warsaw, Bereginia – Mariupol's Women's Association. Through our partnership and thanks to your support, women survivors, who have fled the war, have not only been given accommodation, shelter, and school for their children, but also personalized legal advice, trauma-informed counsel and the emotional healing support they desperately need.  

As I sat with the women survivors, talking to them while we created art together, they shared how scary it was for them to leave Mariupol, the treacherous journey they made to get to Warsaw. These women have lost everything. Their cities are destroyed, they’ve lost their community, some have had to leave their loved ones behind. The world they once knew no longer exists. 

How do you even begin to establish a sense of normalcy when your entire life has been uprooted? How do you maintain hope and keep your spirit alive? 

It’s by forming connections while focusing on the small tasks that you do have control over. It’s the daily routine that keeps you grounded in moments of distress. 

Making art and creating something beautiful, together in solidarity, is how these women are beginning to heal from their trauma. It’s what gives them hope and is just as important as the legal advice, vocational skills training and counseling they also receive.  

Kateryna
Kateryna Shuh, co-founder of Bereginia uses art therapy to help Ukrainian women and kids heal their trauma.

This holistic support – social and economic – is at the core of what we do and what I saw being reinforced by the founders of Bereginia – a mom and her daughter. The mom, Maryna, is a lawyer by trade and her daughter Kateryna is a trauma therapist. As well as leading Bereginia, they are also refugees themselves, who fled the devastating bombing in Mariupol and who have dedicated their lives to helping others. 

Maryna said to me, “Women can only be free when they can earn. It traumatizes you from inside when you are dependent.”  This is a fundamental value that Women for Women International infuses into all of our programs. 

Laurie in Poland 3
Laurie in a doll-making activity with Ukrainian women and their children.

Most people fled Ukraine without identity papers, and, so cannot prove property ownership, parenthood, or access benefits. Maryna helps navigate all the complexity and red tape for women who are traumatized and trying to adjust to a new life in Poland.

Kateryna uses her skills to help with the part that is less visible: the healing of the heart. Having a roof over your head – as those who have experienced trauma know – is not enough. Together, Maryna and Kateryna help women not only regain their independence and dignity but also regain a sense of community and belonging. 

I am so inspired by the resilience of these women. Their lives have fallen apart, they may not know if or when they will ever return home. But they have banded together, in solidarity, to begin healing and determining the course of their futures. They are keeping hope alive. 

Thank you for your generous support and the powerful impact you make for women survivors of war and conflict. 

 

A woman from the Iraq program holds a small flame in her hands. Credit: Women for Women International

The ripple effect of the Ukraine War is creating violence and food shortages across the globe. Help women as they try to provide for themselves and their families during these heartbreaking times.