Yesterday there were five nationwide air raid alarms in Ukraine. While I am in Kyiv working with my teammates to finish local registration of the Novi Foundation, Russia continues to launch missiles and drones aimed at infrastructure and civilian residential buildings.
Five times children all over the country were shuttled into cellars, bomb shelters, and parking garages to hide from deadly Russian attacks. They struggle to cope, and even though I’m not a psychologist, it’s clear to me that to one degree or another, they are traumatized by the daily grind of war and the uncertainty that attends it.
The vicious cycle is clearer to me than ever: as adults react to the stresses of war and grow despondent about their prospects, the kids either shut down and attempt invisibility or are hyper-reactive and act chaotic. The adults are stressed out or traumatized themselves, not able to meet the simple needs of their kids or those in their charge, and when the children don’t behave as expected, they are disciplined or reprimanded, their trauma reinforced unknowingly by overwhelmed adults.
I’ve seen it in communities at war for 30 years. In times of conflict, if children are not cared for by understanding adults and given support to cope with the overwhelming fear in healthy ways, long-term damage to their mental health is at some level a certainty.
The good news is that the adults, even those our local team trains along the 800-mile front line, are quick to comprehend and adapt their parenting and relating to give trauma-informed care, to be gentle, and patient while chaos fills the airways. When they know that one stressful event results in at least 20 minutes of cognitive impairment, they change their way of relating immediately. When they understand that in a day, a child may never recover their faculties of reason because of relentless threat and fear, they act with compassion and understanding, even though they are triggered by the same events.
It is beautiful to witness and creates the possibility of durable resilience and hope for children and teenagers on their way to adulthood. That is why I’m in Kyiv. That is why our local team members are so motivated. That’s why Novi exists. The emotional regulation tools we’ve been trained to use are effective. Seeing them work in the lives of children and their families feels miraculous to me.
The parents, church leaders, teachers, civil servants, and professionals don’t merely wish for support, they need it and constantly express gratitude for our efforts to share the life-changing activities when they are most needed: during, not just after conflict.
I write this from an apartment in Kyiv at 5:00 a.m. after waking up feeling thankful for the caring community I’m part of. That’s you.
A grateful team member, Steve Gumaer
Hanna is from Kharkiv. Last week, she went back to her war-torn home.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out, ‘Stop!’