At a camp sponsored by Novi in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine, 18 brave kids surviving war in front-line towns outside Donetsk gathered for a winter camp to find their way to peace and healing. They also had a break from the daily air raid sirens and explosions they were used to hearing as Russian forces continued to attack their communities. A generous Ukrainian psychologist led a team of caring and experienced staff who spent the week investing in the emerging leaders of Ukraine and the hope of our world. 
The fathers of these children are away fighting or have been killed defending their land against the Russian army. Some died from missiles or artillery as they tried to lay low and avoid contact with the invaders. Every child who joined this camp had a story of devastating loss and sadness. 
Our team participated on the first day of the camp, leading the eager group through Helping Hands, an art-based activity designed by clinical psychologists to increase emotional awareness and self-regulation. 
The children were responsive and engaged with us. While the room was buzzing with conversations around the activity, I noticed a young woman named Masha crying as she worked on her self-portrait. She was one of the adults who traveled by train from the front line to escort the kids. She noticed me glancing her way and said, “The Russian Army killed my fiancé,” and she went on to tell me how the love of her life was taken from her by violence. Yet there she was with 18 kids, being a wounded healer, showing love despite the pain still plaguing her. 

One of the boys who participated in Helping Hands. Photo @dannyburrowsphoto

One volunteer at the camp named Petro shared how his mom was taken forcefully by Russian troops, abused in every conceivable way, and beaten so severely that all her teeth were broken from her mouth. He suffered but managed to escape captivity and then rescue his younger brother from Russian-occupied Donetsk, where he lived in an orphanage against his will after being kidnapped by pro-Russian invaders. 

It's hard to believe people can do such terrible things to a child or a vulnerable woman, and it is inspiring to hear the stories of triumph as people victimized by brutality make it through their ordeals with resilience and then volunteer or start charities to help others who have suffered like them. Petro volunteers to help children and displaced families, while his mom started a charity in Kyiv assisting female victims of sexual violence. Out of their former pain pours love today. While in Ukraine last month, we met many amazing people who embody extreme stories of suffering and redemption. Petro is one of them, and he not only helps the youngest victims of war but also finds greater inner strength and motivation to face the days ahead instead of hiding from them or shutting down altogether.
Despite all the bad news today, follow Masha and Petro’s lead to become part of a community that contributes to a hopeful world where the potential is awakened and peace is nurtured. There is healing in the actions of love, even if standing up to act is painful. Goodness grows when we act on it, both in the world and within us. 
The children we worked with will grow and accomplish what we have failed to achieve. With a healthy emotional state, they will become the change we all long for and make the peace we've failed to create. We all are part of nurturing their potential and place in the world. Don't give up. Wherever you are today, you belong here, too. The Novi Community comprises people like you, wounded healers who find creative ways to restore childhoods disrupted by war.

Text: Steve Gumaer

Photo @dannyburrowsphoto


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