Helping Hands as Kyiv is attacked.
Alex* is from eastern Ukraine. He has been learning English online over the last two years, and chats with friends all over the world. “I have more than two hundred friends on Discord,” he tells me. “I am always happy because I have so many friends and my mother takes good care of me.”
My team spent the afternoon leading a group of children from families displaced by war through activities designed to teach them skills in identifying and managing emotions in a healthy way. The main activity is called Helping Hands. It is a tool of emotional regulation developed by team member Trygve Børve. Where do you feel emotions in your body? What do you do that helps when you’re feeling angry, scared, sad, or happy? Who can help when you feel these emotions?
These skills are important for healthy emotional awareness, but in a war zone, they are critical for handling situations that can otherwise be debilitating.
We also have a great time, with games, art, and, of course, pizza.
Alex is upbeat and engaging, and claims that he is never sad, never scared. And I mostly believe him, but I can’t help but wonder. And once the party is over and we have built a bit more friendship, he starts opening up with memories of when the war began.
“I heard three explosions,” he tells us, “and then a lot of shooting. My mother pulled a mattress over me. It was very scary. The next day there were more explosions and more shooting. There was no electricity. We stayed in the basement for three weeks. During the explosions, pieces of the ceiling started falling down on us. It was very scary.”
He continues, “The explosions were very close. There was a big garbage can outside our building. It was big and heavy and secured to the ground. There was an explosion that blew it up through our window. It was attached to the ground, but it came all the way up through our window. We lived in a very nice home on the third floor. It was new, in a very nice area, with new paint. But it is now completely destroyed.”
Alex will turn 11 next month. He chats with anyone he can, and especially enjoys conversations with adults. His older brother is as quiet as Alex is outgoing. Everyone deals with trauma in their own way. And for this family, a mother with four children, each with a similar story and a different temperament, the fun, and emotional skills, and vitamins are a bit more help as they begin to imagine how to rebuild their lives.
*Oleksander is the Ukrainian form of the English name Alexander. I chose this name as a pseudonym to protect his identity. It means “defender of mankind.”
This blog was written by Luke in the early morning of 17 October in a bomb shelter as 11 drones used by Russian forces attacked Kyiv were shot down by Ukrainian air defense, leaving many more that destroyed infrastructure targets and residential buildings..