What happens to children after they lose a family member in a war. What if they lose multiple family members and home in a single strike? If they’ve watched a parent get murdered as they tried to escape? How does a child learn to live with what they’ve seen and experienced?
Generation Ukrainian started with this mission in mind. Located in western Ukraine, the camp is designed to address the psychological needs of children, 15 and under. After over 600 days, the number of children affected is growing and there are no resources in place to help them.
Oksana Lebedeva, founder of Gen Ukraine, describes what drove the initiative which is now supported by first lady, Olena Zelensky. “I had to do something. I saw these children and realized that they needed something different. I thought, “How can I help them?”
The camp teams up with professional psychologists and therapists over the course of three weeks to help children unpack their personal traumas and grief. More so, the focus is toward developing a community and tools for long-term healing. The campus is made up of a spacious and modern building with a sports field and several playgrounds. The dorms are warm and welcoming with toys and decorations in every space.
Vanui, a resident psychologist, describes some of the challenges faced when children arrive on the first days of camp. “Many of them are overwhelmed and have no idea how to start describing how they feel.” The days are filled with individual therapy, group therapy, extracurricular activities and art therapy.
“It is hard work,” Oksana says. “It is not easy for the children who come here. But it is helpful and I want people to understand the impact. While here, the children learn to turn not just to us but to each other. This is beautiful because they understand they are not alone.”
The emotions of the final days of camp are palpable. Shoulder to shoulder, holding candles, letters- talking about their experiences, it is the final moments of collective healing before they go back home. Back to day-to-day life during a war that is far from over and has already taken so much from them. Generation Ukrainian hopes to give them something back.
Author: Svet Jacqueline