• Anna Tsybko | National Communications Officer

Kharkiv — Valentyna, a delicate woman with the poise of a seasoned schoolteacher, hair pulled back into a neat bun, delicately examines printed artworks before her. She is among a dozen of other displaced women, who gathered on a sunny afternoon to talk about art and poetry, as well as try their own artistic abilities at the library of a local Kharkiv college, where they all now reside. 


IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Team organizes regular events for the residents of collective centres for IDPs in Kharkiv. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

In a bid to address the mental health needs of internally displaced people in Kharkiv, IOM, in collaboration with the Kharkiv Arts Museum, organized a unique event at an IDP collective centre in the city, which included a lecture and a self-reflection activity. 

“I was always a voracious reader. When I was six, I already had a library membership. I read all the 12 volumes of Stendhal’s collective works before I turned 12,” shares her passion for literature Valentyna, who also writes poetry in her free time. She gladly shared a few verses from one of her poems: 

"When wonders stir within my mind's deep sway,

Words burgeon forth, thoughts ripe and gay,

Like angels softly whispering dreams,

Then, in miracles, I believe, and joy gleams." [ed. translated and adopted from Ukrainian] 

Women displaced from Kupiansk region, listen to a lecture by a museum worker. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

To kick off the event, representatives from the Kharkiv Arts Museum gave a short lecture and introduced printed copies of artworks by the renowned Ukrainian poet and painter, Taras Shevchenko. Participants engaged in stimulating discussions surrounding Shevchenko's artistic journey, exploring his works and the evolution of his identity as a painter. 

Museum worker gives a lecture about Taras Shevchenko’s art. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko
Participants of the event look at the printed artworks. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

Valentyna, a former middle school teacher and historian from Kupiansk, a town heavily impacted by the war, had to abandon her ancestral home. She shared her harrowing experience of survival during the occupation by the Russian forces and the impact of hostilities on her family. Recounting days spent hiding in the cellar with her neighbours, she described the fear and uncertainty that permeated their lives amidst the strikes: 

"My neigbour, her son, my daughter, two dogs: we all were living in a tiny cellar. We were afraid to come out because of the strikes. We had some water and a crowbar with us, in case the doors got jammed. We did not leave the cellar for over a week.”

IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Team organizes regular events for the residents of collective centers for IDPs in Kharkiv. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

Among the few possessions she managed to salvage from her home were a cherished book of Taras Shevchenko's works and a traditional Ukrainian decorative cloth known as "rushnyk," that belonged to her grandmother. 

Valentyna shows the traditional cloth ‘rushnyk’ that she brought with her from Kupiansk. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

These items, imbued with cultural significance and personal memories, served as tangible reminders of her roots and provided a sense of comfort and familiarity amidst the uncertainty of her new reality in displacement, Valentyna shares.

The only book that Valentyna brought with her from Kupiansk is Taras Shevchenko’s ‘Kobzar.’ Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

Valentyna's home, like many others in Kupiansk, bore the scars of war — blown out windows, damaged roof, one of the rocket fragments fell in her backyard. Before February 2022, Valentyna was an active member of her community, finding joy in her passion for history, involvement in a local choir and creative pursuits, like writing poetry. 

Remarkably, Valentyna's familiarity with Taras Shevchenko's artistry was on par with that of the museum lecturer, engaging others into a stimulating discussion about the meaning behind the writer’s poems and paintings. 

Valentyna leads a discussion about Shevchenko’s art. Photo: IOM/Anna Tsybko

“Thanks to such joint activities, displaced people from war-affected areas have the opportunity not only to unwind emotionally but also to dive into the world of art and expand their knowledge,” says Natalia Kovalenko, social worker of the IOM Mental Health team in Kharkiv. 

Apart from the lecture, IOM mental health and psychosocial support team facilitated an exercise aimed to support people’s ability to deal with current and future stressors through the practice of self-reflection. Participants were asked to reflect upon two pivotal aspects of their lives: what grounds or supports them, and what they are most proud of, and write it on a piece of paper. This introspective activity aimed to foster a sense of self-efficacy and resilience among the attendees, most of whom are displaced from areas of active hostilities, like Kupiansk and Dvorichna, each with their own unique story of survival and perseverance.   

As the war in Ukraine persists, initiatives such as these play a vital role in providing much-needed emotional support to those affected by displacement and war in Ukraine while providing spaces to facilitate social connections. The event was made possible thanks to the funding of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions