• Anastasiia Furtas | Senior Communications Assistant

“Before it was like I was in a dark cocoon. Now I have new friends and acquaintances who I can share a coffee with,” says Iryna. Displaced from her home city of Kramatorsk, this is her story about how participating in an IOM project has improved her livelihood and wellbeing.

Iryna relocated to Bila Tserkva in June 2022 along with her husband, son and daughter. Generally it was extremely challenging — a new city, new people, and complete uncertainty. In Kramatrorsk, Iryna worked as a leading accountant. After her office was bombed and as she and her family moved to Bila Tservka, Iryna attempted remote work, yet concern for her family’s well-being kept her in a state of tension and severe stress.

Iryna participating in psychosocial support and skill-building group sessions. Photo: IOM/Anastasiia Furtas

Iryna began to look for professional development opportunities to prepare to move on in case she might lose her job in Kramatrorsk. She enrolled in tailoring courses, one of many vocational training courses provided by IOM. At the same time she attended psychosocial support and skill-building sessions that were offered alongside her tailoring courses. Little by little, Iryna began to find new friends among other programme participants. Learning together and heart-to-heart conversations in the psychosocial support sessions created unity. People from different parts of the country affected by the war shared their stories and found emotional support in each other.

“Even after all the sessions finished, we stay connected with the girls in our chat. We always share important information or ask about some points, for example, how to arrange children in kindergarten. If someone has problems, everyone immediately wants to help somehow,” Iryna shares.

One particular session which focused on how to manage stress and panic attacks, resonated with Iryna. She began to use the practices she learned to help her children. For example, count objects around or answer “What do I hear?” and “What do I see?” This approach worked well for Iryna’s children because it reminded them of a game. Now they feel better, and Iryna is more confident because she has the skills to support her family in such difficult situations.

In addition, thanks to the psychosocial support and skills-building sessions from IOM, Iryna improved her communication skills. “Now I know how to get out of conflict situations. Because people are different, and everyone has their own story. All this negativity can accumulate inside and then eventually explode, either at you or at someone else. But now I know how to deal with it.”

Iryna reflects on how she gained her confidence: “Having lived through such challenging times, feeling so much grief and pain, I don’t want to accumulate it in myself. I want to see positivity in the world and people around me. I became more open and now I’m not scared when applying for jobs, attending interviews and reaching out for help or information if needed. I feel like I have to move forward and know I can face whatever obstacles come my way.”

Svitlana, another participant in the IOM psychosocial support programme. Photo: IOM/Anastasiia Furtas

Iryna’s feelings are echoed by Svitlana, displaced from Popasna town, Luhansk region: “I am often asked how I managed to survive after losing everything I had.

My answer is — be open to this world. I am glad that the loss of my old life didn’t throw me into despair and hate of everything. I was able to understand this more, also through the sessions with the girls.”

“I am here because I am trying to build a new life under my current circumstances. Through the sessions I learned to look for positive moments and finally I allowed myself to laugh. Because if you get bogged down in everything negative, then life stops altogether. But as long as you’re alive, you have to move forward.”

Discussion of the results of the session dedicated to self-confidence. Photo: IOM/Anastasiia Furtas

As of November 2023, IOM’s programme integrating livelihood support with psychosocial support was able to assist 337 war-affected persons in Kyiv and Poltava oblast. The programme has been successful in strengthening individual participants’ positive coping mechanisms, helping them build life and social skills to mitigate and manage work-related daily stressors. In addition the programme also fostered social cohesion by bringing together displaced persons with vulnerable local community members. The integrated group sessions, facilitated by psychologists and social workers, offered a safe space for persons with different backgrounds to build and strengthen community support and feel a sense of belonging and togetherness.

“Many who take part in IOM’s programming are from areas in close proximity to war atrocities heavily affecting the population. People’s livelihoods suffered; their mental health situation deteriorated. It is not only about abandoned houses, the loss of familiar surroundings, children’s toys, lifelong friends or workplaces. It is also about the perceived loss of one’s roots and identity, as well as the inability to grieve about what is being lost. IOM’s MHPSS and Livelihood Integration programmes are aimed specifically at self-discovery, adaptation and flexibility in new professions and roles, empowering people affected by war to keep moving forward despite excruciating realities. Through the integrated approach, people’s mental health and psychological wellbeing is central to improving their chances with their new livelihood opportunities,” says Dr. Hatem Marzouk, Senior MHPSS Programme Manager.

IOM’s manual on mental health and psychosocial support is now accessible in Ukrainian. Check it out.

The project is supported by  the Government of Japan.

Text and photos by Anastasiia Furtas, IOM Ukraine