• Daria Dovzhenko | Communications specialist

Lviv region – A room in one of the hotels in Western Ukraine, far from the frontline and daily concerns, has become a haven for veterans and their families. Seated in a circle, they openly share the pain they endure. Alla and Oleksii stand out among them: Oleksii is timid, learning how to speak again, making an incredible effort to articulate a few short words at a time. Alla, his wife, has become his voice and a pillar of support during the difficult time of recovery from a serious injury. Like many families of Ukrainian veterans, the war has left its indelible mark on them, driving the family to attend a retreat organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to rebuild their spirits. 

Retreat for veterans and their families, organized by IOM in December 2023. Photo: Daria Dovzhenko/IOM

“Oleksii says he doesn't need help, but he understands how important it is for me, so here we are,” Alla explains. “It became very difficult after his injury. Dealing with emotions became challenging, and I'm always anxious of what may come next.” 

In January 2023, Oleksii suffered a traumatic brain injury that affected his self-control and emotional well-being.  As a result, even seemingly insignificant things can provoke strong emotions in him. 

Before the war, the family enjoyed a happy life. Alla taught piano and Oleksii worked in forestry in their hometown of Kramatorsk, Donetsk region. After the invasion in February 2022, Oleksii couldn’t remain on the sidelines and joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces. By January 2023, Oleksii's life became divided into “before” and “after”: he got injured and went into a coma, at one point being on the brink of death. The right side of his body still does not function properly, making his wife's assistance vital. 

For almost a year now, Oleksii has been recovering from a serious injury. Photo: Daria Dovzhenko/IOM

“I know that rehabilitation takes time, but it is not easy. My son and I have been inseparable since the full-scale invasion, and we got used to it. And now, when Oleksii returned transformed, there are some communication difficulties,” Alla says. 

Many veterans are confronted with a similar obstacle when they return to civilian life, as 14% of veterans' families felt that military service had affected the family's social interaction and relationships, according to recent IOM survey. IOM family retreats, which are part of the “Path of Resilience” project, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, include communication training and leisure activities to help veterans overcome emotional blocks, have positive experiences and socialize. To resolve any communication issues, participants can also seek help of a family psychologist, specifically assigned to them, who is familiar with their background. 

Oleksii and Alla doing one of the family exercises. Photo: Daria Dovzhenko/IOM

“With so much information available today, it is easy to get lost. These retreats use extremely effective techniques. I appreciated Oleksii’s passion today during the face-to-face exercise. I noticed a spark in his eyes. So, I'm convinced that everything will work out for us,” Alla says. 

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being