In Ukraine, families of fallen soldiers find comfort

MCC partner operates a peace club for people who have lost family members in the conflict in Ukraine

Apr 9, 2018 by and

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Imagine the pain of losing a child to war, compounded by not having a safe space to express grief.

This is Claudia Antonovna Ushakova’s story. Her son, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, died in combat at the beginning of the war with Russia in 2014.

People who have lost family members in the conflict in Ukraine gather for a peace club at Hram, a Mennonite Central Committee partner. In the foreground at right is Claudia Antonovna Ushakova, whose son, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, died in combat in 2014. — Lyubov Varvyanskaya/MCC

People who have lost family members in the conflict in Ukraine gather for a peace club at Hram, a Mennonite Central Committee partner. In the foreground at right is Claudia Antonovna Ushakova, whose son, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, died in combat in 2014. — Lyubov Varvyanskaya/MCC

The conflict began early in that year, when Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine. Unrest spread, intensifying from May through November 2014 as waves of people fled fighting in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (provinces), which share a border with Russia.

Ushakova hails from Zaporizhia, a city 125 miles from the conflict zone. Because it’s a peaceful city, some people are in denial about the problems of the war. People like Ushakova find others don’t understand their pain or even reject it.

“My soul was in pain. I had no one to share my experiences with,” she said.

A Mennonite Central Committee partner, Hram, was founded in 2008 and began responding to the needs of those affected by the conflict when it began in 2014. Ushakova found a safe place to share her experiences in a Hram-run peace club.

“Regularly attending the peace club meetings for family members of fallen soldiers helped me to understand that in this world I am not the only one with this problem, and there are people with whom I can talk about my misfortune. They understand me, share my pain and support me in difficult moments,” she said.

“This is where I found a safe place where I could open up and talk about what is really important to me.”

According to Hram director Irina Sergeevna Dmitriv, the peace club not only provides some respite for people who have lost loved ones but also works with veterans and offers tips for conflict resolution.

“With the military background and heightened domestic aggression, it is important to talk to people about the possibility for peaceful dialogue and give them new models of conflict behavior,” she said. “It’s also important to help the victims and prevent the spread of destructive behavior among them.”

Veterans without adequate coping mechanisms for trauma can turn to alcohol or become violent. Suicidal tendencies are also common among veterans.

For Ushakova, the peace club helped her personally but also motivated her to help others.

“At these trainings, I discovered new qualities in myself and learned to forgive and understand other people, to dialogue with others, although earlier for me it seemed impossible,” she said. “I have found the strength to help other people in similar situations, and I take part in the peace club, as a volunteer.”


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