Two weeks ago, I booked my family fast track tickets to the Russian EXPO pavilion. Little did I know when booking the tickets how dark this week was going to be. We are witnessing Russia’s atrocious attack on Ukraine, a sovereign nation—an attack that brings nothing but death, pain, trauma and discord into a world already on the brink.
In light of Russia’s attack on a sovereign nation, I chose not to visit the Russian pavilion. I went to the Ukrainian one, instead. As I walked past the Russian pavilion, I admit to being very “unladylike” by saying quietly “Go f*** yourself, Putin.”
Trauma of war
The war in Ukraine also brought my own legacies to light. In WWII Finland fought the Soviet Union mostly alone. In October 1939 Finland undertook a general mobilization, just as Ukraine has done this week. My grandfathers both fought the Soviet Union. Both my grandmothers were Lottas, members of Lotta Svärd, a Finnish auxiliary paramilitary organization for women. The work of Lottas during the war allowed 100,000 men to be released to defend the country.
After the war the trauma inflicted by the war was not spoken about openly. Finland lost 11% of its territory and families were displaced, including mine. Finland had to pay heavy reparations to ‘the winner‘.
Resources were scarce after the war. Finland had to toe a very careful line not to anger the Soviets, and later the Russians. However, an unspoken trauma, whether individual or collective, does not go away. I heard only one story about the war from my maternal grandmother. She told me how painful it was for her to prepare the bodies of the casualties of war for burial. These were her old school friends. The pain was still raw—decades later.
Living with anxiety
There were a few odd times in my childhood when I was anxious about another attack on Finland but have not had concerns about Finnish sovereignty for decades. The attack on Ukraine made me question how safe Finland was from a similar show of power from the Russian out-of-control bully. No wonder it took Finnish citizens only a few days to gather 50,000 signatures demanding a referendum on joining NATO. The parliament must now add the debate on its agenda. People are scared.
Many of us are worried when we read about the destruction of Ukraine. We are also worried about the sovereignty of our own home countries. We lie awake at night anxious about our loved ones being mobilized to fight for freedom in Europe. The humanitarian and environmental disasters that are unfolding are horrifying. Our hearts break when we realize that yet another generation of children are traumatized.
This war in Ukraine may not directly touch you but please remember we and especially our children are all affected. The aftermath of this conflict will spread far and last for a long time. The trauma and pain that this attack has caused— both for the Ukrainians, Russians and everyone else in Europe—will not go away on its own.
So as a psychologist I cannot stand by and watch. Please let’s all support Ukraine in any way we can. Your thoughts and prayers are not enough.
My hope message for Russians is: I hope you break free from this tyranny. I know many of you are against the war in Ukraine. I know you are living in an oppressive regime. I hope you see it as your duty to fight for your freedom and break free from bullies.
Long-term support is needed
When the day comes that Ukraine is free again and starts rebuilding the country—for the sake of the Ukrainian children—please continue to support them. Emotional healing will require time and resources. Don’t leave Ukraine alone now and don’t leave it alone later.
We are starting to see the impact of what is happening in Ukraine already trickling down on residents here in the UAE. The topic comes up in session after session with our clients. While people are trying to heal from their own past wounds, they have to bare the impact of yet another attack on their mental and emotional well-being, not to mention the impact on financial and physical safety of their families.
We feel so privileged and grateful that we can be there to support Ukrainians in our own small ways in whatever way we can. And, I want to urge you to take action to support Ukrainians too!
Here is how you can support:
- Reach out to your Ukrainian friends, colleagues, neighbors. Ask them how you can support them. Who in their family is affected and how you could contribute to relieving some of their suffering. Here’s what one CEO wrote about how to reach out to your Ukrainian colleagues who need your support now.
- If you have any medical expertise offer free online consultation to support the families and children who may be ill and in need of guidance. Even better, see how you can support Doctors Without Borders for Ukraine.
- Consider supporting internationally recognized and approved charities, such as UNICEF.
- Talk to your older children about what is happening. If you need some guidance on how to talk to your kids here is a nice article in the Washington Post.
Don’t stand by. Please, take action today!
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.