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The Healing Power of Art Therapy for Women Fleeing Ukraine

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THE LIVES OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE FROM UKRAINE HAVE BEEN SHATTERED BY THE RUSSIAN INVASION - BUT THANKS TO THE HEALING POWER OF ART THERAPY, WOMEN STILL HAVE HOPE.

On 24th February 2022, Russian forces invaded Ukraine. The besieged port city of Mariupol has faced relentless bombardment by Russia, killing thousands of civilians and forcing many more to flee. 

The Vice President of Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association's, Kateryna, is one of the millions of women who escaped the incessant bombing.

Kateryna fled Mariupol to Poland on 28th February, where she met with our team and shared her personal story. She also told our team about how other survivors who were evacuated from Mariupol spent weeks in shelters and cellars without access to water, heating or food. They are severely traumatised by the experience, and some have been raped and subjected to sexual violence since the war began. 

Through our Conflict Response Fund and in partnership with our sister organisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Žene za Žene International, we have partnered with Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association, to support women survivors displaced within Ukraine and in Poland, where so many women have taken refuge.

The road to recovery for these women won't be easy but, in partnership with Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association, we are standing alongside them every step of the way - using art therapy as a tool to help. 

These pictures, these videos, these stories - they cannot show all this pain … because you can’t even believe that this is reality. Most of them, they tell me that they’re afraid to cry. They are afraid to speak about it, because this is a place inside where there is so much pain and they are afraid to touch this place.

Kateryna, Vice President of Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association

Healing Through Art

Kateryna has been working as a psychologist in Bereginia with women from the Donetsk region for over five years

Now in Poland, Kateryna is working with Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association to provide holistic and comprehensive care to hundreds of women and children. Services include a safe space for their rehabilitation and medical care including psychological support. We are also facilitating restorative art therapy to these women express what they are feeling, connect and create.

You just had this horrible experience, you lost your home and you don’t know how you stay alive. …You lost your relatives, husband, friends or colleagues and you’re faced with all these tasks, all these problems. This is very difficult.

Kateryna
Women refugees from Ukraine sharing bracelets created in art therapy with our partners at Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association. Photo credit: Kateryna
Women refugees from Ukraine sharing bracelets created in art therapy with our partners at Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association. Photo credit: Kateryna

"You Are Not Alone"

Sharing bracelets and support

In one session called “You Are Not Alone”, Kateryna encouraged women in the group to talk about mutual assistance – about how these women, who can all relate to one another’s experiences, can support each other. They created bracelets using the kanzashi technique in their national colours, before giving them to each other with parting wishes to end the session.

Kateryna said: "It was very touching and important for everyone."

A Collage of the Future

Creating today as a reminder of tomorrow

In another session, the women we are working with created a collage titled "My Future Life After Five Years”. Kateryna explained: "At this difficult time our women are confused, many do not know how to live on. The war destroyed dreams and plans. Many women are in a state of paralysis."

This activity was a way to help the group remember what is important to them, what they dreamed about - to help them build a new vision of the future.

As the war continues, more and more people find themselves internally displaced within Ukraine or forced to flee the country and everything they know. The numbers are only getting worse, with sexual violence increasing and more women suffering. The need for support is mounting by the day.

Our task … is to help our women … to continue life after all of these horrible situations. The war … separates your life ... And this is a challenge for us, for women, for children, for people from Ukraine to connect these parts and continue life.

Kateryna

Kateryna's work with Bereginia - Mariupol’s Women’s Association is a psychological lifeline for so many. Here are some of the other ways we are helping women as they learn to accept their new reality and look toward the future:

  • Psychosocial support and trauma-informed counselling, including but not exclusively art therapy 
  • ⁠Safe spaces for women to gather and connect with each other ⁠
  • Gender-based violence counselling and prevention ⁠
  • Legal counselling ⁠
  • Vocational training
  • Language support in Poland

Our Conflict Response Fund enables us to support this critical work - to respond to women's urgent needs as the war in Ukraine continues and in real-time as other conflicts unfold.

Read more

It has been 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine. With each day that passes, more and more women are at risk of sexual violence. Olena Behnke fled from Ukraine two months ago. She now works for Women for Women International, supporting other women refugees. Read her blog as the war continues. 


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As millions in Ukraine are forced to flee their homes, we must not forget about people in countries such as Afghanistan, South Sudan and Iraq who are also dealing with the effects of the war. Read about how the war in Ukraine is contributing to global hunger and leaving millions on the brink of starvation. 


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Conflict Response Fund

subtitle: In 2018, we launched a new conflict response fund — a separate funding pool to more rapidly help women who are caught in the current horrors of our time. To reach women in their most critical moments, we work with partners who can respond to conflict and

In 2018, we launched a new conflict response fund — a separate funding pool to more rapidly help women who are caught in the current horrors of our time. To reach women in their most critical moments, we work with partners who can respond to conflict and make an immediate impact.