English Version: Interview with Dr. Valeriia Palii
Today is “World Humanitarian Day”. As an international community, we commemorate all those who died while providing humanitarian aid in areas of crisis.
BDP President Dr. Meltem Avci-Werning spoke to the President of the Ukrainian Psychology Association, Dr. Valeria Palii. Both associations are member organizations in the Global Psychology Alliance (GPA).
Movingly Dr. Palii share her experiences of the last few months, how she and her employees were exposed to a completely new reality in the face of the war and had to adapt their working methods. She talks about civic activism and how it can build resilience and give her people a sense of control.
Dr. Meltem Avci-Werning: How does the National Psychological Association of Ukraine operate under the current circumstances? Is your staff still located in the Ukraine? How can you provide psychological and psychosocial help in your country during the war?
Dr. Valeriia Palii: Now we are finally working in a usual mode. The first month were the hardest. By no means we were able to imagine Putin would dare to actually start this war. We all know better now. No one could predict the attack would be as bloodthirsty and destructive as we experience it to be. February the 24th just hit us unprepared. Psychologically we were not prepared at all. In the very first days we had to safe relatives and friends and ourselves and yet develop a „psychological front“ at the same time.
I never got more than two hours sleep – adrenaline and a never ending task list kept me working on and on. So did my colleagues. Many of them stayed and kept on working under fire. One fell into Russian occupation, another spent days to get to the European boarder. To some colleagues we did not have any contact in the first weeks. We did not know if they were alive. They were totally without phone or internet access and had no food or water for several days. There was chaos everywhere. But we established a workflow with those who were located in conditionally safe places. We communicated with phones, messenger services or mail contact. Many of my colleagues left their technical devices at home when they left to save the family and themselves. Today many of my colleagues are refugees in European countries, some moved to safer places in the Ukraine, some are still hiding the basements of the cities under constant fire (Kharkiv, Mykolayv), some are surrounded by the enemy (Donetsk region, Zaporizhzhia oblast), some are in temporary occupation (Kherson).
I am in Kyiv and I intent to stay. For now, I am able to organize a relatively stable working process under the given circumstances. Thanks to the army, the situation is – as far as possible – under control. We have a reliable team and joined volunteer networks to help wherever we are needed. What means: 1. We support our community with currently needed knowledge and skills. We provide free education, training, translation and organize supervision. 2. We organized a help line for Ukrainians, it is available in Ukraine and in Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Ireland, Great Britain, Portugal, Sweden, and Austria. And soon it will be available in Germany. 3. We advise various Ministries and government initiatives. 4. We advocate the exclusion of Russian associations from various professional communities, as they cooperate with the crime regime and support the war.
Dr. Meltem Avci-Werning: What do you expect from alliances such as the GPA that you are a member of, to assist on the ground during humanitarian crises such as wars, natural and other
disasters? How can the psychologist community deliver assistance and relief?
Dr. Valeriia Palii: During the first days, we received a letter from the Alliance stating that all members condemn the war and express solidarity. I cannot say how many support letters of colleagues and associations from all over the world we actually received. All with the strong wish to help. With some of them we organized training sessions for Ukrainian psychologists. Some national associations in different countries offered psychological and humanitarian support, others helped Ukrainian psychologists in their countries to find work. I did not expect any help from the Global Psychological Alliance. And it was overwhelming to experience all the help from so many directions.
What we learned from the current situation is that the GPA is a huge expert pool for various topics concerning suicide or abuse help hotlines or support for people who are missing relatives and friends, suffer moral injuries, fear death or people who need psychological help around military concerns. Every piece of knowledge can help.
Dr. Meltem Avci-Werning: Currently there are several severe humanitarian crises taking place across the world – besides the atrocities on the territory of Ukraine the people in Afghanistan are living under inhumane conditions and threatened and traumatized by violence, hunger,
misplacement, amongst others. Citizens often feel helpless when hearing this news,
and want to help. What advice can you give to people who would like to join the
Dr. Valeriia Palii: My advice - contribute to solving the problem and act. Almost 6 months, my citizens and I have been reading news full of pain and despair. Sometimes I feel like a character in an anti-utopia series, like “Black Mirror” or “Year and Years”, and I really want to switch it off. But I can't. I try to distract myself thinking of problems somewhere in the world, but reality is coming back, feeling even closer.
The main secret of Ukrainian citizens' resilience is contribution. We are standing strong together, help the army, attending protests and do volunteer work where it is needed. United we are able to regain our sense of control, change the situation and hopefully bring us closer to our victory.
Everybody can make this world a better place. Find a concrete initiative to dedicate some time and help those in need, donate or support fundraising initiatives, stand up in front of your politicians and demand actions. Only by joining forces we can live in a peaceful, prosperous world. Everyone can be part of the change. Our action matters – no matter how small they might be.