Kyiv, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — When he sleeps, soldier Vitalij Misko has nightmares that transport him to a Ukrainian battlefield. Hear the bombs going off again and imagine the explosions. He imagines running like a madman, trying to save himself and others. The nightmares are so vivid and terrifying that she pleads with her doctors for help. “My head’s about to explode,” he warns. “do something”.
“It’s very, very, very stressful,” says Misko, 45, referring to these night terrors he battles with the help of tranquilizers and therapy at a mental rehabilitation center for soldiers on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv .
When peace finally returns to Ukraine, thousands of its combatants are likely to return from battlefields psychologically scarred, such as Misko, who suffers from a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Psychologists, civil servants, and ex-servicemen who already suffer from nightmares, nightmare flashbacks, and other PTSD symptoms are working to prevent a potential mental health crisis among soldiers and their families as fighters face particularly gruesome trauma. After the war civilian life has resumed. intense and exhausting.
Whether it’s raising public awareness or funding for mental health treatment or training counselors to help soldiers talk about their psychological trauma, the goal is to root out potentially devastating PTSD-related issues. prevent, including suicide, family violence, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Former paratroop sergeant Maksim Pasichnik says civilian life was “very complicated” for him after years fighting pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine and especially after Moscow launched its offensive, igniting a war which is now on its way. Tenth month His prolonged exposure to war, death and destruction left the 28-year-old with a variety of PTSD symptoms. They fear that many other servicemen and their families may also be victims.
“The consequences come later. You hear noises in your ears, you start vomiting, you come home and your blood pressure changes constantly and you attack your other family members, your children, your wife. are”, he recalls.
“You constantly believe that someone is watching you, you think too much, you do drugs and drink, you lose yourself,” he continued. “If you seek help, you are put in a psychiatric hospital, where they turn you into a vegetable. If you show a flash of anger, they give you tranquilizers and you just sit there.”
Pasichnyk fought his last battle on 24 February at the beginning of the invasion. At night his unit was inserted by helicopter to defend an airfield on the outskirts of Kyiv. The firing and the long journey back to the capital crushed his feet. The bleeding, bruising and broken bones were so severe that he was discharged.
On the outside, the muscular war veteran looks healthy. However, that physical integrity can hide the soldiers’ inner anguish, warns Pasichnik.
“They look nice,” he says, “but they’re not.”
On 12 November, Pasichnyk returned to the damaged Hostomel airbase where he fought on, a return that again evoked memories of what he had suffered there. Starting with the wreckage of the world’s largest airliner before the battle, he ran a half marathon to raise awareness of PTSD and fund treatment for 10 war veterans with symptoms.
Pasichnik says he is concerned not only about the risk of wounded soldiers taking their own lives, but also that they may shoot others and “they may resort to terroristic acts.”
Ukrainian Veterans Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Vorona says statistics on suicides and PTSD among veterans and their families during war are not made public for security reasons, but five months before the invasion, Veterans Affairs Minister Yulia Laputina warned that there was already a “large demand for psychological support from military families” as a result of fighting since 2014 against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The minister, who holds a doctorate in psychology, expressed particular concern that many people are “returning to remote villages where there are no psychologists.”
“We must build a system where emergency psychological assistance operates in the most remote corners,” he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press later this month, one of his representatives, Eugen Kotick, said the ministry is “actively working” on a suicide and alcoholism risk reduction program.
Based on data from past conflicts, about 20% of soldiers exposed to heavy fighting in Ukraine may develop PTSD, estimates British psychiatrist Neil Greenberg, professor of defense mental health at King’s College London, who has previously studied PTSD for 23 years. Served as a Royal Army Medical Officer. including Iraq and Afghanistan. After the Russian invasion, he also organized online training for the Ukrainian military on dealing with traumatic incidents.
Unlike foreign troops fighting in Afghanistan or American troops in the Vietnam War, Ukrainian troops are fighting in their homeland, with clear support from their people, with a clear enemy, and with concrete goals and justifications. All of this could help reduce the mental health consequences of former Ukrainian soldiers, says Greenberg, who describes the conflict in the European nation as a “psychologically good war for Ukraine.”
However, a victory for Ukraine, the subsequent good treatment of soldiers returning to civilian life, and reconstruction will also play an important role in determining whether psychiatric illnesses become “mass casualties” among veterans” or just significant numbers. ” Greenberg says.
Anticipating that many people will need help, Ukrainian psychologist Andrey Omelchenko is training volunteers to mentor soldiers. So far there are 300 volunteers and the target is to reach 2,000 in total.
Omelchenko also provides face-to-face counseling to soldiers on the battlefield and continues that work online each time he returns to Kyiv, speaking about battlefield trauma over video calls from his 17th-floor office. Debilitating panic attack after witnessing a missile strike, in which three soldiers were seriously injured.
Omelchenko says Russia’s heavy emphasis on artillery firepower is having a psychological effect on Ukrainian soldiers. He says social media increases psychological stress, because it shows soldiers that while they are in the trenches, their loved ones and friends are enjoying a relatively normal life.
“It’s really painful,” Omelchenko says. “Civilian life teaches many good things which should not be shown.”
Omelchenko, on the other hand, says he also gets calls from families asking how to deal with soldiers changed by war: sad, distant, nervous and in their own world. Omelchenko experienced the same with his grandfather, who fought in World War II as a teenager.
“My grandfather never smiled,” Omelchenko recalls.
At the Forest Glade rehabilitation clinic on the outskirts of Kyiv, Misko’s recovery continues. In addition to pharmaceuticals, the facility uses yoga, acupuncture, soothing sounds and other therapies on its 220 patients.
“I’m happy I’m still alive,” Misko says.
Nevertheless, he immediately cries when he talks about an artillery attack that killed several of his friends.
“I’m getting used to[these]feelings, but it’s still very, very difficult,” he says. “If you are not here, you do not understand anything, you will not understand.”