“Children arrive at the camp as helpless victims and leave as people ready to change the world,” Iryna Sazonova, coordinator of Lisova Zastava camp says

Lisova Zastava near Kyiv has existed for as long as we have had the war in the East of Ukraine. Back in 2014 people started moving their children from under shelling in ATO area in hopes that it would cease. It did not. Which is why the camp transformed from an evacuation camp into a psychological rehabilitation camp for children who have experienced the war or are still living in areas of the armed conflict. Since that time, the camp has welcomed more than three thousand children. On July 06, the first of four camp sessions started with the support of Pope for Ukraine initiative. 800 children, 7 to 17 years of age, will have a chance of a free of charge rest.

We find children through volunteers who work near the front, through state services, military men, parents and guardians. This camp is for those who need psychological help because of trauma caused by war. There are children here who have come directly from ATO area and children from families of internally displaced persons or military men. Yet, children from near-front zone make up 70%. “They are a priority as some of them constantly experience shelling and need to hide in cellars without any food,” Iryna Sazonova, Coordinator of Lisova Zastava Camp and Head of All-Ukrainian Charitable Organization – For the Right to Life, says.  She has been here since the beginning. The programme of camp, of course, includes recreational aspects – the children stay in open air and have a lot of physical activity.  But the main task is their psychological rehabilitation.

 

“The main problem of children who come from near-front zone or internally displaced children is that they give in to awful memories, they have nightmares and it seems to them that they are losing their mind,” Iryna says. “Which is why the first step of our rehabilitation programme is to show that all those things that children are experiencing are normal. We do not tell the children that they are going to have therapy sessions for war trauma, which will include analysis of what they have come through. No, rehabilitation is held in the form of a game and children often do not realize that some psychological work is done while they are playing.”

Iryna explains that in case of war trauma it is most important to work on all complicated emotions and feelings that the children have bottled up and cannot express. They do this through art-therapy For instance, they work with different plastic materials – clay, modelling clay, dough. There is an activity called Master-Chef during which children cook different tasty things from dough for their friends and relatives. They also play “wet football” – football in a pool which is slightly filled with water. It may seem like it is just a game but at the same time it is a very good instrument for “legitimizing” strong feelings as you are allowed to shout, make splashes and demonstrate your emotions vividly, which is something you cannot do in the presence of relatives.

 

In addition to such activities, the children also climb ropes course, act out theatrical scenes, go trekking, go on excursions to Kyiv and engage in voluntary work – visit animal shelter and retirement home where they meet the same children of war like themselves. Each activity in the programme teaches something – to overcome fear, to experience emotions, to survive under complicated circumstances, to discover the ability to help others.

“We had a case,” Iryna remembers, “when after visiting the camp children from Novotroyitsk, which is near Volnovakha, came back home and started helping local grannies about the house and in their vegetable gardens. They also gathered smaller children who were too young to go to the camp and started teaching them things they had learnt from us. So they brought the camp programme to their village.  They came to us as helpless victims without a future who did not have a say in anything. They came back home full of life and capable of changing the world.”

 

During camp sessions psychologists also have individual and group meetings with children, on condition, of course, that a child is ready to talk about the things that cause pain. Iryna says that working with those who are going back to ATO area is the most difficult task, as certain defence mechanisms that they have developed over a couple of years, should not be “taken down”. They should not go back to the real world, where there is no support, with an open wound. Which why the actual work of psychologists with children is very cautious. Everyone working at the camp, even the instructors, underwent special training on children’s psychology, conflictology, stress-resistance, and war trauma. What is most important is to give such children tools for self-regulation so that under difficult circumstances they recognize what is happening to them, what they feel and how they can help themselves and others.

“The support of Pope is crucial for us,” Iryna says, “If we did not have this project we would not be able to have such a great number of children that we managed to help. And even if we did, parents would still have to pay something, at least for transfer.  Which is why, children from families who really need help and who have nothing would not be able to come. Thanks to Pope for Ukraine initiative, we will not only help a remarkable number of 800 children but also improve the very system of rehabilitation. We have means for different therapies which we could not afford before. For example, the drums. We could only dream about them and now we have them and it is so great as they work perfectly!”

 

 

Olena Rozvadovska, volunteer, who has been working in near-front zone since the beginning of war, is one of those who brings children who have the most complicated situation. She says that there are few camps like Lisova Zastava, so they must be supported.

“At first they developed as volunteer projects and now they are full-fledged teams which are ready to work with children who suffered from military conflict,” Olena explains. “It would be unwise not to use the summer vacation time to bring here children living in critical conditions at least for a couple of days. Professionals will work with them here, offer support and care and in such a way a child will be stronger, more energetic and healthy. Apart from this, we all understand that children from near-front zones never really had a chance for different activities, mainly because grown-ups did not have time for that. Such forms of work are rarely financed from the state budget.  Not even one in ten can benefit from state-financed vacation packages. Which is why we need to give a chance for recreation to those children whose parents cannot afford to pay for their vacation and did not receive state-financed options

Ivanka Rudakevych

Photos: from fb-page of Lisova Zastava