Ukraine – March 10 2022 Safe, but feeling worse Alina Bobko is a social worker who worked with young people from SOS Children's Villages Ukraine in the Kyiv region. On the tenth day of the war, Alina was forced to flee her country. Although now safe, Alina, like many Ukrainian refugees, struggles with survivor’s guilt. Alina, tell us how it all started? On 24 February, at 5 am, we woke up to explosions. My husband said it was just a dream and there was nothing to be scared of. Then the second explosion came, sirens sounded. We ran to the windows. We realized that something bad was going on, but still couldn’t believe it. We hoped it was just firecrackers somewhere close. Vova, a young person from the SOS Children’s Village who was staying with us in the past period, was in his apartment that night. I immediately called him. He said he was sleeping, tired from his work shift the previous day, and hadn’t heard anything. I told him to come to us right away. How and where did your family spend the first days of the war? We stayed at home in Brovary for two days. We realized that the situation was getting really scary. With us was my four-year-old nephew, the son of my sister who went to Georgia a few days before the invasion. There were five of us - me, my husband, our twelve-year-old son, Vova and my little nephew. We taped the windows and prepared a hiding place. We soon realized that this was not very safe, and neither was running to the nearest bomb shelter that wasn’t close to us. On 26 February, we decided to go to relatives outside the city and stay in their basement. There was no sense of security there either. Their home is not far from the Boryspil airport, so when there were explosions at the airport, we could hear it all. Why did you decide to leave? We didn’t plan to leave. But, because of the explosions and the constant danger, we decided to take my son and nephew to safety. I saw that they were already having nightmares. While sleeping, they would shout, jump as if they would run somewhere. My nephew developed a nervous tic. My God, it was such chaos. We found out that a train was leaving from Kyiv to western Ukraine. For us it didn’t matter where we would go. The most important thing was to go far away from what was happening. There were already military checkpoints, it was already getting difficult to leave the place where we were. After three days, I, my son, nephew and my mother’s sister left on a train to Uzhhorod (in western Ukraine, at the border with Slovakia). How difficult was it to leave Ukraine? It is very difficult. First to Uzhhorod, we spent 17 hours on the train standing. My son slept standing leaning on my shoulder. We wanted to take my nephew to a compartment, but there were 15 people in there. Many people got off the train in Lviv, and then we could sit on our backpacks. Our plan was to stay and wait in western Ukraine. Then we heard information from Kyiv to leave with children to Europe in case there were any relatives there. The information said that it would be a difficult night. To be honest, I am absolutely confused now with dates. I don’t know what happened when. I just know they were talking about a difficult night coming, and right at that moment we decided to go further. It took us another 24 hours to get to my sister’s home in Central Europe. How do you feel now? To be honest, emotionally I feel much worse than at home. Here I am without the man who could calm me down – my husband. I think I would be able to relax a little if he was here. My husband and Vova are now in a different region, but they still sleep in basements. Thinking of this has me fall to pieces. Here, already on the second day I started to feel a strong emotional burden. I feel guilt. I understand that I am safe here, nobody is shooting here, I don’t need to run anywhere, I am in a warm place, the children and I are cared of. Emotionally I feel much worse here than when I was in Ukraine. I have my husband there, Vova, my relatives. Do you need any help? Yes, I need psychological help. I wouldn’t say no to this because I am also in constant contact with the young people [from SOS Children’s Villages]. I had a call today with some young people. Five of them are in a village in Kyiv region where a church was bombarded. They are all fine. I am in regular contact with them and they say now they are ok. Sometimes young people call me at night. Night is the time when you think more and start to feel emotionally bad. I hear the fear and anxiety in their voices. I feel that after such calls I need professional supervision. I am a psychologist by education and I understand that I won’t be able to help young people if I don’t have a chance to also take care of my emotions. I used to do charity work, take things to the needy, help with advice. Now in a foreign country people help my family. It is a very strange feeling to be on the receiving side. But I, like millions of Ukrainians, believe that I will return home, rebuild our lives and reunite with my family. Help children and families in Ukraine *** Survivor’s guilt is a type mental condition that develops in people who lived through a traumatic life-threatening event which others didn’t survive. Survivor’s guilt is manifested differently. For some people, it is physical: nausea, digestive problems, loss of appetite or insomnia, while for others it is psychological: obsessions, apathy, panic attacks and more. To help the millions of Ukrainians cope with their emotions, the colleagues from SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine put together some tips for overcoming survivor's guilt: Allow yourself to be sad, you have every right to do so. Remember what led to where you are. An attention shift to external factors can help you get rid of the self-blame. Try to be useful even abroad. For example, you can get involved in volunteering, talk with people from Ukraine, help them morally or financially. Set new goals. They can be related to work, raising your child, self-help or helping others. What you should not do is self-harm [consciously inflicting pain and harm to yourself], drown your pain in alcohol or drugs, stop eating, or panic.