I remember the year of 1998. I was 14, and I was at the summer camp. While making new friends and introducing myself, I started with my name and the place of birth. After I uttered a phrase: "I am from Kosiv," (a small town in western Ukraine), everybody suddenly got silent until one girl said: "Poor you, how's life there?"
A few minutes later, I came to realize that they misheard my place of origin and took it for "Kosovo," a place where the conflict was at its height at that time. We all watched the news and all saw and heard the stories of people dying in that war -- of refugees and suffering. Even though the conflict was relatively far away from the territory of Ukraine, and we weren't directly exposed to it, there was this feeling of fear and uncertainty, and we had to find the ways of dealing with those emotions. More than a decade has passed since that time, but it seems like we, as human beings haven't learned any lessons.
Visiting the Balkans, particularly, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I remember the tourist guide sliding away from her story and saying emotionally both to herself and to us: "Only a few years after the war, everybody realized how useless this conflict was, and how bad the consequences were." Perhaps, the same words would be later told to tourists visiting Ukraine. But, for now we are in the middle of the conflict, which doesn't seem to be stopping in the near future. While I am not going to talk about the origins of the conflict in this article, I would dwell upon its consequences on our future, particularly on the children.
We are all often afraid of some things, which is quite natural as fear can help us survive in some situations. It protects us from danger and, in a way, helps us avoid it. But it's only good in some situations, while the constant feeling of fear can be very stressful and lead to negative consequences.
Children are even more exposed to fears, as there are a lot of things they can't explain rationally and are exploring in the world around them. Relying on adults and their explanations regarding certain things, they might feel more secure. When I was afraid of ghosts and witches, my father would often tell me that they only look scary, but can't actually harm me. And I still remember the phrase: "The wolf isn't as scary as it's depicted."
As children, we slowly learn to understand certain things and let our fears go. It often happens while we talk about some imaginary creatures. But, what about such disturbing things as war, too many deaths and violence all around? Such things are much more scary, as they are really horrible. How should adults help the children overcome such fears if they feel insecure and scared themselves? During the conflict in Kosovo, I experienced it through media, and it didn't affect my friends or relatives, but I had this disturbing feeling of uncertainty and fear.
Now the children in Ukraine are put in the situation when they have to experience directly horrible things they do not fully understand, and there's no way of escaping it by just turning the TV off. A lot of children are forced to leave their homes, lose their friends by moving away, or even much worse -- lose their fathers. Children who have heard bombing and shootings and had to stay in the cellars for an extended period of time are now afraid of fireworks. The world that felt safe and secure all of a sudden turned upside down.
For children from the western part of Ukraine, they are in no better position than the ones from the eastern part. Some of them lost their fathers, some of them were taken to the funerals of their parents' relatives and friends. Media coverage influences children as well; in every family, the war is discussed, and the parents feel insecure and scared as well.
The natural question that comes out is: "How to deal with such a situation? What to and how to explain to the children what is going on? Is it even worth talking about the conflict with the children, or is it better to protect them (if it's possible) by not letting them watch TV and not explaining what is going on?"
As child psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield wrote in her blog:
Don't try to talk your child out of his or her fear. Fear is a natural survival emotion and is as normal for human beings as breathing. You can suppress a fear by saying don't be afraid but you can't get rid of it.
I think that we shouldn't suppress any fears, and we should be frank with our children. We should tell them that such things as war happen, and it can take away many lives, but no matter what, life goes on and we should do our best to protect ourselves and live a happy life. But, unfortunately, there are some things that are completely out of our control, and we should learn to accept life the way it is.