Spotlight On Ukraine


Ukraine: On its way from trauma to recovery

Written by Oleh Romanchuk and Orest Suvalo

From ESTD Newsletter Volume 4 Number 1, March 2015 > read the original article in our newsletter

Oleh Romanchuk is the Director of Institute of Mental Health of Ukrainian Catholic University, child and adolescent psychiatrist, psychotherapist, CBT, EMDR

Orest Suvalo is a Psychiatrist, Institute of Mental Health of Ukrainian Catholic University



During the 20th century, the Ukrainian population was involved in and fell victim of horrible social cataclysms again and again. The country was caught up in World War I, followed by the Ukrainian-Russian war of 1918-20, Soviet (Red) Terror, The Holodomor (Famine-Genocide) of 1921-1923, 1932-1933, and 1946-1947, of which the year 1933 turned out to be the most dreadful, with deportations and executions by firing squad. Then World War II broke out, giving rise to the terror of German authorities against Jewish and Ukrainian people, the Holocaust, and a dissident movement in the Soviet Union.

            Terror, humiliation and destruction of human dignity, hostility and cruelty in human relations, betrayal, dishonesty, deception, double standards, persecution of dissidents and brainwashing ̲all of this had negative impact on mental health of the community across generations. Such traumatizing resulted in changes, displayed both on individual and social levels. Predominant inactivity, submission, depressiveness, feelings of inferiority, mistrust and fear, crisis and distorted values became current psychological characteristics of the community in totalitarian and post-totalitarian societies.

            Due to the lack of access to the truth and objective analysis of past events we, as a community and as a nation, could not successfully process this historical experience. Every next generation grew up in the totalitarian state with a large number of unexplained and unconscious psychological wounds, which like a burden blocked the development of a free and confident personality.

            After Ukraine gained its independence, we still kept experiencing the effect of these rough traumas. However, by making small and sometimes even faltering steps, feeling huge opposition on the part of both former communist nomenclature and new power elites, not interested in the development of a high-quality community, we gradually came close to a historical, humanistic, and psychological recovery.   

            The Maidan events that started in November 2013 testify to the fact that Ukrainian society, irrespective of the language used, religious beliefs or social status, managed to consolidate during difficult times for the country, and to display its civic position. During the Maidan events ordinary Ukrainians demonstrated a whole new level of cooperation, where people came together for the sake of defending universal human values, such as human dignity, liberty, and justice.

            However, the former authorities continued their struggle against citizens by means of terror and force. The police brutally dispersed students. The dead and the injured on the Maidan became a new trauma in the history of Ukraine. A war followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and military entrance of the Russian combat troops in Eastern Ukraine. Although Ukrainian society stands together and actively supports the army, it is still being traumatized.

            As far back as the Maidan events, along with many other types of workers (software developers, journalists, health workers, etc.), mental health care professionals (psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists) teamed up to provide professional assistance to everybody who needed it. Professional advice was offered to the injured or aggrieved persons as well as everybody who needed it on a free-of-charge basis.

            Because of war, mental health care professionals for the first time ever faced so many people with psychological traumas and people suffering from war-related mental distress. Psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists work with soldiers, prisoners of war as well as with their families and relatives. There are plenty of voluntary organizations in Ukraine. They arduously and effectively carry out their work. Advisory services are provided for those in need at the military hospitals and proving grounds. Lectures and training seminars both for experts and public are being conducted. Specialized literature is being translated into Ukrainian and issued. We already have some experience in dealing with psychological trauma, and yet feel the lack of high-quality knowledge based on the principles of efficiency, evidence and meeting international guidelines.


We are open to cooperation. We are actively looking for cooperation with mental health care professionals and will willingly endorse initiatives of our foreign colleagues who wish to give us the benefit of their experience and join us on our way to recovery.


Institute of Mental Health at Ukrainian Catholic University