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05.17.2023

The Ukrainian Refugee Psychologists of Krakow

Thanks to support from Project HOPE, a psychological center in Krakow, Poland has become a safe workplace for Ukrainian psychologists to fulfill their passion while they help their fellow refugees.

By Natalia Goviadova

After the initial shock of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, millions of Ukrainians who were forced to flee had to start thinking about what to do next with their lives. How would they continue to develop? To integrate into society and provide a decent life for themselves and their children?

Among them were millions of Ukrainian women — many of them mothers traveling on their own with children or elderly parents.

Today, the most common thing you hear from refugees about those first days and months of the invasion is that they were thinking about how they could continue to be useful to their country and fellow citizens, support the struggle from a distance, and bring victory.

They physically left the country, but their hearts remained in Ukraine.

During the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, psychologists who had already worked in Poland — as well as those who had newly arrived as refugees — sought opportunities to help other Ukrainian refugees and provide their services as volunteers. The flow of people in need of assistance was enormous, and the need for psychological first aid was high.

However, over time, the issue of employment and providing services in a more systematic way became necessary.

In September 2022, with support from Project HOPE, Zustricz Foundation — which is comprised completely of Ukrainian women — established the Psychological Support Center for Refugees and Migrants from Ukraine in Krakow, Poland. The center has opened its doors to people requiring psychological assistance in September 2022.

group of people in Poland
Psychologists at the Psychological Support Center for Refugees and Migrants from Ukraine following a safeguarding training in Krakow. The center is giving Ukrainian refugee psychologists a chance to continue working while providing mental health support for their fellow refugees. Photo by Zustricz staff.

In addition to carrying out its primary mission, the Psychological Support Center and Project HOPE provided employment opportunities for 22 psychologists, including 18 psychologists who are refugees themselves — highly qualified specialists who were forced to leave their homes and jobs.

For these psychologists, their work is not just a job: it’s a calling and an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of thousands of their fellow Ukrainians during a time of suffering.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be in this profession, to grow and develop, and to help people,” said Eugenia, a refugee psychologist who arrived in Poland in with her son in March 2022. “After feeling safe, being in my profession is the most important support for me in such a difficult time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be useful, to feel alive and stable among my own, and for my own.”

group of people sitting around in a circle
Psychologists attend a workshop on how to address aggressive behavior in children. The war in Ukraine has led to a steep rise in mental health issues and aggressive behavior among children, especially at home and school. The trainer, Svitlana, is a children’s psychologist who previously taught courses for children’s psychologists in Ukraine. Photo by Zustricz staff.

Working in the Center is also an opportunity for them to continue growing and developing as professionals and to receive supervision. Additionally, this work helps psychologists preserve their own mental health and well-being, reminding them of the power of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit. Working in a team facilitates adaptation to the new society. A supportive environment helps psychologists cope with the challenges of adjusting to a new place and culture.

Furthermore, their work enables psychologists to support themselves and their families by providing them with a decent standard of living. This is particularly important in a time of crisis, as economic instability and displacement can be major sources of stress and anxiety.

“Through my work with Zustricz Foundation and Project HOPE, myself and my family were able to stay in Poland, rent an apartment, and provide ourselves with the necessary level of living,” said Olga, a Ukrainian refugee psychologist from Lviv who arrived in Poland with her daughter. “I’m also very grateful to the organization for creating a hospitable, friendly, almost homely atmosphere, providing support in a difficult period of life, and giving me the opportunity to continue my professional development among like-minded people.”

While they continue to wait for peace, refugee psychologists at the Psychological Support Center, through their tireless efforts, are making a real difference in the world, one person at a time.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to receive qualified supervision and new knowledge in educational projects,” said Natalia, a refugee psychologist from Dnipropetrovsk Region. “For me, it is an opportunity to be part of a professional team that helps people from Ukraine cope with the psychological consequences of war.”

Natalia Goviadova is an information officer with the Zustricz Foundation in Poland.

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