When Ukrainian actress Anna Yaremchuk-Bobalo got the call that her husband Oleh had been killed in the fighting at Bakhmut, the first thought that crossed her mind was a paradoxical one: “Now I will sleep peacefully.”

It was almost a relief, not to endure the torment of uncertainty, the constantly worrying about Oleh’s safety and the endless terror every time the phone rang that this might be the call.

Today, she no longer endures the torment of uncertainty, but, like tens of thousands of Ukrainian widows, she’s grappling with grief and confusion. On top of these feelings, she knows she needs to be strong for her daughter. The young woman is enduring panic attacks, the kind where her heart races, she’s short of breath, and she feels an overwhelming sense of impending doom.

Advertisement

About 15 million other Ukrainians are also enduring mental health issues that began with Russia’s invasion of their country, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) June 2023 report. Because there are so many like Yaremchuk-Bobalo and her daughter, and because resources are scarce, almost none have access to the long-term counseling they need.

Fortunately for Yaremchuk-Bobalo, she’s now part of a pilot effort to provide mental health “first aid” for other Ukrainians who are enduring mental health stress. The Healing Hidden Wounds project, which I founded, videotapes 15-minute Zoom sessions between mental health professionals in the West and individuals in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are individuals who suffer from issues such as depression, panic attacks, insomnia, or other mental health problems. The end goal of the project is a YouTube channel where people from anywhere can tune in and get tips for handling their own mental health issues.

German Opposition Supports Combat Aircraft Deliveries to Ukraine
Other Topics of Interest

German Opposition Supports Combat Aircraft Deliveries to Ukraine

The leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said Berlin should help Ukraine “restore sovereignty over its own airspace” by transferring combat aircraft, which is easier said than done.

In Yaremchuk-Bobalo’s case, she talked via Zoom with New York psychotherapist Viktor Dlugunovich about what she’s going through. He in turn, during a 15-minute session, shares with her tips that he’s seen have helped others who are enduring grief.

Advertisement

Dlugunovich is one of roughly 65 New York mental health professionals who are donating their time and expertise. I had contacted these 65 mental health professionals and told them about the Healing Hidden Wounds project. Everyone understands that these sessions are not a substitute for a long-term relationship with a therapist, but on the theory that even one or two tips can make life at least a little better, the therapists share their best tips.

In her session with Dlugunovich, Yaremchuk-Bobalo tells him that she’s become too antisocial. “I like to be alone. I’ve closed myself off so much that I worry if I’ll explode later. I’m not following the usual five stages of grief.”

Viktor listens intently, and then offers reassurance. “Each person’s grief is unique and often cannot be neatly categorized into stages. Grief is a tsunami, and when it takes you over, use what works for you.” He talks with her about the importance of staying true to herself and if being alone is what she needs at this point, in her case it’s probably not only normal. It’s healthy.

Advertisement

Viktor shares his own experiences, revealing that he has buried two of his children and understands the depths of sorrow. He reassures Anna that as long as she keeps Oleh’s memory alive, he remains with her in spirit. “The Russians may have taken Oleh’s physical body by murder, but nobody will ever take away his memory. As long as you are alive, he is alive.”

Yaremchuk-Bobalo’s body language changes as she hears this. She’s sitting up straighter, and she’s no longer twisting her fingers in anguish. The message is clearly impacting her.

Yaremchuk-Bobalo then brings up another aspect of her grief, one that’s entirely a modern phenomenon: She feels acutely vulnerable to criticism she gets of her posts on social media.

Viktor answers by quoting Marcus Aurelius: “The person who walks into a storm is a different person who walks out afterwards.” He reassures her that her journey through grief will transform her, and with time, she’ll be able to disregard her critics.

Then he tells her something that makes her smile. “It’s okay to tell your critics, ‘Screw you!’”

She looks as if she’s about to laugh. It’s a good guess that she hasn’t laughed in a long time. Healing Hidden Wounds has offered her reassurance on how she’s doing, comfort in recognizing that her husband’s memory is still with her, and encouragement to become tougher with her critics. A good even if brief psychotherapy session, one that will give her tools to continue healing.

Advertisement

Yaremchuk-Bobalo’s story is unique to her, but it has universal elements that can help others. Others who watch it when it’s up on YouTube can gain ideas that can help guide them on their journey through grief.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post. 

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter