In the 1960s, the conflict in Vietnam was brought home as never before by gut-wrenching front-line images broadcast to American living rooms for the first time. In the ensuing decades, such scenes of once unthinkable carnage have since become standard grist for a voracious 24-hour news cycle, desensitizing viewers to war’s atrocities.

However, those early eyewitness accounts galvanized a movement of concerned parents who proclaimed, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Today in Ukraine, that sentiment rings true now more than ever. Thanks to the efforts of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Blogger Camp, youngsters whose lives have been irrevocably shattered by the blight of Russia’s criminal war are being given the opportunity to process the trauma they’ve endured by sharing their stories in a safe, positive environment.

The Unique Needs of Ukraine’s Children Impacted by War

The Blogger Camp operates under the larger umbrella of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Peaceful Recreation for Children of Ukraine initiative. The camp has offered support to nearly 5,000 Ukrainian minors thus far and is just one of the myriad year-round programs — funded by Metinvest and other leading businesses from Akhmetov’s impressive global corporate portfolio — aimed at addressing the educational, medical, rehabilitation, psychological, and motivational needs of children, teens, and parents suffering the ongoing aftereffects of profound physical and emotional war-related trauma.

In an article titled “The Impact of Trauma: A Developmental Framework for Infancy and Early Childhood,” cited in a 2022 National Institutes of Health study on the impact of war and forced displacement on children’s mental health, Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D., and Kathleen Knorr, licensed clinical social worker, wrote: “Children exposed to war and flight show a broad range of possible distress and stress reactions, e.g. specific fears, dependent behavior, prolonged crying, lack of interest in the environment, and psychosomatic symptoms, as well as aggressive behaviors.”

Blogger Camp was designed for children ages 8 to 15, including those who were illegally deported to the Russian Federation but eventually repatriated to Ukraine. Many of the youngsters who participate in the program have lost not only their homes and the communities in which they grew up, but one or both parents as well. Any sense of safety and security they once enjoyed has been shattered. As the most vulnerable victims of war’s egregious horrors, they require the kind of specialized assistance the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Blogger Camp was created to provide.

“If children are not freed from the shackles of their experiences, in the future all this will manifest itself in the form of neuroses and psychosomatic diseases,” psychologists at the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation warned. Programs such as Blogger Camp facilitate this vital healing process by providing the kind of calming atmosphere and structured therapeutic exercises that allow traumatized little ones to express their thoughts and feelings of hurt, anger, and fear, allowing them to better cope with the hard lessons they’ve been forced to learn through no fault of their own.

The Cause and Effect Between Emotional Trauma and Physical Symptoms

Blogger Camp participants who present with severe psycho-emotional stress are assessed by qualified psychologists when they first arrive. These trained specialists note that frequently, extreme emotional damage in children can lead to symptoms of physical distress. That’s why it’s so crucial to identify trigger issues and determine the level of trauma these youngsters have endured as quickly as possible.

To do so, the emotional support team employs a series of psycho-diagnostic tests. Once the assessment has been completed, a treatment protocol is introduced. To treat children displaying psychosomatically induced physical symptoms, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation has brought in trained osteopathic doctors who work with team psychologists to create the most holistic, integrated, and effective model of care possible.

“What the children have experienced is reflected on the body,” explained Dr. Ivan Kudriashov, a physician who specializes in diagnosing and implementing corrective osteopathic treatment for psychosomatically induced disorders. “An osteopath complements the work of a psychologist, and all of this gives a better result than either alone.”

“After working with the doctor, children note significant relief,” added Rinat Akhmetov Foundation psychologist Olha Puchyna. “They begin to sleep, their emotional state normalizes. And it is much easier for us to work with them. The children say that they feel very well, and we note a greater interest in working with psychologists.”

Providing a Holistic Healing Environment Facilitates Children’s Recovery

“Psychological rehabilitation combined with games, workshops, and communication plays a key role in the socialization and recovery of these children,” explained Rinat Akhmetov Foundation program director Iryna Blazhan. “Our goal is to work together with government agencies, charities, and public organizations to provide counseling and psychological support to the parents and guardians of these children to [help them better function] in society, educational institutions, and [family life].”

With the war showing no signs of coming to an end, the future of Ukraine’s next generation remains in question. Still, just being able to share their traumatic experiences in a safe and recuperative space offers them a very tangible means to adjust to the much-changed reality they’ll be facing in the days ahead. War will never be healthy for children or other living things, but hopefully, with the measure of peace and perspective these Blogger Camp kids have gleaned from the program will help them lead happier, healthier, better-adjusted lives when they grow up.