Lesya: Providing Vital Psychological Support for Families Affected by Conflict

Lesya is a practical psychologist and a hotline operator for psychological assistance, specifically created to support families whose members have gone missing, been captured, or suffered torture or sexual violence during the war. She is also a specialist on the "Tell Me" platform, with years of experience and specialized training in providing psychosocial support to families of the missing, those in captivity, and released prisoners. Lesya shares insights into her work on the hotline:

"We work shifts from 9:00 to 18:00, receiving calls not only from Ukraine but also from abroad. Lately, most calls have been from within Ukraine, although initially, there were more calls from Europe. Our work is coordinated by a military psychologist specializing in working with captives, Julia Paskhina. We also receive professional supervision support from a leading expert in post-traumatic stress and emergency advocacy at the NGO 'Self-Help Communities' – Marta Pivovarenko.

In addition to psychological assistance, we can also provide guidance on legal matters. Each case we handle on the hotline receives individualized attention. For some, a 10-minute consultation is sufficient, while for others, 40 minutes may not be enough. During the conversation, I gauge what approach may be most effective at that moment. Among our basic techniques are initial client stabilization, safety assessment, grounding, breathing techniques, and visualization. I also incorporate mindfulness techniques and provide psychoeducation to help clients better understand the purpose and effectiveness of the interventions.

While we provide initial psychological assistance, if needed, we also offer recommendations on where else individuals can seek additional free support. There was a case where someone called who didn't fit the target demographic of our hotline (families or relatives of the missing, captured, tortured, or sexually assaulted), but urgently needed psychological support. Of course, we provided psychological assistance and professional recommendations on where they could seek further help. Anyone in need of psychological assistance can receive it around the clock through the online platform 'Tell Me.' Simply fill out the form at https://tellme.com.ua and wait – a specialist will contact you as soon as possible.

We also recommend the telegram bot for first aid in psychological support called 'Friend,' which can be helpful in the first hours after a traumatic event. It was created by the team of the Institute of Cognitive Modeling in collaboration with the Department of Medical Psychology, Psychosomatic Medicine, and Psychotherapy of the Bogomolets National Medical University and specialists from the 'Friend' project.

There have been cases of calls to the hotline where individuals immediately state that they do not need psychological assistance but are seeking support on where to turn and what to do when a loved one or relative goes missing or is in captivity. In such cases, we assist with coordination on legal matters.

In our work, we often use the roadmap of actions for relatives provided by the coordination headquarters for dealing with captives. The map contains contact numbers of all authorized institutions and NGOs dealing with disappearances, captivity, as well as a list of data that Defender's families must have, telegram bots, etc.

You can familiarize yourself with the roadmap at the following link:

$ https://drive.google.com/file/d/1U07uOw_9YXnmHtM52KFEW6e8Zgl35KHZ/view$$

For civilians missing or detained:

Contact the National Police of Ukraine at 0 800 21 21 51.

Reach out to the National Bureau for Missing Persons at 16 48 or +38 (044) 287 81-65 (for international calls) or through the website https://bit.ly/3uiGpk4.

Contact the Office of the Authorized Person for Missing Persons under Special Circumstances at 0 800 339 247.

Contact the Unified Center for Search and Release of Prisoners, which operates under the Security Service of Ukraine, at +38 067 650 83 32 or +38 098 087 36 01.

Get in touch with the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission at +38 050 374 67 08 (Viber) or through Telegram @ohchr_hrmmu.

Contact the International Committee of the Red Cross at 0 800 300 155.

For military personnel missing or detained:

Contact the military enlistment office or military unit.

Reach out to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine at 0 800 500 442.

Contact the National Police of Ukraine at 0 800 21 21 51 or +38 089 420 80 67.

Reach out to the National Bureau at the Ministry of Reintegration at 16 48 or +38 (044) 287 81 65.

Contact the Unified Center for Search and Release of Prisoners, which operates under the Security Service of Ukraine, at +38 067 650 83 32 or +38 098 087 36 01.

Get in touch with the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission at +38 050 374 67 08 (Viber) or through Telegram @ohchr_hrmmu.

Contact the International Committee of the Red Cross at 0 800 300 155.

Reach out to the search service at +38 096 304 43 75 or +38 066 250 99 57.

Contact the All-Ukrainian 24/7 Hotline at 0 800 501 720 or through the website www.ombudsman.gov.ua.

Additionally, online services such as Telegram channels and bots can assist in the search for missing persons. It's important to provide as much information as possible about the missing individual to facilitate the search and increase the likelihood of a successful resolution.

When searching for loved ones through various Russian Telegram channels, do not join these channels under any circumstances (keep the links in notes to monitor information). It is not recommended to engage in correspondence or any contact. There are frequent cases where individuals communicate with family members and relatives with the aim of extorting money, claiming that the detained person can be released for a ransom. There are instances where photos of the missing person and some information about them (taken from the social pages of relatives) are published on such social channels. Even if it is not yet known that this specific individual is in captivity, they may still reach out to the online friends of the detainee on social media. They may write something like: "Hello. How are you? Could you transfer some amount?" It is very necessary, but don't tell anyone about it". Be cautious and thoroughly verify such information before sending anything. These cases usually end with extortion of money.

We explain all this on our hotline. I believe that initiatives like the Hotline for Psychological Assistance to support families, whose members have gone missing, been captured, or subjected to torture or sexual violence during and after the war, are beneficial and necessary. People facing such problems encounter them for the first time and do not know how to help themselves, how to act. We support, explain, coordinate - what to do to help and what not to do to avoid harm. This is extremely helpful. Once we had a case where a man dialed the wrong number. Hearing where he had called, he said: "This is extremely necessary help in our time, and it's very good that there are such hotlines now". It turned out that he was a participant in the ATO, and unfortunately, they did not have such hotlines back then.

The hotline was created as part of a project to provide psychological assistance, implemented by the International Confederation for Combating Corruption, Organized Crime and Terrorism in partnership with the Self-Help Communities NGO with the support of the UN Development Program under the UN Peacebuilding and Recovery Program with financial support from the European Union.

The views, recommendations, and conclusions expressed in the article belong solely to its authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of UNDP, the UN, the European Union, and/or other international partners.

The UN Peacebuilding and Recovery Program (UN RPP) is implemented by four UN agencies: the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The program is supported by eleven international partners: the European Union (EU), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Embassy of the United States in Ukraine, as well as the governments of Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, and Japan.

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