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ARTE - support and integration center of displaced persons

Because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, about 2 million people had to flee their homes until the end of 2015. Of these, about 1.2 million were internal refugees. By the end of 2015, the Kharkiv Oblast had taken in the largest number of refugees and displaced persons – due to the proximity of the administrative border to the conflict-ridden Donbass region. The thousands of arrivals from the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts posed quite a problem for the residents of Kharkiv. Volunteers engaged in helping the displaced persons pointed out that integration with the local residents was not easy due to the lack of aid, a different mentality and apprehensions of the local residents in contacts with the new arrivals. At the same time, the local people were ready to provide food, clothing and financial aid. In the city and its surroundings there were centres for refugees, e.g. Romaszka. However, the vast majority of these displaced people have continued to live outside the camps or centres.

Among the refugees, there were many pensioners, people with disabilities and mothers with small children, unable to work. People who had not known each other before were now forced to live together, often without heating, water or basic necessities. The low quality of life and violent changes had a terrible impact on their mental state and made integration impossible.

Another problem were the experienced traumas. Many internal refugees, before leaving their homes, had been living under unbelievable stress for many months, afraid for their life and health as well as for their families. Many had witnessed traumatic events, deaths, shootings, or injuries. Some had to deal with PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.

The situation they encountered upon their arrival did not improve their mental health. Their bad feelings were aggravated by the separation from their families and the sense of rejection. This was especially so among elderly people who in many cases were alone: their children or grandchildren had left for other localities or went abroad and were unable to help them.

Practically any help continues to be welcome in Kharkiv. Many organisations, institutions or private donors have provided humanitarian and financial aid or basic medical care, but many fewer entities have offered psychological help. On the other hand, turning for psychological help has been considered shameful in Ukraine. Very often, those who need it become victims of social stigmatisation.

In this situation, the best proven methods are those where assistance is not provided directly, but as psychological support in the form of e.g. art. Under the project herein, in 2016 a psychological support centre was established, where activities were conducted by the art-therapy method. The ARTE Centre, apart from its therapeutic function, also addressed another important problem – integration. Some of the activities offered in ARTE had an open formula, where both the displaced persons and any interested residents of Kharkiv could attend. Throughout the whole 2017, the Centre continued its activities for the whole city.

ARTE - support and integration center of displaced persons

The project was implemented in Kharkiv – the destination for the highest number of displaced persons but offering much less psychological support or integration than e.g. Kiev. The ARTE centre project of support and integration comprised:

  1. Supplementary furnishings and equipment for the centre and training of the therapeutic staff (improving and expanding their knowledge), while the training of our staff was held in Warsaw, Poland, in May 2017,
  2. Therapeutic activities in groups and for individuals, training and supervision for volunteers in Ukraine: in continuation of the activities begun in 2016, psychological help was provided, groups established the year before were continued and new ones were created,
  3. Integration activities in Ukraine: activities to strengthen already existing relations and contacts, but also to help establish new ones,
  4. Project monitoring: remote coordination of activities and visits of the HumanDOC team to Ukraine.

The ARTE Centre was an open place where anyone could find interesting activities. These were adjusted to the needs of various age groups, with a predominance of activities for children, young people and seniors. The Centre was a place where displaced persons could for a moment forget about their problems, forget their sorrows and feel that they are understood and accepted. Anyone eligible to take part in the project could turn for help here. The Centre operated seven days a week, from 10:00 to 21:00, so that the provided help could also benefit people with other activities, e.g. at school or at work.

The centre’s activities, begun in 2016, were supplemented with new methods of work with trauma, e.g. massage therapy, or music therapy for newborns. Cooperation with such external centres as orphanages, the camp for internally displaced persons or hospitals was very regular.

ARTE - support and integration center of displaced persons

The project’s activities were designed to achieve the following results:

a)       better access to social services and health care infrastructure for internally displaced persons, and particularly for elderly persons and children, with the inclusion of psychological support,

b)       increased social integration of internally displaced persons, particularly elderly persons and children.

The project’s aims were fully achieved. In the second year of operation of ARTE, new methods of work with IDPs were introduced and existing groups were adjusted to the needs of the beneficiaries. Thanks to the continuity of activities, fixed groups were formed, with people involved in working with traumas. A created performance was shown in several towns in Ukraine, e.g. at the Ukrainian theatre festival in Kiev. The performance, being an expression and form of work with trauma, turned out to play a double role. It enabled the actors to process their traumas, but at the same time enabled the entire audience to work on themselves. The activities of the staff and wards of ARTE won the recognition of the city authorities.

The events at the ARTE centre became a permanent item in the city’s cultural life. The staff regularly organised integration activities in hospitals, orphanages, the camp for internal refugees, and also during picnics and city fairs. Integration took place at various age levels and across generations. It concerned IDP-IDP relations as well as IDP-city resident relations. The social welfare institutions in Kharkiv reported that the activities of the ARTE centre significantly speeded up adaptation of individuals and improved their organisational capabilities and self-reliance.

Implementation of the project made it possible for beneficiaries to enjoy its results after its completion, without the necessity of obtaining external funding, e.g.: persons who regularly attended therapeutic activities can process their problems and achieve mental balance; persons who will be benefitting from care in an irregular way or ad hoc in crisis situations, can obtain help that will permanently solve only some of their problems. The nearly two years of integration activities worked to firmly integrate the displaced persons with part of the local community. That much time was enough for successful integration to take place and currently the beneficiaries can strengthen the integration by themselves (the displaced persons as well as residents of Kharkiv), without additional funding, in accordance with their needs and will. The activities can be conducted by volunteers or taken up by the participants themselves in smaller groups (neighbourhoods, schools etc.).

The equipment purchased under the project is in good working condition and is fit for further use. At the end of the year, it will be turned over to the project partner, who will have to guarantee that it will be further used to benefit displaced persons; Polish specialists passed on to Ukrainian psychologists their knowledge on the methods of work with people, traumas, art therapy and PTSD therapy. The quality of psychological care in Ukraine has changed. The partner is trying to make use of the capacity of knowledge and available own human resources (including volunteers) to continue the psychological support and integration measures.