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Saving Myself by Saving Others


Today is the 35th day of the war in our country, the 35th day of opposition to Russian aggression and the struggle for our freedom and independence. We are fighting for our Ukraine, we want to live in our own country.

This is my second article about how I, my family, relatives and colleagues survive in this terrible war. We stayed in Kyiv, daily volunteering under the sounds of shelling and bombing, and gnaw out the right to live in our country.

You can find out about our volunteer activities on our Facebook page

March 29, 2022


Tatyana Bilyk, Kyiv, Ukraine

I write about myself and what is happening around me so that those, who are interested in the way we live now, can find out about it. Due to the fact that my first article was translated into different languages and published in different publishing houses of mediation communities, colleagues from different countries text and ask me how they can support us in this fight against the occupiers.

Recently, I have noticed such phenomenon of my psyche: when I am flooded with a feeling of powerlessness and can’t endure the situation any more, then phone messages from those in need and even worse conditions give me strength to continue acting.

“… Could you conduct a consultation with a young mother who wants to commit suicide?”,

“… The father who is left with a two-year-old child urgently needs help: diapers, baby food, clothes”,

“… Please help with food and medicine, I have no job, I live with my mother with a disability”,

“… It is necessary to tape the windows in the house of elderly people: a bedridden man, 82 years old, with his wife, 69 years old, who cannot leave their home”,

“… Please help evacuate families with young children from the war zone, they need money”,

“… We can’t cope, we need a vehicle to evacuate the wounded”,

“… Help my mother, she is in a state of shock after the evacuation from Mariupol, we have barely escaped, but there is grief in our family”,

and every day these messages are getting worse and worse…

It may sound paradoxical, but the state of well-being returns when you start working. Meeting with reality, an honest look at it requires a certain amount of sanity and courage. It is impossible to come to terms with the war, and every time an explosion rumbles, tears roll from my eyes, a lot of pain appears at the thought that someone’s house is now being destroyed like the house of my parents and someone died like some friends and relatives of my colleagues. And then the anxiety of waiting for information about the dead and photos from the explosion field with torn apart residential buildings.

Today I have read the news from “Ukraine Today”: “Four villages in the Kiev region are on the verge of the humanitarian catastrophe due to the constant shelling from Russian troops.” My parents lived in one of these villages, and we managed to take them and my brother’s family out when the occupiers were already in their area. Only God knows whether they will be able to return to their home and whether the war will wipe all life in this village out of existence.

With all this horror, nevertheless, the psyche begins to adapt, and I notice that my reactions are slowly starting to change. Instead of the primary stupor and fading, there is already some resource to withstand the stress under the weight of this reality, and it becomes possible to support those, whose reality is even harder than mine. The psyche tries to accommodate new knowledge about the world and about people, but sometimes overload happens and therefore the fuses are forced to turn on. It still takes time for the old coping strategies to adjust to the new reality, and I increasingly discover in myself some defense mechanisms that previously were inaccessible to my awareness and I am trying to approach this more consciously, thus giving myself support. One of the ways to support myself today in war conditions is the mobilization-relaxation formula, that works like inhaling and exhaling. In order to have something to give to others, you need to learn taking, that means – to do something for yourself, at least the simplest (eating hot food, sleeping under a warm blanket, hugging your loved one), these are moments of peace to survive and be able to live on, but becoming not a petrified creature, but remaining in contact with my own feelings.

Before the war, I managed a project to provide a family mediation in cooperation with social services and family centers in Kyiv. In addition, the League of Mediators of Ukraine is a resident of the Veteran Hub organization, which provided support to ATO veterans (Anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine from 2014) and their families. More than 50 family mediators worked in our organization, providing family mediation services free of charge to all families in need. Working with the families of veterans who fought in the Donbass and were in a family crisis, it was difficult to fully understand their experiences associated with participation in hostilities. Now we are all “ours” and there is more understanding of these emotions and the level of stress that people face finding themselves in a war. And the conflicts with relatives become more unbearable and sharper, when each person is waiting for support. In such situations of family crisis, the world collapses not only outside, but also inside, because in terms of stress, divorce gets the second place after the death of a loved one. The very touch of this issue in family mediation causes too much pain and despair in a person. This is a physical feeling of being torn to pieces, emptiness, and loneliness, as if someone died, or you, or your loved one, or the whole world, feels as if nothing else is left. And this is what we will face in our work more and more often in the near future.

Now I am a volunteer, and likewise many of my colleagues, I am doing what is most needed now in the current reality, but I hope that psychologists tell the truth that professional competencies are the last to collapse even with psychosis and dementia, and therefore I can return to my work as a family mediator as soon as it is necessary for Ukrainian families.

We also continue to keep in touch with each other and together with the Association of Family Mediators of Ukraine, which I am a founder of, we are now collecting information about all our members to understand who is where, who stayed in Ukraine, and who went to some other place, who needs help, who and which way is ready to help volunteers. Now everyone is left without a job and livelihood, and many mediators with children are forced to live in other houses, cities, countries and build their lives from scratch. Physically, they are safe, but psychologically, many of them are in very difficult conditions.

Due to the information war, we lack information about what is really happening in our country right now: the real number of dead people, the real political situation and what will happen tomorrow and when this war will end, we don’t know anything. Those who stayed in Ukraine live here, where explosions are heard every day, and we see corpses lying near the blown-up houses, and this is our reality. When the brain draws pictures of the humanitarian crisis in Kyiv, ideas come up on how to protect ourselves and others from such consequences, and I really hope that we will continue to be able to get food and medicine to those in need, and in every possible way help those who could not leave the city for various reasons.

Many countries support us in the fight against Russian aggression, collecting humanitarian aid and sending essential goods and medicines to the civilian population, as well as hosting our refugees in their homes. We can observe a large number of different good initiatives around the world, and my colleagues and friends from different countries also support us emotionally and financially. Thanks to your support we can help our people, and thanks to you, I can save myself by saving others.


Tatyana Bilyk

Tatyana Bilyk, mediator, trainer and consultant, Head of the Board of ITC “Mediation School”, co-founder of NGO “League of Mediators of Ukraine” and Ukrainian Association of Family Mediators, contact of International Social Service in Ukraine, psychologist/psychotherapist. MORE

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