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League of Mediators of Ukraine, Reflective Practice Institute & AAA Foundation Combine to Elevate Family Mediation in Ukraine

Three organizations of conflict practitioners are announcing the launch of a singularly remarkable project to support family mediators in Ukraine.

The League of Mediators of Ukraine (LiMU) – www.limu.org.ua, the American Arbitration Association Foundation, and The Reflective Practice Institute International (RPII) – https://www.reflectivepracticeinstitute.com collaborated in developing and funding a two year initiative to provide hands on encouragement and advanced training to a cadre of mediators working with families in the midst of an ongoing war.  AAA, through its Foundation’s diversity scholarship program, See: https://www.aaaicdrfoundation.org, is providing funding for the project organized by LiMU and facilitated and taught by RPII.  The two-part project will begin in May. First, RPII will facilitate a monthly reflective practice group for 16 family mediators for 18 months. Second, and concurrently, RPII will offer six mediators a two-year course to become reflective practice group facilitators.

The background is commonplace, an email from Tatyana Bilyk (Татьяна Билык), on behalf of her colleagues, asking if I could present a workshop on reflective practice for the 50 family mediators in the organization she heads.  Within hours, Susanne Terry and I (being co-founders and co-directors of RPII) arranged to speak with Tanya by Zoom. 

In Tanya’s words, this is the circumstance in Ukraine that prompted her request:

“’League of Mediators of Ukraine’ (LiMU) was established in December 2017 to develop and promote family mediation in Ukraine as a peaceful way to resolve conflicts. Today, LiMU unites and coordinates the work of more than 50 family mediators throughout the country and, in cooperation with the social services of the country, provides a social family mediation service to all families in need of help and support.

Since the beginning of the war, family mediators of LiMU have started the project ‘Family Mediation During the War’ to provide for free an online cross-border family mediation service for Ukrainian families whose members were affected by the war. As a result of the evacuation of a large number of Ukrainians, many families were separated, and the number of divorces and parental alienation increased. Mediators take every possible means to encourage parents in cross-border family disputes affecting the interests of children to find an agreed solution to the conflict. Supporting a negotiated resolution of contentious issues is especially helpful in family conflicts where children are involved, and where disputing parents typically need to constantly interact with each other to ensure children’s rights.

The main difficulties that the mediator faces in such crisis mediations are due to the vulnerability and sensitivity of the parties to the conflict, the rapid loss of control over anger, fearfulness and high levels of distrust, loss of concentration and a marked decrease in cognitive abilities and, as a result, increased helplessness. And given the fact that prioritization, decision-making and situational understanding take place in the frontal part of the brain, which turns off in stress, this makes the work of the mediator even more difficult. The more efforts in crisis mediation, the mediator directs to work with the emotions of the parties to reduce the activity of the limbic system, mental stimulation and increase cognitive abilities, thereby reducing the feeling of helplessness and the possibility of generating short-term solutions to meet the needs of the ‘here and now’.”

Family mediation in the best of circumstances is demanding; with emotions spilling out as parties make crucial decisions on complicated parenting arrangements and often multi-faceted financial matters.  In Ukraine, the general stresses and strains experienced by couples during their relationship have been notably intensified as wives and husbands are deployed to the war front and as women and children become refugees, leaving the men behind.  Moreover—as if that weren’t trauma enough, conducting mediations during a time of war is unimaginably difficult for the mediators who, Tanya explained in our early conversations—and this is obvious—are equally affected by the same war-induced stress experienced by their clients.

With the help of Irish colleagues, Frances Stephenson and Beibhinn Byrne, Susan and I presented a 3-hour webinar on reflective practice for about 25 Ukrainian mediators.  As we were ending the session, Susan asked whether the group would be interested in having an RPG.  The grateful responses were enthusiastic and positive.

But they and we faced a seemingly impossible challenge—the need for and cost of simultaneous translation.  The mediators had funded the cost of a translator for the webinar.  However, the cost of simultaneous translation for the entire project would amount to nearly $12,000.

I contacted Jim Melamed who referred me to a colleague at AAA, believing we might be able to secure funding via an AAA-ICDR Foundation Diversity Scholarship Grant.  With guidance and encouragement from Tracey B. Frisch, Senior Counsel at AAA, I completed applications for diversity scholarship funds on behalf of the Ukrainian mediators.  Last week we received approval for funding that will pay for simultaneous translation for 18 months of an RPG and for translation costs and fees for the two-year course to train RPG facilitators.  For our part, Susan and I, and our colleagues at RPII are donating our services to facilitate the RPG and offering a 50% scholarship in our two-year course.

One ordinary email request for a webinar, energized by the generosity of AAA and the commitment of RPII, has brought us to the threshold of a truly unique and remarkable project.

                        author

Michael Lang

For over 40 years Michael has mediated family, workplace and organizational disputes. He has designed and presented introductory and advanced mediation and conflict management courses, workshops and webinars in the US and internationally. Michael created one of the first graduate programs in conflict resolution in the US at Antioch University… MORE >

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