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Psychologist Yulia Morozova: "If it seems that sleeping in a warm bed without the sound of sirens and exploding bombs is enough for a refugee to be completely happy, alas, it is not."

26.07.2022

The total number of Ukrainian refugees in the European Union exceeded 7 million people. This was reported by the EU Border Agency Frontex.

We talked to Yulia Morozova - psychologist, emigration adaptation specialist and founder of the LifeboatUK Foundation - about the stages of emigration, attitudes towards Russians and Ukrainians in the UK, and the possible conflicts between refugees and the host country.

- Tell us about what emigration looks like now.

- Emigration now, due to the events in Ukraine, is not the same as it used to be. It is more like evacuation, relocation or like having a refugee status.

Emigration is a longer and more deliberate process in which one has a choice. After February the 24th, many people left involuntarily, fleeing danger.

Even for the people who had already thought about moving later, and prepared documents and money, now they just threw the first things in their suitcases and left, not really caring where they were going.

The second category is the relocated people. These are people who have been relocated by companies, and that relocation has also happened very abruptly. Usually such a process occurs fairly smoothly, with a gradual transfer of cases.

The third category is refugees. Here everything is clear, because these people were fleeing danger to their lives and freedom. By the first and second options, most often people move from Russia, and by the third - from Ukraine.

- How, by the way, does one officially register as a refugee in the UK?

- Each country has its own conditions for accepting refugees. For example, in order to officially live as a refugee in the UK under the Homes for Ukraine programme, a person has to apply for accommodation with a sponsor, who has to be found before that. This is not someone who pays for the move, but someone who provides their own accommodation so that refugees have somewhere to move to. In essence, a host family.

It is also possible to move under the Family Programme, but this is only possible if you have relatives in the UK. Residency can also be obtained through the Ukraine Extension programme.

- Who can become a sponsor in the UK?

- The main condition is that a sponsor must have either British citizenship or a residence permit. Through a government website, Ukrainians have to apply for residency with a family they have found themselves. The relevant authorities then check the family, all documents and the accommodation for suitability for habitation. Only then can the refugees go to their sponsors. This process can take up to two to three months, especially if there are children in the family. The hardest part is finding a sponsor. Now there are private volunteer organisations that match refugees with host families.

- From time to time there is information about disagreements between refugees and host families...

- It is not an easy story.

At first everyone was excited and started to help and accept people, but then the cultural background and psychological unpreparedness to live with strangers in their homes took its toll.

People came in acutely traumatised and could not cope with many everyday things as before. Everything seemed unfamiliar. The English, for example, are very reserved, they express their emotions in hints, whereas the Slavs are straightforward. Even on this ground a lot of conflicts and misunderstandings arose. Many people who left Ukraine had to go back, also because of disagreements. They could not find their place here.

- There are stories where refugees are not satisfied with the bed in the sponsoring family and ask for it to be replaced with a new one; the room they live in; not enough juice; unpalatable food, etc. What is the reason for such selectivity and perhaps pickiness?

- Ukrainian refugees are now in an acute state of trauma. They may not sleep for weeks and think it is the bed, the pillow, the roosters outside the window, the smells in the kitchen, and anything else they can think of. They have experienced and continue to experience things that a person should never have to experience in their life.

From the outside, it seems like caprice, but refugees feel differently. Many start abusing alcohol because they want to numb their suffering and helplessness somehow. They have the added trauma of witnessing: they cannot leave their phones and keep monitoring the news constantly. Their needs for familiar food and a comfortable place to sleep are therefore normal.

Refugees have almost no money now. On average they get £350-400 from the state. Of course, this is very little for a family. Due to this they become dependent on sponsors.

If they had money, they would just buy buckwheat in a Polish shop, make dumplings or cook borscht.

- Is it realistic to build a scale of priorities? What do Ukrainians need in the first place?

- Psychological help, peace of mind, and at least a little stability. The problem is that many Ukrainians don't do anything productive, although they are used to doing business. They seem to live in safety, but they have husbands, brothers, and adult children left in their home country - and it breaks their heart.

 In the early 2000s, research was carried out on the subjective experience of quality of life among people who fled the Balkans from the war and among those who stayed. It turned out that those who left experienced much more stress than those who chose to stay. The Balkans started to be reconstructed, and the study was conducted after the end of hostilities.

After 8 years it was found that refugees had added to the stress of moving and homesickness. People who stayed were re-learning how to structure their lives and they did not have the added stress factor of moving and adapting.

So if it seems that sleeping in a warm bed without the sound of sirens and exploding bombs is enough for a refugee to be happy, alas, it is not.

- Are there any psychological help centres for Ukrainian refugees in the UK?

- There are, but unfortunately, not many. For example, our foundation LifeboatUK, which we set up with Victoria Lagodinski and Veronica Rumens. We have individual and group psychotherapy. We also help to navigate around the UK in everyday life and organisational matters. We have now started an English language training project with the charity Healthprom. In cooperation with the Medical Support Workers Programme London Royal Hospital, we help Ukrainian doctors to prepare for their exams so that they can work for the NHS.

When Ukrainians come to us for help, we send them for one-to-one work with professional psychologists who have volunteered. We also have career guidance specialists working with us. Of course, there are private volunteer organisations, but there is no centralised help from the state yet. I think it's a matter of time.

- If there is no place to ask for help, what can you do?

- First of all, you have to understand that it is useless and harmful to demand that you be as productive and cheerful as you were before the war.

You have to give yourself the opportunity to mourn your losses and grieve. You should cry as much as you need to.

There are people who cry a lot, and there are those who are stony and continue to do the usual things. If you stay in that state for a long time, you may become frozen and stop feeling both sorrow and joy. If you can, you should see a psychologist for counselling.

I have a friend in Amsterdam, Tata Pomuran, who has created a safe and creative space called Dobrodiy, where Ukrainian women get together and cook national dishes for themselves and their families for a week. There are children running around and playing, singing Ukrainian songs: such an atmosphere really helps.

It's important to look for your own people in a foreign country.

- How do Ukrainians handle the integration process?

- It is a very important moment. Recently I had a group in London called "Home is where I am". After it, people's attitude to the country and to themselves has changed for the better. A lot of Ukrainians came to the last group, and we worked together to integrate into their new society: we travelled, looked for acquaintances, talked to locals who told us about their culture, while refugees and emigrants swayed their sensibilities little by little.

If there are no such groups where you are, then study history, watch films, talk to locals on the street, and if you don't speak the language yet, learn it through children's books, podcasts and videos with subtitles. Even if you don't plan to live in the country for a long time. This will occupy your brain with something new and make your stay in a foreign country more comfortable and even interesting. Don't forget the previous tip - don't close yourself up and let yourself cry.

- How do you hold on when you are responsible not only for yourself, but also for your child?

- When I went to the border with Poland and helped refugees, I met women from Mariupol who were giving birth in basements.

These women told me their story: they were bombed so badly that, despite the threat of shelling, they decided to go to Poland without any green corridors. Two cars made it, but one did not.

The women who arrived were absolutely frozen in terms of emotions, but they tried to be active and to distract themselves with household chores. I hope that they have fallen into the hands of good volunteers who will help them "defrost".

Another terrible thing about this situation is the lack of attention. Many of my friends, not only from Ukraine, told me that since the start of the war they have been doing everything but not with the children. Children understand this, they sense their parents' anxiety and sense that something terrible has happened. If the child is young, he or she will be distracted by games for a while, but seeing the parents' emotions, he or she may stop eating or start sleeping badly.

It's summer, children don't have school and it's a good time to support each other.

Try to explore a new culture together with your child. This will bring you closer together and make it easier for you to get through difficult times. Talk, discuss and show your child that you have each other and that you are each other's protection and support and therefore everything will be fine.

- What should you do in times of severe stress if your child is always with you?

- If there are long and even hysterical sobs, it is better to seclude yourself. For example, lock yourself in the bathroom and let yourself cry. Crying in front of children is possible, and sometimes even necessary. Cry together. Do not play the iron lady.

You shouldn't show your tantrums because it will scare the baby. However, if they do see it, try to calmly explain to them why it happened and what you are experiencing. Don't forget about self-regulation: breathing techniques, aromatherapy, sports. There are millions of ways to calm yourself down, and it's not just alcohol.
If all else fails, go to your doctor for a sedative. Find out how to do this from local organisations and the refugee community. You are certainly not alone.

- Tell us about the attitude of the British to Ukrainians.

- It is very nice and warm. Many help in any way they can. Of course, as in any country, there are people, mostly elderly, who are unhappy about new arrivals - after all, they specifically voted for Brexit to get rid of European immigrants. Most, however, still help refugees to find jobs, some come out to rallies, many British websites have a "Save Ukraine" sign and a button for donations.

- The sore question is Russophobia. Does it exist?

- I personally have not seen any Russophobia.

Many people are sympathetic, understanding that it is not easy for the Russians now. Inadequate people, as in any country, may say something, but in general the British are trying not to exacerbate the situation. Those who have left have already made their position clear.

- How do you react to Russophobia if you do encounter it?

- Look at who said it to you. If it is a person who has nothing to do with you, then it should be treated no more than noise. Are you the person they say you are? If not, then let all the hurtful words fly past your ears.

If you feel hurt by it, it's worth asking yourself some questions.

Why do I feel so hurt? Do I feel guilty about what happened? Is there anything I can do, help, correct? Where is my area of responsibility in this situation?

For example, by asking these questions, I and my colleagues created the Lifeboat UK refugee assistance project. Some have created online courses or discounted their services for refugees, while others donate every week.

The attacks can be dealt with very easily. I always use my 13 year old daughter as an example. Once we came to visit her in Russia, and at the table there was talk about LGBT people. Obviously, the child lives in Europe and she has her own opinion, which more often than not contradicts the opinion of people from Russia. Her "opponent" started to express his point of view in a rather categorical way, to which my daughter calmly said: "Oh, and please pass me that sausage over there and those tomatoes over there." A great way to get out of a dialogue that doesn't make any sense.

Give the person the opportunity to have a completely different opinion. It doesn't mean that he is bad and that you should stop talking to him, but "pass the sausage and those tomatoes over there" works without fail.

- What is your advice to Russians who are planning a move?

- The main peculiarity is that Russians who have left feel like refugees, though they are not fleeing from war or disasters. They are just as likely to abandon everything, and not of their own free will. They cannot live with the values that they have in Russia now.

I definitely have one piece of advice - if someone is planning to move now, try to travel at least for a while and see if the chosen country suits you. Many people go away and then realise that they can't live in a new country at all, for all sorts of reasons, from the weather and allergies to not being able to find a job or a good school for a child. Now is the time to choose a country without much of a rush.

Look at all sorts of factors: whether you know people there, whether the climate is suitable, whether you can find a job, what the country's taxation system is, whether you can get a flight home for a reasonable amount of money, if you have elderly relatives staying there. At least spend a couple of weeks in the country, get a feel for it and then make up your mind. Be prepared to go through all the stages of adaptation in emigration.

- Let us remind you what these stages are.

- In short, at first there will be a "honeymoon period" which will last from a few days to a few months. There will be a feeling of "ugh, escaping" and then the hardest part will begin. In the second stage, things will start to "chafe" and get annoying. Many people at this stage break down and leave. You have to be patient here. The third stage is adaptation. When you have understood everything, but you have not yet fully accepted the difficulties. The last phase is victory. You become a person of peace.

Some people do it in a year, some in 10 years, it all depends on the purpose of the move. So my advice to you is to go on excursions, walk around, learn the culture and then the process will go much faster. Keep in mind, however, it takes strength. So in the beginning, you need to recover, lie down, slow down, and then gradually get involved in life and everyday life.

- Our colleague Daria Kirillova made a film about volunteers on the Polish border. Many "burn out" quickly, which is not surprising...

- It is difficult both physically and emotionally. Our LifeboatUK project has opened a special psychological support group for volunteers. Many at the meetings say that they were able to cry for the first time in 4 months. Adding to the trauma of witnessing is the constant contact with refugees who "graft" onto the volunteers, calling and writing to them 24/7. It is understandable, volunteers are their only point of support. To keep themselves safe, psychologists do not take many "heavy" clients and make sure they go to personal psychotherapy and supervision.

Of course, you need to rest. I neglected this rule and worked several months in a row without days off. Trust me when I say this, never do that. Now, in between clients and the day-to-day business, I just lie back and look at the sky. I really want it to be peaceful.

Interview by: Alina Mirzoya

“Mum, it’s me, Sonya. I am alive, Mum!” Yulia from Monaco returned to Ukraine to find and rescue her daughters.
Story/Monaco

“Mum, it’s me, Sonya. I am alive, Mum!” Yulia from Monaco returned to Ukraine to find and rescue her daughters.

Russians are packing their bags: the second wave of emigration will take 2 million people out of the country
Source - The Moscow Times

Russians are packing their bags: the second wave of emigration will take 2 million people out of the country