Kostya is 16 years old. He is from Berdyansk, Zaporizhzhia region, but since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, he moved with his family to Khmelnytskyi region. Kostia was the oldest among the participants of the “Children and War. Teaching Recovery Techniques” therapy course. He listened to others attentively, but sayed silent. Maybe he thought he were already adult and should not have fears or difficult memories. At one of the sessions, where the participants talked about their dreams, the boy decided to share his story:

“We have lived in the occupation for several months, and then my parents have finally decided to go to their friends in Khmelnytskyi region. We didn’t know if we would make it there alive, but we collected all the things that fit in the trunk of the car, as well as water and food that we could get, and left. There were four of us: mom, dad, me and my younger brother. We went through various exhausting checks at the checkpoints; it took us almost two days. We slept in the car, ate in the car, sat in the car, because we were not allowed to go out. Sometimes we heard loud explosions and saw rockets and planes flying by. At that moment, our hearts were beating and then stopping… it was very scary. It was cold at night, and on the second day we ran out of water and food. My parents tried to calm us down, but mostly they drove in silence, everyone was worried and left with own thoughts…”

Kostya’s family managed to leave the occupation unharmed, but the memories from those events come every day. He said that he had never experienced anything more terrible in his life. During the day these memories came less often. And every night he dreamed that he was sitting in a car and could not get out. Sometimes these dreams were so real that Kostya screamed in his sleep, started to run away, beat his hands and feet on the bed. Then he would wake up, and for a long time he could not believe that it was only a dream, and it seemed to him that he was going crazy.

The trainers explained to the group members that such dreams appear when we experience very scary and painful situations that leave their mark. It is difficult both children and adults to cope with such dreams. There are exercises that can help normalize one’s internal state after waking up. Afterwards, the participants drew their dreams and practiced breathing exercises and did a relaxation exercise. When doing the “Safe Place” practice, Kostya imagined himself in his room in his hometown. After that he drew a large window in his room, from which trees and a clear peaceful sky can be seen. At the next session the boy noted that the memories of those events are becoming less painful for him. His dreams still continue, but it is easier for him to cope with the anxiety when he wakes up. He said that he will continue to use the techniques he has learned and believes that the nightmares will soon disappear altogether.

The photo shows “Children and War. Teaching Recovery Techniques” therapy sessions, conducted this summer by Svitlana Olfirenko and Kateryna Kapusta (Kryvyi Rih), the trainers of the “Helping Hand for Ukraine” project.

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