When the Russians invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014 took a dark and deadly turn. As the lethal Russian aggression escalated, Ukrainians met the call to defend their homeland with fervor and determination. In the face of sometimes daunting odds, ordinary citizens became soldiers overnight, while those with the means to provide support to Ukraine’s embattled defenders, like billionaire steel and mining industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, sprang into action. “In wartime, our company operates accordingly. Now our utmost goal is to help Ukrainians survive and withstand,” said Akhmetov, who’s pledged more than $165 million to meet the urgent military and humanitarian needs of his embattled country.
Now, psychologist Volodymyr Voloshyn is sharing insights with the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Voices of the Peaceful Project, the latest of many initiatives Akhmetov has sponsored to help his homeland.
Rinat Akhmetov Leverages Diverse Resources To Aid Ukrainian Defense Efforts
At the onset of Russia’s latest illegal incursion into Ukraine, Akhmetov established the Steel Front, an umbrella action that consolidates military assistance across a variety of business sectors that include manufacturing, banking, energy, and telecommunications. The coordinated services are implemented by Akhmetov’s companies, including Metinvest and DTEK, among others. Along with providing practical necessities such as armored steel for bulletproof vests, protective shelters, and vehicle shields supplied by the Metinvest Group, the Akhmetov-backed Voices of the Peaceful Project and its parent initiative, the Museum of Civilian Voices, contributes emotional support as well.
Whether as a soldier or a civilian, anyone who’s ever lived through its ravages can tell you that the emotional tolls of battle can be nearly as devastating as the loss of life or limb. Another vital outreach program Akhmetov spearheads, the Hearts of Azovstal Project, which affords crucial mental health care to Ukraine’s active military members, veterans, and their families, directly addresses traumatic battle-related mental health concerns.
How Combat Changes Veterans — and Learning To Deal With a New Normal
According to crisis psychologist and director of Ukraine’s NGO Institute of Health Psychology Volodymyr Voloshyn, the special circumstances experienced by combat veterans must be carefully monitored and managed as they work toward assimilating back into their civilian routines. “The person who was in the war zone has changed. [He’s gone through] a new colossal experience. He lives in a completely different mode and rhythm [now]. This is not the person who went to the front,” Voloshyn shared with the Museum of Civilian Voices’ Voices of the Peaceful Project. “For a certain period of time, you need to get to know this person — how he functions — and learn to interact with him in a new way.”
Voloshyn asserts that surviving in a combat zone requires a particular set of skills. Unfortunately, the rules of behavior a soldier learns on the front lines can’t always be left behind on the battlefield when they come home — and that can negatively impact how returning military personnel interact with family and friends. If proper caution isn’t observed, Voloshyn warns, unintentionally violent responses may result.
For example, Voloshyn notes that those returning from service are conditioned to hearing direct commands and instructions. “They don’t have adjectives or inflections in their conversation,” he said. Making requests using vague language can trigger irritation or even aggression. Likewise, casual physical contact that might have been acceptable prior to the war might now be taken as a potential threat.
“For a person [who’s] been in a combat zone, the reaction to protect themself is activated automatically,” Voloshyn cautioned. “Always approach a person from the front or from the side at an angle, not from the back … And you need to talk about your intentions, or even better, ask — ‘May I hug you now?’ — before [making physical contact] … It’s very important for relatives of a defender to learn about these rules, learn to respect and follow them.”