As the war in Ukraine continues, those who once called the country home think about it daily, living apart from family, anxious about the future.
More than 14 months ago, Russia invaded Ukraine, tearing families apart and causing trauma. Since then, millions of women and children have been living as refugees in countries neighboring theirs but also in Germany, Italy, Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
Texas Baptist Men has ministered to thousands of people who fled their homes after the war began.
As needs continue to evolve, TBM seeks to meet them. Most recently, TBM sent a psychotherapist to a women’s conference in Warsaw, Poland. Denise Jenkins led sessions on emotional healing and overcoming post-traumatic stress.
“I set up the sessions to discuss PTSD and equip the women with ways to overcome and create positive thoughts amidst the situation,” she said. “As we interacted during the conference, I realized that they also needed permission to feel the way they do, to be able to start a life, even if only temporary, where they are, and it would not negate their future ability to return home.”
Over the past year, “a strong sense of despair has set in among the Ukrainian refugees,” said Mikhail Baloha, pastor of a Russian-speaking church in Warsaw. His wife, Oksana, organized the conference for some of the thousands of women and children the church works with daily.
“Denise’s presence here, her abilities, her time with them, has been even more valuable than I thought it would have been,” Oksana Baloha said after the conference. “In Ukraine and many former Soviet countries, there are no resources for psychological support.”
Dealing with difficult emotions
Leonid Regheta, pastor of River of Life Church-Dallas, helped translate for Jenkins. The Ukrainian-born pastor still has friends and family in Ukraine and has seen the psychological needs created by war firsthand as he has ministered in Ukraine.
“As spring in Texas springs, it usually harbors tornadoes,” he said. “When the storms arise, sirens ring across communities and Texans take precautions. The same sirens ring in Ukraine. But instead of warning of tornadoes, they portend bombs. The sirens repeatedly elicit immediate fear.”
Jenkins’ breakout sessions equipped the ladies to work with their children.
“Being able to talk with these ladies and hear what they endured showcases the terrible fallout from the war and fully explains their feelings of despair, worry, and anxiety. They feel lost, forgotten and often useless in stopping the war,” she said.
Beyond the workshop sessions, Jenkins provided limited personal counseling.
“The ladies I spoke with, some dealing with PTSD, but all were dealing with difficult emotions,” she said. “Some were distraught — torn between the desire to return to ‘home’ but enjoying the new-found life in Warsaw with their children.
“Much like World War II forced women into the workforce, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has done the same: Showing a freedom, a liberty and empowerment not previously afforded,” Jenkins said.
“I simply told them and assured them the choice is theirs to make. They felt relieved just hearing that.”