The death of relatives is a massive tragedy, leaving people to grapple with its consequences, often in solitude. The lack of communication and understanding between this group of people and the authorities worsens the situation. Therefore, our editorial staff decided to assist in establishing psychological support for residents of the Yemilchyne and Barashi communities in the Zviahel district who have lost a loved one in the war. This work is crucial to carry out in all communities – so, take our experience and support people of your communities

The editorial office of Narodna Trybuna newspaper works for residents of the Yemilchyne and Barashi communities, Zviahil district, Zhytomyr region. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, two of our communities have lost more than 70 residents in the war. Women lost their husbands, mothers lost their sons, and children lost their fathers.

Olha Lozko was a perfect postwoman in Yemilchyne. Despite her age and not very easy delivery area which started in the center of the village and ended under the forest in Rudenka, no one, neither the employer nor the subscribers, has ever complained about her work. She did everything on time and efficiently, smoothing out the rough edges of the Ukrposhta reform. People got used to her, she was welcomed in every home.

However, in September 2023, she did not appear at her workplace. She lost her son, and life became dark and senseless for her. She told us about this in the editorial office when she brought an obituary for publication. And how many more mothers, fathers, wives, sisters, and children who lose their loved ones in the war also lose their ground? For all of them, this is a massive tragedy, and they are often left alone with that. And all of them need support, primarily psychological.

Olha Lozko, the mother of fallen soldier, develops a retail network of NT in Yemilchyne. She started with 15 newspapers, and now she sells 120.

Another factor that prompted our editorial office to take action was the speech by Nataliia Makarchuk, the leader of the local association of families of fallen soldiers, at one of the budget commissions of the Yemilchyne village council. Her speech highlighted the lack of communication and understanding between this group of people and the authorities. Therefore, we decided to do what we could best and planned the project titled “Psychological assistance and other support for residents of the Yemilchyne and Barashi communities of the Zviahel district who lost their relatives in the war.”

Communication: how we used this powerful tool

To address this issue, we decided to organize a series of informal gatherings, such as communication evenings, as well as more formal round table discussions with the participation of representatives from government and local self-government bodies. We thought that when people join forces, they will support each other and find solutions to the most difficult problems.

At one of the evenings of communication, in which, as in the previous ones, the psychologist participated, the mothers of the fallen soldiers responded to the call of the employee of the Department of Culture, Liubov Yevtushok, whose nephew died in the war, and began to organize a fundraiser for drones for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The example of that strong woman inspired others to do a common cause, which distracted them from mental suffering. Among the narrow circle of those present, we managed to collect about UAH 2000. However, the total budget of donations is much larger, as the campaign was long.

The example of that strong woman inspired others to do a common cause, which distracted them from mental suffering

Quite unexpectedly for the editorial office, Olha Lozko, the mother of the deceased soldier, offered to assist with the distribution of our newspaper. Recognizing the challenging situation with postmen, Olha Savovna committed to distributing the Narodna Trybuna newspaper at the market on Fridays (the day of the newspaper’s publication) and later expanded to the Sunday market. Having started with 20 newspapers, she has already ordered 110 copies at the end of the project. In addition to retail purchases, residents of Yemilchyne also buy half-year or longer subscriptions from her. Our cooperation has become almost a daily routine, providing the woman with regular communication. This allows her to be distracted from the bitterness of losing her son and to feel needed by her fellow countrymen.

The Friendly atmosphere of tea drinking serves as a complement to art therapy in the Children’s Creativity House.
The Support Program will be adopted thanks to the understanding

Our main achievement, an important result of our efforts over the course of four months, is the appearance at the end of January on the website of the Yemilchyne village council of the draft Program to support the families of fallen (deceased) servicemen, male and female defenders of Ukraine. The document is planned to be approved at the session of the village council in February, and it is designed for 2024-2025. This is a solution to exactly the problem that we focused on when filling out the grant application. Now, attention to the families of the fallen soldiers will be guaranteed, and the approach will be comprehensive, encompassing psychological, material, and various other forms of assistance. In addition, it will be under control because the progress of the program implementation will be regularly heard at the session of the village council. The Program covers more than 300 community residents.

Previously, residents would attend the session when the decision was already in the final stages, making it challenging to alter. Now, they can provide input at the document’s drafting stage within the structural divisions of the village council

It is worth noting that the legal awareness program, conducted during one of the communication evenings, also contributed to reaching a decision on the Program. Ready to defend their rights, people were uncertain about the exact algorithm for decision-making in the community. Therefore, they primarily attended the session when a decision was already in its final stages, making it challenging to alter. This has repeatedly led to tension and disruption. We have analyzed the document’s progression step by step. In the case of adopting a comprehensive Program to support the families of fallen soldiers, those who wished had the opportunity to submit their proposals during the document’s drafting stage at the level of structural divisions of the village council. We also explained the nuances and possibilities of adjusting the document, which can be made if necessary.

One of the “communication evenings” with psychologist Lesia Turovska, held for the families of fallen soldiers at the editorial office of Narodna Trybuna.
Trust: how we help restore it

Another outcome of the project is the trust that people who lost loved ones in the war have placed in healthcare professionals, particularly psychologists. In November, only one mother of the deceased, Nataliia Makarchuk, attended the training organized by the rehabilitation department of the hospital. However, in early January, following explanatory efforts by the editorial board, five mothers and wives of the fallen defenders participated in a similar session, and nine attended the round table discussion at the editorial office with the participation of a psychologist.

Step by step, people’s trust increases: initially, only one mother of the deceased agreed to contact a psychologist, but after explanatory work by the editorial staff, the number of those seeking help increased to nine

We have built our work very carefully so that this trust is strengthened step by step. Therefore, we were particularly concerned about the reaction of Valentyna Klymchuk from Sadky village, whose son died a year ago and has not yet received the status of a participant in hostilities. She expressed, “We learned how to live with that loss; we have to. But we truly appreciate this kind of attention.”

Therefore, the logical result of the project was a long-awaited roundtable meeting in the editorial office with the village head Serhii Voloshchuk. The conversation was not easy, but ultimately, her face brightened, if only a little. Relatives of the fallen defenders took on the role of the authorities, realizing that during the war, responding to all challenges is no easy task. Simultaneously, the authorities recognized the importance of not ignoring such a significant group of people in the community and understood the need for proper attention. The village council Facebook reacted to the meeting.

The Long-awaited meeting with the village head finally took place in the editorial office.

It is noteworthy that following our involvement in the project, the digital presence of our media outlet also improved, with website views increasing from 300 to over 1000 and the number of Instagram followers growing from 1300 to 1600.

We share our experience so that you too can help the residents of your community

We are proud to help people return to everyday life after the psychological trauma associated with the loss of their loved ones. This is also an obvious success of the project, and we are willing to share our experience and conclusions because it is crucial to conduct this work in all communities. Our experience shows that being consistently present in the information epicenter of the community for four months provided people with hope and, concurrently, yielded positive results for the development of our media outlet, or at the very least, stability during the war and addressing the unsatisfactory performance of the post office.

Now people come to us even with problems slightly related to the project

Now people come to us even with problems slightly related to the project. It was important (and difficult) to gather the polar parties at the round table to start a dialogue. Conversations without live broadcasts on Facebook turned out to be more useful: all participants were more relaxed, and frankness accelerated the search for solutions.

Author: Mykhailo Melnyk, Editor-in-Chief of Narodna Trybuna, Yemilchyne, Zhytomyr region

This publication was created with the support of the European Union. The content is the sole responsibility of the Ukrainian Media Business Association and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union, whose financial support made the project possible.