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Inside The Trauma Centers Treating Ukraine's Veterans

Since the onset of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, some 9,000 soldiers have died and at least 20,000 have been injured.

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This article originally appeared at The World Post


Since early 2014, tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops have taken part in a bloody war with pro-Russian separatists in East Ukraine. Over 9,100 soldiers have died and over 20,000 have been injured, according to a December 2015 United Nations report.

<figcaption>Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the first line of the front rest in Zenit, a Ukrainian army position 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Donetsk airport.</figcaption>
Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the first line of the front rest in Zenit, a Ukrainian army position 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Donetsk airport.

But for many Ukrainian soldiers returning home, there is a battle that can't be fought with rifles and tanks: psychological trauma. And it isn't getting the attention it deserves.

Over the past year, experts have recorded an increase in domestic violence and high levels of alcohol abuse and suicide among Ukrainian war veterans, the Wilson Center noted in a report published Tuesday.

Yet Ukraine's soldiers have been reluctant to seek treatment for post-war mental trauma, Ioana Moldovan, a photojournalist who visited Ukraine in 2015 to document soldiers receiving psychological treatment, told The WorldPost in an email Wednesday. Many soldiers feel that psychologists will prevent them from serving in the army, the International Business Times reported in April. Others avoid talking about emotional problems in general, as mental illnesses have typically been considered a taboo in Ukrainian society.

"In Ukrainian society, the word 'psychologist' scares people," Moldovan said.
Participants take part in breathing exercises at a PTSD seminar offered by Wounded Warriors Ukraine, a nonprofit that teaches servicemen how to become Combat Shock Trainers.

Psychologists in Ukraine are working to change that.

In April 2015, Col. Dr. Vsevolod Stebliuk, a medical adviser for Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, founded a center to treat physical and psychological traumas at the Irpin Military Hospital, located in a forest outside Kiev. Stebliuk himself suffered a period of psychological trauma after working as an anesthesiologist at Ilovaysk, where over 600 people died in clashes between troops and separatists in August 2014.

"From my experience, near 50 percent of the soldiers who took part in ATO [anti-terrorist operations] need psychological help," Stebliuk told Moldovan.

The center provides soldiers with ergotherapy, or treatment through physical efforts, as well as an Interactive Rehabilitation and Exercise System (IREX), where patients receive therapy through virtual reality and video games. The center also has a meditation room. 

Over 500 soldiers have visited the center since its founding, Moldovan said.

Similarly, the nonprofit Wounded Warriors Ukraine trains servicemen to becomeCombat Shock Trainers, so they can help treat both their own and their friends' military-induced psychological shock and PTSD.

Stebliuk's center and Wounded Warriors Ukraine are two of many Ukrainian initiatives to help soldiers with trauma. Founded in August 2015, Hero's Companionsends dogs to Ukrainian war veterans to help them through their PTSD.

Take a look at Moldovan's photos of Stebliuk's team and Wounded Warriors Ukraine's work below.
Jenea, a 30-year-old who was injured in the war, rests at Kiev Central Military Hospital.

The mother of a wounded Ukrainian soldier visits her son at Kiev Central Military Hospital.

Wounded soldiers at Irpin Military Hospital just outside Kiev, where Col. Dr. Vsevolod Stebliuk introduced the first complex physical and psychological rehabilitation program for war veterans.

The Irpin Military Hospital is located in the middle of a forest on the outskirts of Kiev. Over 500 soldiers have visited the center since its founding, said Ioana Moldovan, a photojournalist.

“Every soldier who has been under fire on the front line has some stress reactions,” Col. Stebliuk told Moldovan.

The rehabilitation center at Irpin provides an Interactive Rehabilitation and Exercise System (IREX), where patients receive therapy through virtual reality and video games.

A soldier takes part in an IREX therapy exercise.

A nurse works with a wounded soldier at Irpin Military Hospital. The center does not have many staff members and does not receive much financial support, according to Stebliuk.

A meditation room in Irpin Military Hospital.

People take part in a PTSD seminar organized by the Wounded Warrior Ukraine.

Participants at the end of a physical exercise at Wounded Warrior Ukraine's PTSD seminar.

Ukrainian veteran Maxim, 25, lost part of his leg from fighting in the war, and for several months was depressed and unable to sleep without painkillers, Moldovan noted. He is now a seminar co-trainer at Wounded Warriors Ukraine.

Participants practice the techniques of self massage, a proven method to reduce psychological shock and PTSD, at Wounded Warriors Ukraine.

Pavlov, 45, participates in a self-massage exercise at Wounded Warrior Ukraine's PTSD seminar.

Participants hold hands at a training seminar with Wounded Warrior Ukraine.

Maxim receives a massage from another participant at Wounded Warrior Ukraine's seminar for extreme psychology and PTSD.

Participants hug at the end of a two-day-long PTSD seminar with Wounded Warriors Ukraine.

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