From Where We Are

This war is making us sick

Talking mental health with Ukrainian and Russian students amongst escalating conflict

[Flags of Ukraine and Russia painted on pavement with a crack separating them.]

The war in Ukraine is deeply affecting people there and even far from the fighting. Some University students in this country can think of nothing else some report already feeling traumatized especially students whose families have ties to the region. They say their studies and mental health are suffering, Ethan Huang reports.

Victoria Kostour is the President of the Ukrainian Student Association at the University of Connecticut. Both of her parents emigrated from Ukraine, and since she first heard news of the invasion last Thursday she says she’s been shocked, terrified but heartened by the protests in support of her beloved Ukraine.

Kostour: I feel that every time I blink, I see the Ukrainian colors that yellow and blue because I’m just, you know, so flooded with that imagery from seeing the rallies that have been going on to see in the post. And so it feels like every time I blink, I can see that flag there.

Kostour expresses how overwhelming the events overseas have been to her daily life.

Kostour: You know, I feel the urge to constantly check our social media for updates or to provide updates, constantly checking the news to try to see if there’s any, you know, any updates on that and as well. It’s it’s hard to. Kind of balance everything, since everything is so time sensitive, so our university is trying. We have a rally scheduled this week and we’re trying to get a fundraiser put together and just corresponding with other organizations trying to find places to donate, trying to reach out to our fellow students for support. And so there’s a lot of pressure there. And yeah, it’s just it’s just really been plaguing my mind. I have like an exam tomorrow and I’ve just found that it’s taking me a lot longer to cover material that probably would have not would have taken me half the time before this all went down.

Of course, students of Ukrainian descent are not the only ones so strongly affected by the harrowing news. Alexandra Hederstrom studies Communications at USC. She spent her childhood in Russia and had great love for that country but now well Hederstrom reads from a recent post she put on her Instagram..

Hederstrom: my Russian mother cried into the phone this morning. My entire identity has been thrown out of the window in English. How do I console my mother? Today, I’m ashamed and embarrassed of my Russian identity. My heart is burdened with shame that this land a land in the violent and grip of a megalomaniac. A land I have a unique love for is disgracing the future of its people and its culture.

While it may not be her first concern right now concentrating on her classes at USC has also been harder for her since the war began.

Hederstrom: For the past few days I’ve been waking up and the first thought in my mind is this conflict, which I’ve never experienced before personally. And it’s quite a change of pace because I used to wake up thinking about a homework assignment I had or an exam. And now my first thought is, I have to call or text my mother to make sure that she’s doing OK.

Hederstrom’s mother lives near Washington D.C. but she also has immediate family she worries about back in Russia.

Palinkas: Having a secure access to family members is absolutely critical because that will be perhaps the major source of concern and anxiety for the Ukrainian students.

Dr. Lawrence Palinkas teaches at the U-S-C School of Social Work. He studies psychosocial adaptation to extreme environments and disasters.

Palinkas: Typically with events like this, trauma is one of a collection of three types of mental health problems that occur. We talked about anxiety that’s often related to uncertainty, to the lack of up to date information. And then there’s depression and concerns about the future of Ukraine, concerns about the global world order, concerns about inflation here in the United States for people who have no direct involvement in Ukraine or Russia. These are all symptoms that students here at USC, regardless of nationality and background, are likely to experience from this conflict.

For students anywhere, the Ukrainian American Victoria Kostour at the University of Connecticut says what keeps her going during these dark times is staying connected.

Kostour: I’ve gotten so many messages from friends checking in on me, and I think that that’s really important. So to those that, you know, may know someone who’s impacted, just reach out, just kind of check up. I think it’s, you know, just a little text or phone call does does go a long way. And that’s really important, especially in a time like, now.

Whether its reaching across oceans.. to relatives or supporting a friend right here in your dorm if you can lend a hand.

For Annenberg Media.. I’m Ethan Huang.