The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation on Healing the Psychological Wounds of War

  • 2024-06-11

One of the dearest costs of war is the toll that cruel, unethical acts of aggression take on the human psyche. Even for those lucky enough not to have suffered physical harm, war routinely strips away dignity and destroys self-assurance, leaving behind fear and feelings of worthlessness. The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation, one of Ukraine’s largest humanitarian institutions, is at the forefront of providing psychological care to everyone impacted by the war who needs help — from the country’s bravest defenders to its most vulnerable children.

Boasting a diverse charitable outreach that’s touched the lives of millions of Ukrainian citizens, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s numerous initiatives are funded by proceeds from the coffers of billionaire philanthropist Rinat Akhmetov’s portfolio of globally recognised corporations, including the steel and mining conglomerate Metinvest. Akhmetov is deeply committed to a broad-spectrum campaign of care and compassion for the people of Ukraine.

“I think that the decision to do charitable work comes only from the bottom of your heart,” he said. “There is only one thing you need to feel — a huge desire to help people; a huge desire not to leave people in need to fend for themselves. If you want with all your heart to help, if you cannot stay indifferent to someone else’s suffering, then charity is your path and your destiny.”

The Mental Health Impact of Long-Term Russian Aggression

With the exigencies of the current war routinely headlining the news cycle, it’s sometimes easy for those living outside the conflict zone to forget that the Russians have been actively waging an ongoing incursion against Ukraine since 2014. “War destroys communities and families and often disrupts the development of the social and economic fabric of nations. The effects of war include long-term physical and psychological harm to children and adults, as well as reduction in material and human capital. Death as a result of wars is simply the ‘tip of the iceberg,’” according to the findings of a research study published in World Psychiatry.

The Feb. 24, 2022 full-scale Russian invasion has only exacerbated Ukraine’s mental health crisis. In an Apr. 11, 2024 feature, Al Jazeera reported, “Ukraine’s health ministry estimates that almost half of the population, 15 million of 38 million, are in need of psychological support, while 3 to 4 million people likely need medication.”

“In modern realities, we experience stressful situations and tragic events every day: war, sirens, shelling, accidents, fires, natural disasters, evacuation. People witness shelling, destruction, death, and violence, lose their loved ones and homes, and are therefore constantly in a state of tension,” explained Olga Frolova, a psychologist and associate professor at Berdyansk State Pedagogical University, who led an online mental health webinar sponsored by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation in conjunction with its No to Orphanhood! program.

Mental Health First Aid: When Quick Intervention is a Key Factor in Healing

Psychological first aid is an essential front-line tool to help alleviate the mental suffering of those who have experienced traumatic events, including those induced by war. Without early intervention, anxiety and stress can result in a host of unpleasant symptoms and unhealthy and self-harming behaviors.

“Psychological interventions are necessary for promoting resiliency and recovery of disaster survivors by reducing mental breakdown. Specifically, [psychological first aid] enhances the coping of patients through various means, including dissemination of the right information, comforting, emotionally supporting, and fundamentally supporting disaster survivors, thus limiting mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder,” noted the authors of a study published by Cureus.

“After acute stressful situations, a person may develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to negative changes in mental and physical health. Therefore, it is important to be able to provide psychological first aid, because, unfortunately, terrible events have become a part of our lives,” Frolova added.

The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s Ongoing Commitment to Mental Health Initiatives

On Apr. 23, 2024, Ukraine celebrated its annual nationwide Day of the Psychologist, honoring those who have dedicated their lives to helping people suffering with mental health issues lead less troubled and more productive lives. “Unfortunately, after the full-scale Russian invasion, people in this profession have become more in demand, as many relatives of the dead, the military themselves, internally displaced persons, and children need psychological help. In the first year of the war alone, more than 500,000 Ukrainians turned to psychologists,” the Ukrainian National News reported.

Since 2014, the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation has provided close to 600,000 Ukrainian citizens with qualified psychological care in the forms of direct assistance, as well as informational and motivational support. Programs include practical webinars and videos from psychologist experts; mobile psychological consultations for front-line residents and displaced persons, as well as numerous war-weary doctors and teachers who’ve continued to work under threat of enemy fire; and courses of psychological and physical rehabilitation for children and adults conducted in foundation-funded sanatoriums. The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation also spearheads numerous year-round psychological and motivational initiatives for children and teenagers traumatized by the war, especially those illegally removed to Russia who were able to find their way home to Ukraine.

One of the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation’s most ambitious undertakings, the Museum of Civilian Voices — an online archive that documents first-person war remembrances — is also one that’s had a profound psychotherapeutic impact on the mental health of those who’ve participated. With more than 100,000 stories collected so far, the Museum of Civilian Voices provides a safe, comfortable, yet cathartic outlet for survivors to share their most painful memories and thus, unburden themselves from the anguish they’ve kept internalized. In addition to the archive, the museum's website has expanded to include special material geared toward healing the psychological trauma of war, which can also be found on the foundation’s YouTube channel.

The Rinat Akhmetov Foundation has always made it a top priority to provide psychological aid to the nation’s brave defenders, families torn apart by war, and especially children traumatized by their experiences. “During the war, these professionals have made a significant contribution to the mental health and better future of Ukrainians,” the foundation website states. “Helping people to hold on, overcome stress [and] psychological trauma, and move through the darkness to the light.”