“Our training provided strategies that promoted a sense of having some control in an otherwise overwhelming situation.”
By Dr. David Boan
As our plane approached the airport in Kyiv, the landscape looked like Chicagoland with a covering of snow and 30-degree sunshine. We planned to meet a new friend, Sergiy Tymchenko, who directs the Realis Christian Center. Together we hoped to explore how we can support the work of his center.
Realis began in the mid-90’s in response to the gap in church community engagement after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Churches had, for the most part, been underground and not a visible presence in the community. Once they were able to move into the open, many pastors found they were unprepared for ministering to their communities. Realis began to equip pastors and their churches for ministry.
Sergiy met us at the airport and we drove through the city on the way to our hotel, passing a park with wreaths and flowers commemorating those who died in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) two years ago.
Then came the Ukrainian war with Russia—with its considerable human cost. According to the United Nations, as of February 2015 more than 5,500 people were killed. The number estimated to be living in conflict areas was 5.2 million, and 978,000 were internally displaced within Ukraine.
As the war with Russia raged on, many pastors and volunteers went to the war zone to act as chaplains and help support the military. Most of these were untrained, but well-intentioned people, and as a result, Realis saw an opportunity to extend its service mission into trauma care and chaplaincy. The work of the volunteers caught the attention of the new government and there is interest in a formal program and jobs for the graduates, if they can be educated in the core skills of chaplaincy and trauma care.
Many schools from the U.S. have responded to help Realis—Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute is the most recent. We planned to be in Ukraine for 12 days demonstrating a program approach that combines research and established method called Psychological First Aid, as well as a program Co-Director Dr. Jamie Aten and I have been working on for more than a year called Spiritual First Aid. This will be a pilot that includes discussions about the culture of Ukraine and how the program can be adapted, or conceptualized, to better align with Ukraine culture. Dr. Shirin Kazimov Psy.D. ’18 and Andrea Brim, LCSW joined me in conducting a four-day program. We then evaluated it together with our hosts.
L’viv: Insights into Chaplaincy, Trauma, and Faith
Before the workshop, we took a side trip to L’viv, just five hours west by train, to meet with the faculty of the Mental Health Institute at Ukraine Catholic University. It was here that we met Dr. Vitaly Klymchuk, a psychologist and chair of the Dept. of Psychology at Ukraine Catholic University. He introduced us to several people who work in areas related to chaplaincy, trauma, and faith.
Our first stop was SS Peter and Paul Cathedral where we met Father Stephan Sus. Father Sus is the head of the military chaplain program and priest at the cathedral. His church is dedicated to military personnel and veterans, as well as serving the local population. They serve as a place where the grieving families can come together and find comfort. The church offers grief groups, widow support, and much more.