Working with trainers who are combat veterans by peer-to-peer principle is the best model of social adaptation for veterans – NGO Pobratymy


Kyiv, February 8, 2016. Non-governmental organization Pobratymy [eng. – Fellow Men] organized two programs in the previous year: a Peer to Peer training on overcoming combat shock, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for troops, and a Sector B project dedicated to adaptation of veterans to peaceful life after coming back from war. “The main idea throughout the entire project is mutual help based on the peer-to-peer principle, through communication between a veteran and a veteran. It is the pattern which yielded the result in Denmark and other countries in the world,” said Artem Denysov, head of the NGO Pobratymy. The idea of the projects appeared at the end of 2014 and took shape during cooperation with Danish and American experts. The first group of ATO veterans already graduated within the framework of the Peer to Peer project started in February 2015. The graduates, in their turn, became co-trainers for the next group.

According to the project authors, it is vital for combatants not to be left alone with their experience after they return home. “Something ancient wakes up inside a person at war. There is a knot of instincts, and you don’t know what to do with them. You must explore this rough ocean, but nobody tells us how to handle it. The more we learn it, the more frightening it becomes, for the things a soldier is doing at war are absolutely anti-social in terms of civil world. Here soldiers are scaring people with their reaction,” said Taras Kovalyk, former fighter of Aidar battalion, a co-trainer of the project, student of Ukrainian Catholic University majoring in human resources management and a distance learner at a psychology faculty at a university in Greece. According to Kovalyk, it is very important that ATO veterans become trainers, for a person who have not lived through the war himself, “is not even close to understanding of what veterans are going through”.

The Peer to Peer program includes four stages. The first one is presenting theoretical information on what is happening to the psychic of discharged combat veterans. The second one introduces instruments for exploration of their own experience. “What really happens is that trauma develops before war and war just makes them more acute,” explained Kovalyk. The third stage has veterans working on themselves, and the fourth one has them moving to the post traumatic growth. “Participation in the training helped me find myself, I regained the desire to live and create, it became clear what to do further,” said Mykola Zmiyevskyi, participant of the second training on overcoming combat shock, trauma and PTSD. He used to be a steelmaker before being drafted, and now decided to pursue a career of a barista “to bring joy to people”.

Graduates of the first program will also become trainers of the Sector B initiative, the project for social adaptation of veterans. “This is a project of aiding those who have to help themselves first of all, who are not ready to work with other fellows yet. It is more saturated and lasts six weeks. Their families participate in the process too,” said Ivona Kostyna, founder of the Sector B initiative and co-organizer of the NGO Pobratymy.
According to the NGO Pobratymy activists, the country is in critical need of as many similar projects as possible. “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very complicated diagnosis. It is a phenomenon originating not at war, but when dealing with the society,” emphasized Kostyna. It is known from the experience of the other countries, she said, that most post-war problems manifest themselves in 10-15 years. Thus, it is necessary to start developing the long-term mechanism of processing ATO veterans’ experience as soon as possible. At the same time, Andriy Kozinchuk, co-organizer of the Sector B initiative, participant of the first training on overcoming combat shock, trauma and PTSD and a co-trainer of the organization, said it is very important to make this mechanism goal-oriented, but not process-oriented, measuring its efficiency in quantitative factors. Kozinchuk believes that NGOs, studying each other’s experience, are much more likely to succeed in this, than the inflexible state system. “We aim at making a veteran who came back and overcame his trauma better than he was before. Usually people, returning from war, don’t want to live like they did earlier,” he emphasized.  Authors of the project stated that many countries around the world have considerable expertise in this sphere. Nevertheless, neither system is as efficient as would be desirable.

Activists go to the ATO area, lecturing on psychological training, based on ‘peer-to-peer’ principle as well. Moreover, they work with newly drafted troops, providing psychological follow-up, explaining them what thought and reactions they may face after they return to peaceful life and how to handle them.

Kostyna also emphasized that it is very important for the society to percept veterans in proper manner – both those fighting at front and discharged. “Fighters shouldn’t be treated as an object of pity and sympathy. They mustn’t be perceived as wretched heroes. They are very strong people with unique experience and unique skills who are ready to face their problem and handle it. […] They possess the biggest potential to change something in the country, but time and patience are needed to make it happen”. NGO Pobratymy is planning to organize training in future for volunteers and journalists who worked in the conflict zone. These will be two separate programs, as their experience differs considerably.