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The mental health challenges Ukrainians are facing

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We want to go back now to another major story we've been following, the situation in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's attack on the country. Daily life in Ukraine has changed a lot since the start of the war.

PAUL NILAND: Well, I mean, obviously, the last three months, the last 93 days have been incredibly difficult, and there's more difficult times ahead.

MARTIN: That's Paul Niland, founder of Lifeline Ukraine. That's a crisis hotline that was founded in 2019 in response to the stress that veterans and soldiers were feeling about the conflict in the Donbas region. It's since grown to support all Ukrainians, and they've been busy since the start of the war in February.

NILAND: We have a 50% increase in our call volumes. But, you know, and we used to deal with people, for example, who would be calling us up. Their condition or their state of mind had been potentially brought down because they had financial worries, for example. We're dealing with calls from people who are living in fear, whether that would be a service person who is on the front lines, whether that would be an elderly person in her village who decided not to leave in the face of Russia's invasion because she had nowhere to go. She would be calling us terrified.

MARTIN: He's also been getting calls from some of the millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced.

NILAND: You know, that leaves a feeling of isolation. They've lost the comfort of their normal surroundings, the things that they used to enjoy having around them. Children don't have their favorite toys. You know, when they're when they're being packed up and shifted away from the danger areas, their parents are telling them to take their favorite stuffed toy, their favorite teddy bear. Pick one, you know. And so there's all kinds of difficulties that we're being presented with. And we're in the process of making sure that we're getting better at being able to help with those specific issues that the Ukrainian nation currently faces.

MARTIN: Niland says he's also getting calls and messages from Ukrainians who've had to leave the country.

NILAND: My project coordinator gave me a report just last week, actually, that in the previous week, we'd been contacted by Ukrainians overseas from 21 different countries within the space of one week. Twenty-one chat message requests came from different countries around the world.

MARTIN: But Niland tells us that some of the toughest calls come from the loved ones of those who are fighting on the front lines.

NILAND: It's those who have been left back at home who are fearful for potentially losing their son, their husbands, whoever it might be any moment. I mean, literally, that could happen that a person's life can be extinguished in an instant here. This is a very, very intense battle. And so it's the family members of service folk who we are being called into to help more and more.

MARTIN: Since Ukrainians from all walks of life have enlisted to fight, Niland says that just about everyone knows someone fighting in the war. He told us about one of his friends.

NILAND: I messaged him two days ago and I said, listen, I don't message you frequently because I don't want to bother you, but I want you to know I think about you several times every day, right? And his response to me was a Ukrainian flag and a praying emoji. You know, I mean, that's the kind of communication that we're limited to. And, you know, I have some friends who I know I will not see until the end of this. And sadly, I'm certain that there are some friends that I will never see again as a result of this. That is war. That is what Ukraine is having to go through right now.

MARTIN: He says this close connection is one reason why Ukrainians are so unified.

NILAND: That is what the Ukrainian people are bonding around right now. It's the necessity to defeat this evil and to drive it out from all of our land because these are our countryfolk. They might be our former colleagues that, you know, worked in IT and now fire automatic weapons on the frontlines. And we become more and more and more determined with each new revelation of horrors and war crimes that have been committed by the invading Russian army. What Putin has done is he has given us all of the reasons that we need to fight to the very last man. It's his army that have given us every reason that we need to ensure our victory.

MARTIN: That was Paul Niland, founder of Lifeline Ukraine, a crisis hotline that supports the people of Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.