children at war

Before Putin started the war in Ukraine, 7.5 million children lived in that country. Half are now on the run, and the rest are under bombs, surviving in basements or on the run with their parents.
Today, with the psychoanalyst Claude Halmos, we return to the tragedy these children are living through.

franceinfo: What consequences can this war have for your future?

Claude Halmos: This war, in which hospitals, birth centers and kindergartens are being bombed, seems to be relentlessly targeting children. Perhaps because the death of one’s child is the worst thing that can happen to a human being, killing Ukrainian children is a very surefire way to kill their parents. And the children who survive face extremely severe trauma.

They saw everything that made up their universe suddenly disappear: their homes, the outside environment (which was no longer recognizable), and the activities that defined the days; it is now the sirens and the bombings that interrupt time. They have been separated from many of their friends, without being sure of seeing them again, and from their relatives, if not from their fathers. They live in cold, hunger, thirst and above all in the omnipresence of death; and thus terror.

What are the risks for these children?

Trauma is especially destructive to children because they are construction creatures. Especially when, as in a war, the parents, who are the main pillar of their security, are themselves upset.

They are therefore the prey of fears, nightmares or diseases through which their bodies try to drive away the horror. Some relapse (eg, stop being clean) to imagine going back to a time in their lives when there was no war.

And the greatest risk (as with adults) is that, having lost their bearings, they lose themselves and go “crazy”. To avoid this, some (so as not to feel everything) “disconnect” a part of themselves, thus forming a “traumatic memory”.

How to welcome and help these children?

We must avoid the trap of believing that they can “forget.” And don’t let the air they might have fooled you that they’re fine: it’s the effect of traumatic amnesia, an escape from reality, or even a desire to keep those around them safe. And it must be remembered that a child can only use their resilience if they are given very solid bases.

That is why we must help these children to live as normal and happy a life as possible today. But at the same time, help them stay connected to what they were before; with Ukraine and their life there (which they can talk or draw about) and above all with their language. Which is fundamental so that it doesn’t become the language of oblivion in which the horrors they experienced would remain hidden.

The challenge is that they do not hold back a traumatic memory that would burden their lives, but also, because it is passed on unconsciously, that of their descendants.

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