Special project 13:28 27 Jun 2023

"You cannot overcome grief with tears — only with actions": the mobile team of social and psychological assistance helps violence victims overcome their challenges

Rubryka spoke with the mobile team of social and psychological assistance working in the Konotop district of the Sumy region and learned the steps to a peaceful life.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп


What is the problem?

At the beginning of June 2023, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Andrii Kostin, stated: "The position of vulnerable groups during the war only worsens, and such problems as domestic violence are getting worse, but they can remain invisible." The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Ukrainian parliament, Dmytro Lubinets, also stated: "During 2022, we received 104 appeals, and in five months of 2023 — already 65 appeals on this issue (domestic violence – ed.). This proves the relevance of this problem in society."

What is the solution?

The state, local authorities, and the non-state sector provide various services and implement initiatives to prevent and combat domestic and gender-based violence. In particular, since 2015, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund in Ukraine, has been implementing the Program for Combating and Preventing Gender-Based Violence.

Currently, within the framework of this program, 100 mobile teams of social and psychological assistance to victims of domestic and gender-based violence are working in 21 regions of Ukraine. Such teams work with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in coordination with the Office of the Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine.

There are also 29 safe spaces for women Vilna operating in Ukraine, where girls and women can study, rest, work, find like-minded people, restore their psychological state, and, if necessary, receive professional help.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: One of the clients of the mobile brigade, who spoke on the condition of anonymity about her steps on the way to distance herself from the offender

Rubryka tells how the social and psychological assistance team works in the Konotop district of Sumy region and what stages one of its clients has already overcome to protect herself and her children from the abuser.

How does it work?

"We work like an ambulance"

Тетяна Шульга, Ольга Гребеник, Антон Гребеник

Photo: Social worker Tetyana Shulga, psychologist Olha Grebenyk and driver Anton Grebenyk are members of the mobile team of social and psychological assistance, which has been working in a 50-kilometer zone from Konotop since August 2022

Social worker Tetyana Shulga, psychologist Olga Grebenyk and driver Anton Grebenyk are members of the mobile social and psychological assistance team, working in a 50-kilometer zone from Konotop since August 2022. This is the Konotop district, as well as nearby settlements of the Chernihiv region, particularly Baturyn.

The brigade works thanks to the financial support of the US government within the framework of the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance in cooperation with the implementation partner of the NGO Innovative Social Solutions.

"Our task is to improve the well-being of a person who finds themselves in a crisis," says Shulga about the brigade's work.

Соціальна працівниця мобільної бригади Тетяна Шульга

Photo: Social worker of the mobile brigade Tetyana Shulha

The brigade helps women and men of any age, children from 14 years old, permanent residents of communities, and IDPs. The presence of a car allows us to work like an ambulance, psychologist Grebenyk shares: "We arrived, solved certain emergencies, directed the person to services that can help them, and then we work with them mainly in the format of providing consultations."

The fact that the mobile brigade has transport is its main advantage. After all, a social worker and a psychologist reach clients in the most remote corners of communities, on the worst roads — so that people there feel that they will be supported and not abandoned.

Водій мобільної бригади Антон Гребеник

Photo: Mobile brigade driver Anton Grebenyk

Just listen

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Social worker Tetyana Shulha and psychologist Olha Grebenyk. The brigade is based in a building on the territory of the Classical Vocational College of Sumy State University (Konotop, Myru Ave., 26, room 101A), which has all the possibilities for providing high-quality services

Psychologist Grebenyk says that the most recorded cases are psychological violence. Therefore, psychological help is what the victims need the most. There is a demand for this in all communities because most do not have full-time psychologists.

The driver of the mobile brigade, Anton Grebenyk, adds that before this job he did not even think that there were so many cases of violence around and not all of it was physical: "It turns out that there is a lot of this around us, unfortunately. I also learned what violence is in general — for me, it used to be beatings and rape, but now I understand that there is also psychological violence, which is widespread."

Olha Grebenyk says that for most clients, it is very important that they are simply heard. The opportunity to speak already partly comforts them. Of course, all such conversations are confidential.

When a person shuts down, the psychologist finds out their problem in a calm conversation. After that, they offer methods that can improve the affected person's condition.

However, psychological violence often goes hand in hand with physical violence. Such was the situation of Kateryna (the name has been changed at the request of the heroine). The brigade's cooperation with her began in the fall of 2022. The victim and experts hope it can soon be called a success story.

"The abuser does not change; they can only put on a mask and then take it off again"

Kateryna from the Konotop district is a mother of two minor children, a young woman with a good job and a private house. Her marriage lasted 15 years, a considerable part of which Katryna lived in fear for her safety and the well-being of her children. Her husband abused her psychologically and caused physical and material damage.

He behaved as a bachelor, but only with children and a wife by his side. He smoked weed and lived as if wearing rose-colored glasses: without any coordination with his family, he made very serious purchases with borrowed money. "Of course, then a person has financial problems — he is angry, aggressive, and blames everyone around," says Kateryna. She shares that serious problems began when the second child was a year old. Now she realizes: then was the time to break up.

"If there is already mistrust and conflicts, then they should be resolved immediately, not dragged on. I repeatedly filed for divorce but did not bring the matter to an end," Kateryna told Rubryka. The situation could improve for a month, a year at most, but then for every misunderstanding, Kateryna's husband burned things, beat her up, broke phones, spoiled documents, and all behaved aggressively. The abuser does not change; they can only put on a mask and then take it off again," Kateryna is convinced.

She learned about the mobile brigade from a social worker at the center of social services. When she felt that it could not continue like this, she called. Earlier, she was stopped by possible gossip in the village, but then the woman understood there was no other way. 

"People chatted and will chat, but you should first worry about yourself. I really understood that I don't care who will say what. I felt I was in a situation where there was nowhere to go," Kateryna recalls.

"Working on yourself is the hardest work in the world"

Not everyone is ready to take responsibility for their life

With the team's support, Kateryna again decided to file for divorce.

Her husband reacted violently to the new attempt to leave: "I want to be with you. You filed for divorce, but this will not happen! I will deprive you of your job and break your car. I will call your management, you will be fired, you will have no way out, and you will still be with me."

But he changed his tactics at some point: he promised to leave her alone if she withdrew divorce papers.

мобільна бригада допомоги КонотопPhoto: The client communicates with a social worker and a psychologist of the mobile team

She believed, but the abuser lied as usual.

Members of the mobile team share that, unfortunately, cases when clients do not find the strength to fight to the end and are not ready to take responsibility for their lives and the well-being of their children, are not rare. The team comes to the client once, twice, or three times and provides assistance and advice.

"It is psychologically difficult to get away from the abuser, especially if there are children in the family," says Shulha. "Every person lives in hope — wants to save their family, fix someone, somehow influence."

The social worker explains that until a person understands that it is necessary to set boundaries, voice, and protect them without crossing other people's boundaries, the team can only help them episodically. Therefore, the mobile brigade works, so the person could arrange their life by themselves, take responsibility for their actions and their children's lives and start acting.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Tatyana Shulha says that, unfortunately, harmful stereotypes still exist in society

Shulha remembers how Kateryna was brought a dignity kit — the most basic necessities a woman can take and leave the abuser's home. Such kits were purchased and distributed to partner organizations by the UNFPA Ukraine team. The criminal tore and burned it, but Kateryna received another from the brigade.

Psychologist Grebenyk adds that she also very often encounters the fact that women treat men like small children, which is also not for the benefit of both.

"We are all human; we all understand that working on yourself is the hardest work in the world. I believe that these people, who have already realized the problem and want to change their lives, have everything ahead of them," the psychologist adds.

"I wouldn't have managed without the girls"

In the end, Kateryna divorced her husband, but the grievances did not stop there.

"One day, I returned home with the police because I was afraid. I go in, open the door, open the cupboards — but my things are not there, not even a razor," Kateryna recalls. Also, even after the divorce, the husband continued to break into his ex-wife's home and insult her in the presence of the children.

Social worker Shulha advised Kateryna to use the services of free secondary legal aid, and she also helped to collect all the documents necessary for this and petitioned the relevant services.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: The brigade closely interacts with other services and non-governmental organizations and, if necessary, redirects clients to them, providing all contacts

"I am very grateful because I would not have managed without the mobile brigade," says the client. 

Kateryna managed to get the court to issue a restraining order to the offender, but he violated it and continued to bully Kateryna even after the divorce. 

Grebenyk also provided consultations to the victim's older child. The brigade works with people aged 18 and over but, at the same time, has a wide range of connections with other services and organizations. So, if necessary, employees can redirect minors to the appropriate services. Kateryna's youngest child also receives psychological help.

The offender is serving a sentence for violating the order, and the woman is preparing to defend her rights further. She is already collecting documents to resubmit the application for a restraining order.

"You cannot overcome grief with tears. Only by actions"

Kateryna admits that, like many other offended women, she felt sorry for herself and asked the question: why is it so? Why is it happening to me?

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Tetyana and Olha are having a conversation with a client

"You cannot overcome grief with tears — only by actions. I am convinced that the world is not without good people. I advise women in similar situations to contact the mobile brigade immediately," Kateryna continues. "They will always help with professional advice, and there will be a lot of moral support. When morally supported, you are already in a fighting spirit; you even start to think differently." She recalls that the consultations with the team members helped her build a chain of further actions and move forward.

The client says that from the stories of her friends, she learned about other similar cases when a man intentionally spoils a woman's clothes, terrorizes her, and does not allow her to take care of her children properly. Still, the victims mostly endure and remain silent.

Kateryna, taking into account her experience, urges other victims to fight and warns: "It will not be quick or easy, but you have to find strength in yourself and seek support from people. Then you will go to your goal with more confidence."

How to help those who are silent?

"It's great that there are people who care"

Shulha and Grebenyk say the lion's share of their work is informational and educational. They have ensured that their services are known in every remote community, every women's counseling center, every social service center, every community police officer, and every social worker in the area served by the mobile team. Members of the brigade conduct various thematic group events in the communities.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Business cards of the brigade are available in all communities, establishments, and institutions of the territory it serves

However, the affected people are not always ready to seek help. Sometimes a person in a situation of violence or other crisis does not fully understand what is happening. For example, it is not uncommon for elderly people to suffer from their alcoholic children. Mobile brigade workers say it is challenging to help them because they do not even realize they are victims.

"Often, it is not the victim themselves who appeals, but concerned people around signal about it. It's very cool that such caring people exist," says Shulha. These can be neighbors, social workers on the ground, and heads of village councils.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Shulha says that, unfortunately, a certain part of the victims is in a difficult financial situation, so humanitarian aid is essential for them. "It's very cool that UNFPA Ukraine accumulates the efforts of other organizations that can provide humanitarian aid to people in a certain way," says the social worker of the brigade

The team generally closely contacts all services that interact with victims, and social workers on the ground are called their agents.

мобільна бригада допомоги Конотоп

Photo: Brigade psychologist Grebenyk conducts telephone consultations

A warm and trusting relationship has developed with the majority of clients. "They then turn to me repeatedly, even for ongoing consultations, asking for advice on how to proceed," the psychologist shared with Rubryka.

The brigade members are ready for further effective work in cooperation with state and local authorities, services, and specialized NGOs. Supporting people in need is a priority for them.

You can contact the mobile team of social and psychological assistance working in the Konotop district via the phone: +380961459526

The material was prepared within the framework of the Program for Combating and Preventing Gender-Based Violence of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, with the support of the US government (USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance).

Photo: Mykola Tymchenko



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