She's got it 09:02 14 Jun 2023

"If I'm going to destroy myself now, did my husband die for nothing?" The "Darling, I Live" project helps women who have lost loved ones

Once a week, the participants of the "Darling, I Live" project gather in a circle where everyone understands each other. Under the guidance of a psychologist, six women who lost their husbands in the war are working through the pain of loss.

How was it possible to unite women who have lost loved ones? What struggles do they face every day? How can you support project participants? Rubryka explains further.

"Darling, I Live!" — a call to life

Alyona Prokopenko hardly remembers the months that followed after she lost her beloved Ilya. On October 24, 2022, her husband was wounded at the front, and on October 30, the defender's heart stopped in the hospital.

"A few weeks after the loss, it became easier for a moment, then the Christmas holidays began. I went to Poland with my friend as a volunteer to get a car to the front," says Prokopenko.

психологічна допомога для вдів

Alyona Prokopenko working during at of the meetings

After this trip, Prokopenko says, she was in a state of numbness, and shut herself off from the world for weeks. She didn't remember much about what she did during those days, how she ate or showered. The defender's wife was in this condition until her health deteriorated, and she had to start caring for herself.

"I managed to cope with that condition. I thought then: Did my husband die for nothing if I'm going to destroy myself now? I came to understand that there are many women in the same situation. I wanted to help them," says Prokopenko. She voiced this idea to Yaryna Gerashchenko, a family friend, Zaporizhzhia activist and volunteer.

"I had an idea of such a project, but may not have dared to voice it. There are many service members, volunteers, and defenders in my environment," Gerashchenko told Rubryka. "I immediately agreed to the proposal. I couldn't sleep for a long time the night after that conversation. It dawned on me at some point that the project's name should be 'Darling, I Live!'

Ярина Геращенко

Yaryna Gerashchenko observes the participants of the meeting

According to the activist, the name was chosen as the appeal of wives to their dead husbands to testify that their sacrifice was not in vain –that they died not so their wives would suffer with grief, but so they could live in an independent Ukraine.

Eight meetings

Gerashchenko undertook the implementation of this project. Looking for sponsors who could help women experiencing the pain of loss, she turned to her mother and psychologist, Victoria Gerashchenko. The specialist has been working with military personnel and their families since 2014, when Russia began its war in the east of Ukraine. Yaryna had an idea to hold an event for women who lost relatives, but her mother explained that a single event would not be enough to improve their condition. Viktoria Gerashchenko uses approved recommendations. One of them  is an eight-step program offered by the Dutch Association of Psychological Services. Ukrainian specialists have been relying on it since 2016. These recommendations are adapted to Ukraine's realities and create a safe environment. 

Вікторія Геращенко

Victoria Gerashchenko (on the left) is working with the project participants

The one-day event grew into an eight-week course for women who have lost their husbands. Victoria Gerashchenko says that during the meetings, it is essential to pay attention to careful support during the grieving process and provide support on the way to recovery.

The first part of the meetings is focused on loss — the participants recall the combat path of their loved ones, look at photos, and share their feelings. The second half is about focusing on the consequences of loss and the problems of returning to full-fledged everyday life. For example, the participants create objects that supposedly unite them with the deceased. In one of the classes, the group painted "You are with me" eco-friendly shopping bags, depicting images of a woman and a man.

Коханий, я живу!

Victoria Gerashchenko shows one of the eco-friendly bags created by project participants during art therapy

The psychologist adds that such a system balances grieving. It gives an opportunity not only to immerse oneself in a traumatic event, but also to think about how to live on. After eight weeks, the wives of the deceased soldiers will meet with a psychologist once a month, and she will continue to monitor the condition of the participants.

The first group

The first group was made up of six participants, among whom was Prokopenko.

"Some women initially agreed to participate but then changed their minds later because, in society, there is a lot of condemnation of people who have lost someone," says Gerashchenko.

"I'm not a blogger, but I'm quite active on Instagram. Once I put up a post after dying my hair, to which I received a comment that read: 'I'm sorry, maybe it's not my business, but don't you think that you're not in the right state to put up such photos?'," the activist shares about the negative comments on her posts. According to Prokopenko, the culture of condemnation is very popular in Ukraine.

Коханий, я живу! Запоріжжя

Group participants doing art therapy

Some participants who applied for "Darling, I Live!" could not be included in the course because, according to the program terms, at least four months must pass from the day of the loss. They also chose women who were in similar age categories. Those who were not selected for the first group, were invited to the project's second round.

Currently the project offers only offline classes, because the support program that the psychologist came up with cannot be organized online, as they are deeply personal encounters. "In general, we have prepared a lot of interesting activities for the participants, but we do not disclose what awaits them," says Gerashchenko.

Stories of project participants who joined the first group

Iryna was left alone with her 14-year-old daughter when her beloved of 16 years, Vitaliy Chuyko, was killed by mortar fire on October 26, 2022.

"He always said: 'If something happens to me, take care of my daughter.' He had courage, patriotism, and a thirst for justice. He loved the truth very much and demanded it from everyone," Iryna told Rubryka.

Віталій Чуйко

Vitaliy Chuyko, Iryna's husband, was killed by mortar fire on October 26, 2022.

The soldier's wife shares that she found out about the "Beloved, I Live!" project on Facebook, and realized she wanted to join.

"I wanted to register because there was pain and utter despair inside, but I have a daughter and must live and recover. I wanted to see if this project could help me," Iryna says.

Another project participant, Maria, says she met her Artyom, who served in Azov since 2015, four years ago.

Artem Verbovskyi died on April 15, 2022, in Mariupol. At that time, he commanded an infantry company of attack aircraft. During street battles, the unit found themselves in a double encirclement. When they decided to try and break through, the soldiers were hit by artillery.

"He was the love of my life. I thought we would always be together. After his death, I lost myself," says Maria. "People who have lost a loved one simply do not know how to live with it. However, Artem himself treated death philosophically. He wouldn't want me to suffer all the time."

Артем Вербовський

Artem Verbovskyi, Maria's husband, died on April 15, 2022, in Mariupol.

Maria learned about the project from Gerashchenko and immediately decided to participate. The fallen soldier's wife hopes the project will show the right way to honor her husband's memory, but at the same time, not be a prisoner of this suffering — to live not with pain but with memory.

Co-founder and project participant Prokopenko says that she feels comfortable in this group because women understand each other's grief here.

"In our meetings, you can say whatever you want and express destructive thoughts because you are human. It is impossible not to think about why your loved one died and not someone else. I do not wish death on anyone, but these thoughts still appear. I want to talk to someone who will understand," Prokopenko shares.

In addition, she adds, society doesn't know how to deal with people experiencing a loss.

"I'm annoyed by the phrase 'hold on' – I've had it enough in the last six months. You understand that a person wants to support you, but hearing the same words all the time is difficult," Prokopenko continues. "This is my personal opinion. It would be good for me not to be treated as inferior." 

Sometimes people who've experienced loss encounter unpleasant situations like friends and acquaintances avoiding them, treating them differently, or not knowing how to talk to them.

Propenko explains: "Yes, my husband died, but I am here; I am alive. Everything is fine with me. I want to be treated like a normal person."

проєкт Коханий, я живу!

"In our meetings, you can say whatever you want and express destructive thoughts because you are human"

How to help the project?

After the first group, Gerashchenko does not plan to stop –  she would really like the project "Darling, I Live!" to develop. 

"All the partners I contacted for help were willing to support the project. We have no funding so far, we do everything ourselves. Everyone works on a volunteer basis, but I would like to thank those who help us," shares the project's founder.

If the project had funds, Gerashchenko says, it would be possible to hold several parallel groups.

"We have decided not to launch any fundraisers yet, maybe, in the future. I was already thinking about starting a Patreon," Gerashenko shares. The project would also benefit from more informational support to reach more women so they see that there is such a project and are not afraid to get involved.

You can find the project's page on Instagram.


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