‘God’s answer to my prayers’: Ukraine members learn emotional resilience, coping skills from Church seminars

Even with power outages, people in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees join weekly online seminars on emotional health 

On Sunday nights for the past few weeks, Ukrainians living in the country or elsewhere as refugees have tuned in online to hear presentations from professionals about emotional health and well-being.

One participant from Ukraine told organizers: “The seminar for me is God’s answer to my prayers. Thank you for your support in a very difficult period of my life. I once again received evidence that God is very close.”   

Requested by Church leaders in Ukraine and coordinated through the Family Services office in the Europe Central Area, the 90-minute sessions cover the following topics:

  • Emotional self-care in times of crisis 
  • How to keep calm during an emergency 
  • Wellbeing during displacement 
  • What is counseling and how can it help 
  • Coping with grief and loss 
  • Understanding and coping with vicarious trauma 
  • How to minister to people experiencing emotional distress 
  • How to help children and youth face challenges 

After the session on Sunday, Jan. 8, the Church’s Family Services manager for the Europe Central Area, Rocío Gutiérrez, wrote to the Church News, “We are always afraid that due to power outages people living in Ukraine won’t join, but they are always there, even in the dark.”

The project coordinators are Elder and Sister Koji and Ko Okumura, and they handle the communication, logistics and coordination. Presenters are mental health professionals serving in callings as Family Services advisers from Portugal, United Kingdom and France. 

Sister Ko and Elder Koji Okumura, project coordinators of the Church’s emotional support seminar for Ukrainian members, speak during a Zoom session on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Rocío Gutiérrez

Gutiérrez said the translation division in the Europe Central Area quickly translated resources for the sessions and provided “an amazing team of interpreters” to translate in Ukrainian each Sunday. 

“We have two [interpreters] each week because interpreting such painful stories is emotionally hard for them due to their personal attachment to the situation in Ukraine,” she said.

In the first week, Gutiérrez saw an example of God’s love for the one.  A leader in Switzerland told the Family Services office about two deaf members from Ukraine who needed emotional support and wanted to join the session if there was any way to receive sign language interpretation.

“What seemed to be impossible happened — the Lord performed a miracle so we could find a Ukrainian sign language interpreter for these members within 24 hours,” Gutiérrez said.  

An interpreter translates an emotional support seminar into Ukrainian sign language for members who are deaf during the session on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Rocío Gutiérrez

That interpreter joins each Sunday from a Ukrainian meetinghouse with a power generator to make sure she has enough electricity to leave her camera open while interpreting into Ukrainian sign language.

The first session saw 100 connections, with more than one participant per connection joining from homes or from meetinghouses in Ukraine. The presenters introduced the topic, showed a video and gave opportunities to share stories.

“We had many people sharing their experiences,” Gutiérrez said. “They felt validated and remained connected until the end.”

Gutiérrez said those in Ukraine and refugees who have left the country have different needs. For example, in the second week, people in Ukraine joined the session about keeping calm during an emergency — while refugees joined the session on wellbeing during displacement.

“The comments from people out of Ukraine focused on how they feel guilty because they left their people (survivor guilt) and how hard life is now that they are in new countries,” she said. “They shared strengths, coping skills and challenges with each other, felt validated and learned new ways to cope with the situation.”

Comments from people in Ukraine focused on how hard it is to live with fear and uncertainty for the future not being able to plan their lives. 

“The sharing part of the meeting turned almost into a testimony meeting. They felt more and more comfortable sharing their experiences, challenges and strengths,”  Gutiérrez said. “The Spirit was felt in both sessions.”

Family Services’ Robert Durkin from the United Kingdom presents information on emotional health and resilience to Ukrainian Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. | Rocío Gutiérrez

In the last few weeks, the organizers learned that many Ukrainian members in Kyiv had power outages and some were joining the online seminars from their cell phones, totally in the dark. Some of the translators also have had no electricity. The seminars are now recorded for those that can’t join live, while respecting the privacy of the participants who share their experiences. 

As the sessions continued, the participants requested more practical exercises such as breathing, relaxation, mindfulness and grounding. The feedback has been very positive, said Gutiérrez.

The sessions continue on Jan. 15 and 22 through Zoom.

More resources: Tips for Emotional Preparedness from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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