Ukraine, Oleksandr’s other war, from soldier to psychologist to recover veterans

from Francesco Battistini

Captured and tortured by the Russians, today he runs the Life Line friend phone. In recent years he has received 13 thousand night calls from aspiring suicides

FROM OUR REPORT KIEV They said to him: bravo, hero! He didn’t even listen to them. They pinned the medals to him: the pangs came to him in his heart. They put a flag in his hand: he felt like a rag. Dirty outside, ripped inside, Private Oleksandr Aliyev returned from the Donbass as Captain Bob of Coming Home. His wife no longer recognized him: He was suffering from anxiety and paranoia, he would withdraw. but yet Oleksandr he was a national hero. The Russians had captured him together with the famous Nadiya Savcenko, my boss, the pilot of the Ukrainian Sukhoi whom Putin had shot down and brought to Moscow to subject her to two years of exemplary trial, then repatriated with a thousand honors.

But unlike Nadiya, he had been wounded in the head, thrown into a coma on the bed of a military hospital, locked up in prison and finally returned to Ukraine. I was back in full Ptsd, post-traumatic stress disorder. The Russians had tortured me, subjected me to mock executions, had vented on me. For months, Oleksandr was an amoeba. I didn’t work, I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t even see my children. Of the first six months, I don’t remember anything.

Not today. Oleksandr really came back. Reborn. Rebuilt. He made my whole family, they had the courage and the patience to wait for me. At 44, an established psychologist. And together with his wife, he sutures war wounds as invisible as his own: veterans, displaced persons, widows, orphans, people who can no longer stand these eight years of emergency. On the friend phone Life Line, in a US-funded program called Words help, veteran Oleksandr in recent years he picked up 13,000 nightly calls from would-be suicides, scoured 1,600 chasms of the soul. Attending desperate cases: A forty-year-old who was not a professional soldier – he remembers – and had been sent to the trenches. I looked for his wife, desperate: once he returned, he never slept, he got drunk, he quarreled with everyone, smashed the house, led it. Unrecognizable, unsustainable. I tried to help him, but he had flashbacks, he always felt surrounded by Russians. Secretly, you start shooting with a hand grenade in your pocket, ready to detonate it. One day, she really blew it up. She has lost a hand. But he has found himself. And he now he works with me. The most obvious case of shock is perhaps the most famous: the heroic Savcenko, the head of Oleksandr. That in front of the Russian judges, as a prisoner, she presented herself with t-shirts praising the homeland, she inveighed against Putin: a tough one.

When the Ukrainian spotlight awaited, welcomed like a mother of the country, Nadiya made it clear that she was already someone else. Exalted, overexcited, vivisected in her behavior, in a short time she passed from the halo of heroin to the pillory of her misfit: they discovered the explosive on her, with which she wanted to blow up Parliament. And a few months ago, arrested for trafficking in fake anti-Covid certificates, he explained that he no longer recognizes himself in this country. There is the problem of being accepted – says Oleksandr – whether you are a veteran or a refugee. It is not easy to readjust. Those who live in Kiev find it hard to understand who was at the front. After a while, he doesn’t want to see what you stand for anymore. And if all goes well, indifferent. Otherwise he refuses you.

Although in Ukraine the first line everywhere… In Europe, you know what the classical wars are. This is a hybrid war instead: involves everyone. Even those away from the shots. made up of deaths, yes, but also of psychological pressures, media storms, disinformation. A war that creates widespread, profound anxiety, which cannot be escaped. For the past two years, the Donbass seemed a long way off. The crisis of recent weeks, the Russians on the border are changing everything: the nightmares are back. And if you are fighting, paradoxically, you dominate them because you know what happens. But the farther you get away from the front, the more alert you are, the more panic grows.

Psychotropic drugs in gog, + 170%. With some veteran who works hard: the Veterano restaurant, in the center of Kiev, run only by ex-fighters. In the kitchen there is a lieutenant, the mother a sergeant. An excellent therapy. Because the veteran is usually no longer able to return to a normal job: he does not accept orders, schedules, discipline. And the only one who can impose them on him is whoever commanded him even before.

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