The Ukrainian Refugee Crisis: What’s Happening & Why it Always Matters


Like many of you, no doubt, I’ve been staying updated on the events happening in Europe between Ukraine and Russia. There are no two ways about it – this is a war, and, like all wars, it’s a devastating one.

I’m watching interviews with civilians fleeing their homes and cities, with and without their family members, and I’m called to reflect on the clients and individuals I’ve worked with across my career.

Europe often feels so far away – like many of the places our clients have previously called home – but when events like these happen, it brings these individuals very close to us. According to an NPR report, hundreds of refugees from Ukraine have arrived in the U.S. via Mexico, with many staying at a shelter in Tijuana, waiting for permission to cross the border.

What’s Happening in Ukraine?

On February 24, 2022, the Russian military invaded Ukraine. The escalating conflict is causing a widespread humanitarian crisis, as civilians are injured, killed, or forced from their homes. Among them are also many Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian refugees who are now escaping yet another war.

The UNHCR projects over four million Ukrainian people—10% of the population—will leave the country because of the Russian invasion. Half of the two million Ukrainian refugees fleeing to other European countries are children.

European governments and private citizens have mobilized to help Ukrainian refugees. The European Union plans to allow Ukrainian people to live and work in EU countries for up to three years, the Polish government is providing Ukrainians with healthcare and social assistance, and a mass of individual volunteers have assembled to offer free rides, food, and supplies.

The Need for Psychological Support

Like many others worldwide who’ve found themselves in similar situations, many if not all of the refugees who have fled Ukraine have suffered traumatic experiences. Psychologists and social workers say counseling for new arrivals is absolutely crucial.

The UN migration agency’s director-general, Antonio Vitorino, has also reiterated the urgent need for trained psychologists, especially Russian and Ukrainian-speaking people, to help those fleeing the crisis.

And the global therapeutic community is stepping up.

A network of online mental health experts has been growing ever since the start of the war. Some professionals are refashioning their virtual support offerings in response to the war to meet the needs of refugees as they need it now. Others provide psychological first aid to refugees or additional support to therapists currently on the front line of an increasing mental health crisis.

What it Means For Our Work

The current crisis could have a number of trickle-down impacts on our work, including:

1. Triggering for existing clients.

Some of our clients may have experienced similar experiences as those they’re now seeing, hearing, and reading about from Ukrainian refugees in the news and across social media. This could – and likely will – have a direct impact on their mental health and, as a result, their assessments and evaluations.

2. Triggering for us.

It’s natural that in our work, we may also feel triggered, stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by the reports about the Ukrainian crisis. It is a lot to process, and I know many in our community have some personal or cultural connection to either Ukraine or Russia. It’s essential to ensure we keep looking after ourselves and each other during these times.

3. Creating awareness for knowledge gaps.

Even though we work with a wide variety of migrants, if you are relatively new to offering these services, you may not have had to support clients who’ve come from a refugee background that involves fleeing a war. This might leave you with questions about your current knowledge and how you can upskill yourself professionally in this area.

Resources to Help

Aside from reading the news, keeping up to date on developments, and speaking with others in our professional networks, there are ways you can support your professional knowledge around the psychological impact of war trauma and similar experiences.

Here are a few valuable ways to get started:

Final Thoughts

This is just a short list of things that I believe will be helpful, but I’d also love to hear from you – how have you been keeping your professional skills and knowledge updated in this area to best support clients from these backgrounds? Have you come across any other valuable resources and courses that the rest of our community might also find helpful?

Please do let us know in the comments of this post or over on our Facebook community.

For me personally, I will continue to stay updated on the current Ukrainian experience and pitch in where I can to offer my skills and support.

Cecilia Racine: Immigration Evaluation Therapist

I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.

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