Maksym is 13 years old and needs stability and routines. But almost two wars in Ukraine have left him with anything but.
Under Russian attacks, the boy, his brother, and his mother fled Mariupol. His father is a POW. Maksym, who now lives in Kyiv has to deal with the sound of air raid sirens and bomb explosions. He is now a refugee, as has the therapist who treated him in Mariupol.
Maryna Honcharova said that Maksym has ADHD. His mother has also reported that he is experiencing anxiety attacks. He finds it hard to study, often becomes aggressive, and doesn’t want to wake up in the morning, She said.
“He screams and throws things in the house,” she said. He does it often, when he is trying to do something, such as ride the bike that he had left behind in Mariupol.
“He remembers that and starts screaming in anger that the Russians took everything from him,” “His mother” said. On the list is his father. The family had not heard from him in over a month, since he’d been taken by Russian forces.
The war has disrupted the daily rhythms for millions of Ukrainian families. Experts and families say that the trauma caused by the war can affect children with ADHD, Autism and other special needs in a unique way, and cause regressions in development.
“All children had at least some decline in how they feel or study and children with special educational needs in particular,” Dmytro Vaskulenko, a co-founder and psychologist of the charity Mental Help 365, said:
“The children with special requirements,” he said. “need stability, but the war ruins it, even if you are far away from the front line.”
Almost half a million children have requested the help of school psychologists on the specific issue of learning difficulties exacerbated by the war, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education.
Overall, the number of children getting psychological support in schools has doubled since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. In 2022, five million students sought help from school psychology, compared with 2.5 million in the year prior, according to the ministry.
Schools also operate under severe constraints. Only schools with bomb-proof shelters can offer full-time lessons on site. Many students are forced to take part-time classes or study online. Maksym can study in class only every other week, because his school’s bomb shelter can’t fit all the children.
Mental Help 365 is a free service that provides therapy for children. It says 90 percent are referred to them by parents of special-needs children.
There is a shortage of therapists in the United States, partly because of their age. There are millions more UkrainiansExperts claim that thousands of people have fled the country.
“The war puts a huge pressure on children with special educational needs,” Yevheniya smirnova, deputy minister of education, said. “There are studies showing that even the sounds of the sirens influence children,” She said, adding “With all this we have an extreme shortage of specialists.”
Ms. Smirnova stated that each school psychologist is now serving about 600 children as well as their parents.
Mental Help 365 received funding from UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s fund, and gathered a team of specialists to provide psychological support to 1,657 children with special needs across the country. The foundation claims that more assistance is needed.
The waiting time for treatment at private development centers that are qualified can be up to a half-year or more. The sessions are expensive and out of reach for many people who were forced to leave their homes.
Many families are forced to seek help from charities.
Socialization is vital for children with ADHD and neurodevelopmental disorders, say experts. According to experts, being with other children encourages communication, such as learning how others speak and interact, by being amongst them.
Arina, a 12-year-old from Zaporizhzhia who has Asperger’s syndrome and Speech and Language Delay, can’t go to her school since it doesn’t have a bomb shelter. “Online education for children like my daughter doesn’t work at all,” Victoria Porseva said.
The family also can’t get their daughter into a private school because of overcrowding among them. “She gets sad that children do not want to be friends with her as they do not understand her,” Ms. Porseva said. “Socialization is very important, but school is closed.”
Roman, an autistic 13-year old boy, receives only online instruction. He, too, doesn’t want to study, said his mother, Olena Deina. His mother Olena Deina said that her son developed sleep problems after the initial aerial bombings in the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine, where they now live.
“He is a smart boy and studied just like all other kids before the war and now he has no motivation at all, just tells me, ‘Mom, I don’t want to,’” She said
Maksym showed signs of aggression for the first time after he was evacuated with his family from Mariupol. This is according to his mother.
“We had to pass through 20 Russian check points,” She said “Maksym was very quiet all the way and only once we settled in and calmed down, after a few days he took out on me all he had been holding inside.”
Ms. Honcharova first claimed she had yelled her son back. She understood it later. “it makes everything only worse,” He screamed back at her after she spoke “horrible words.”
Maksym and her husband were able to assist Maksym more easily at home in Mariupol. “When he heard me losing control, he would come in and take over, and I did the same,” Ms. Honcharova stated.
Maksym lives with his mother in an apartment that has only one bedroom. A Christmas tree from the previous year is still standing, and presents are still under it. The presents were for Maksym’s father, in the hopes that he would be home last Christmas.
Ms. Honcharova says she can’t find the strength to take the tree down or remove the gifts.
Maksym’s room has a desk near a window where he can study or take online classes. A piece of paper is hung above his desk. It reads: “I pray for you every day, Dad.”
Maksym was treated by a therapist in Mariupol who, according to his mother, helped him a lot. His mother said that Maksym could read and write, and had made friends. This gave the family some hope for his future. “We thought we finally managed to overcome this challenge,” She said but added: “Now we have lost all our achievements.”
Mental Health 365 provided Maksym with 15 free sessions, but the family can’t afford the cost of paying for a regular therapist.
Maksym, according to Ms. Honcharova before leaving Mariupol was able get dressed and go to the school all by himself. “But now,” She said “I can’t even wake him up.”