Ukraine – August 26 2022

“You are never ready for war”: Interview with Ksenia Semeniak

Ksenia Semeniak is coordinating mental health and psychosocial support teams as part of the emergency response run by SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine. In this interview, she talks about her work and everyday reality after February 24.

You took on a new role in SOS Children’s Villages Ukraine during the emergency response to the war. What do you work on? 

In the first month of the full-scale invasion on Ukraine, many of us started to take on new tasks. We were reacting to the new reality and I truly saw the need for coordinated MHPSS activities in war conditions. 

My main tasks are in the area of project management. We implement and develop new activities to facilitate mental health and psychosocial support for children and families. The project has a couple of main components, such as mobile psychological teams, daily emotional support and summer camps for children. We also organize staff care activities and expertise development among psychosocial support specialists. 

How do you plan the activities? 

It is crucial for us to continuously analyze the needs and react accordingly. Of course, we have a concept of the project, but its parts are flexible and can be adjusted to the current situation and the quickly changing reality. For summer, we organized a psychosocial support camp for children. Our team is growing and we plan to get new people to provide more help for the internally displaced children and their caregivers. 

How did you personally experience the beginning of the war? 

Actually, we were preparing for this with my husband and friends. A few weeks before the full-scale invasion, we packed our backpacks to be ready for an emergency. But I think you are never ready for war. We spent the first days moving from our flat to the bomb shelter and back. We were working and following the news all the time. Focusing our attention on work helped, at least a little. We constantly texted and called our parents and friends to know that they were OK. 

For some time, you moved from Kyiv to Rivne, Western Ukraine. What was that like? 

There was a lot of uncertainty in Kyiv. We decided to move to Rivne because my husband's parents live in the region. It was good to be close to them. We started volunteering at a humanitarian center in a hospital and tried to be as efficient as we could. We lived in the house of a friend's parents, in a large group, with cats and dogs. It was good to be together as a community. In the evenings, we spent time together over a cup of tea. It was difficult to switch off from the news and this reality none of us chose. We found new friends. In one moment, all the people became so close to one another. 

What is your daily routine now when you are back in Kyiv? 

My days are filled with work. Many people need help now and it is essential to try to provide it. The entire country is in a huge emergency. In addition to work trips to other regions, there are sports, rare meetings with friends and cooking. Driving lessons are a new part of my daily life. Driving is crucial now, just like first aid knowledge, so I decided to start learning.  

I am experiencing life in a new reality. It will never be the same as before. I am trying to adjust and continue to feel the taste of life. I am donating to charities and waiting for our victory, for the possibility to visit my parents in Crimea and go to all the other amazing cities and villages in my country. 

How has your life changed? 

It has changed completely. The most difficult thing is getting used to the fact that you cannot plan anything anymore. A lot now does not depend on you at all. It is hard to accept everything that is happening. It is very painful to lose wonderful, brave people. To see cities in your country being destroyed. But, at the same time, there is an incredible mobilization of society, a common understanding of what we are fighting for, what values we are fighting for. 

What do you wish most urgently for the children and families in Ukraine, apart from the war being over soon? 

The main wishes are for them to return to their homes, their native places, and to rebuild what was destroyed. I want loved ones and valuable moments to return to the lives of every Ukrainian as soon as possible, so that families reunite, children can hug their parents, and parents do not lose children. I dream that planes fly again in the blue sky over Ukraine.

Interview by Katerina Ilievska