Even the Brave Need Reinforcement: How #BraveKidsUkraine Campaign Helps Children Cope With Stress During Air Raids
Viktoriia Gladchenko Communication Manager East Europe Foundation
At the beginning of the school year in September, the #BraveKidsUkraine awareness campaign was launched by the East Europe Foundation in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science. This is for our children: They are brave and resilient. But the brave also need reinforcement and support. This is the goal of the campaign – to help children cope with stress during air raids. It is an initiative where well-known people record video messages for young Ukrainians with words of support and practices and exercises reviewed and selected by psychologists The campaign organizes games, raffles and challenges that unite children and encourage them to join together.
Birth of an Idea
At the Foundation, we realized from the very first weeks of the full-scale Russian war that children need psychological support. We actively helped people who were forced to leave their homes and look for a safe place in Ukraine or abroad. Most of them were and are women with children.
Back then, we turned to child and family psychologist, Svitlana Royz, and quickly developed the initial online course, “How to Support a Child During War?”. The second course was recorded six months later in the fall when children went to school and returned to kindergartens – “Psychological safety of adults and children during air raid alerts in schools.” Both are available on the Zrozumilo! Online Educational Platform and are free and accessible to everyone.
When more than 30,000 Ukrainians took these courses in a short time, we realized the content was useful and necessary. We scaled the campaign to the national level while looking for an idea on how to make it more interesting for young children and teenagers. We were also in a hurry to retool the campaign in time for the start of the new school year.
I can confidently say the campaign is working. Children, parents and teachers are sharing feedback. And, celebrities are joining in.
Steps to Implementation: How and With Whom?
East Europe Foundation’s partner is the Ministry of Education and Science. I remember our meeting with Oksen Lisoviy in the summer when we first shared the idea with him. He supported us and gave us the green light. How can we talk about quality education if a child is under stress? Fear blocks cognitive functions and makes it impossible to concentrate.
The Ministry’s communications team is ensuring that educators use the necessary content. Teachers and educators show videos and conduct various exercises and practices to calm, entertain and bring children back to a resourceful state while they are in shelters.
I used the phrase “resourceful state” for a reason. The supervisor of #BraveKidsUkraine is Ms. Royz and without her expertise, this campaign would not have been possible. All texts we prepare and all scenarios according to which celebrities record their video messages to children are reviewed by her.
We heed Svetlana’s advice because only high-level specialists know some of the nuances. For example, in discussing breathing practices, adults usually close their eyes to concentrate. But, it is strongly discouraged for children. They need to control what is happening around them. In addition, during an air raid, loud sounds may be heard – because our air defense system is working – and this can traumatize a child even more.
Another example is the exercises Svitlana has selected for the campaign – l mind practices that are also related to the body. This is because it is difficult for children under seven to think abstractly. They think by moving. So even breathing practices are suggested to be done with the help of “breathing cards” – drawings with arrows. You can move your finger along them, inhaling and exhaling, according to the colors of the arrows.
Special thanks go to the UK Comms agency, whose team is responsible for social media and communication with celebrities. And, to our donors who support this initiative – the European Union.
We are grateful to all celebrities: Bloggers, vloggers, singers, athletes, showmen, presenters and writers who agreed to participate in the campaign and record their appeal. These include Eurovision winners Jamala and Kalush Orchestra, volunteer Serhiy Prytula, singers Anna Trincher and Masha Kondratenko, British actor Stephen Fry and writer Nicola Davies. An American psychologist, Dr. Sue Varma, participated. She helped civilians and rescuers who survived the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks overcome trauma.
#BraveKidsUkraine Is About Children We Are Proud Of
Over 19 months of war, the emotional resources of Ukrainians have been depleted. However, we continue to do everything in our power to bring victory closer. Everyone is in their place. Adults are on the frontlines and in the rear: In their offices, operating rooms, driving trucks, in excavator cabs and so on. And children are in classrooms. And this is no less important. They find the strength to remain focused, purposeful, friendly, and open. They are ready to learn.
National resilience and courage have already become recognizable around the world. We pass this sense of pride on to the children because they are cool and even if they are temporarily in a shelter. “Cool in the shelter” is the slogan of our campaign. We are proud of our children. All of them are cool, awesome and brave.
The children learn Kylym-man’s (Carpet-man’s) moves, sing the song “Step to the Shelter” by TNMK and Ms. Royz, do breathing exercises, and teach their classmates to do the same. They are eagerly watching all the videos and waiting for a video message from their heroes.
We understand that in adolescence, the focus of children’s authority – those whom children trust and respect – has shifted from close adults to people they follow on social media. Accordingly, their heroes help us attract the attention of young Ukrainians.
We would like as many celebrities as possible to join #BraveKidsUkraine. We also invite educators to join us. Your opinions and help are crucial.
Recently, my colleagues presented the campaign to teachers. Teachers actively took notes, scanned QR codes and asked questions. Interest in the presentation was strong. This is because our website publishes videos and useful materials from Ms. Royz that can be downloaded and used in everyday practice.
We also visited one of the schools in Kyiv where we equipped shelters last year. There we had a chance to talk to sixth-grade students. They already know about the campaign and subscribe to social media. And they are writing suggestions for their idols – whose video messages they would like to see! And, teachers are asking for more content to use with preschoolers, so we will definitely take this into account.
The campaign is scheduled to run until December 2023. We will show more interesting and useful images to all followers of our networks.