Interview with Olha Lychko-Parubocha of Friends Peace Teams in Ukraine

Left: Olha Lychko-Parubocha. Right: IDP camp in Lviv, Ukraine. Photos courtesy of Olha Lychko-Parubocha.

Earlier this month multiple waves of cruise missile and drone strikes sent by Russia targeted civilian areas and regional capitals in Ukraine, resulting in more death and destruction in the ongoing war there. An update posted to the Friends Peace Teams website on October 12 described the scene in Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine:

The war has been going on in Ukraine for 230 days. In Lviv, air alarms are often heard now. Yesterday there were 8 explosions in the city, today there were three in the Lviv region. We are expecting a wave of immigrants from those cities where people’s houses were destroyed by explosions—these are Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv and others. Many people were left without a home. And others are afraid to stay there, even if they have a home.

These words came from Olha Lychko-Parubocha, a Ukrainian psychologist who has been working with Friends Peace Teams (FPT) to provide assistance to suffering Ukrainians and share updates with concerned Friends around the world. FPT has had a presence in Ukraine since 2014 when the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia first began, following the Ukrainian Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. FPT is a Quaker organization that works to encourage and develop long-term peace and justice ministries around the world, including supporting local partners in 20 countries where there has been war, colonization, violence, and oppression. Many of the people affiliated with FPT are trained facilitators in the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and the Power of Goodness (POG), both powerful models of nonviolence with deep Quaker roots. It is through these programs that FPT spreads the message of peace.

Recently I spoke with Turtle Macdermott, who lives in North Carolina and has been volunteering with FPT for the past two years, about the organization’s current work in Ukraine and approach to supporting peace-related ministry. She explained that FPT is largely powered by volunteers and the group views its purpose as “supporting the ministries and leadings of Friends and other individuals working for peace and justice.” She put me in touch with Olha, who has been working in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Lviv since they were built in April. FPT provides her with a stipend to support her vital work, which is aided by the skills she’s learned as a trained AVP and POG facilitator. Olha is one of seven such facilitators in Ukraine.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, one-third of Ukrainians have been forced from their homes since Russia’s invasion in February: “This is the largest human displacement crisis in the world today. Some 6.43 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine and some 11 million people are estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave.”

A little over a week ago, I sent some questions to Olha (by way of Turtle) about what life is like right now in Lviv, which has experienced blackouts and other utility failures as a result of rocket strikes on the city’s energy facilities. Olha responded in Ukrainian, and her answers were translated into English by Alla Podolsky, graphic and digital designer for Friends Journal. Alla is a native Ukrainian who has been living in the United States for over 30 years.

Gail Whiffen: What are the IDP camps in Lviv like now? How are people coping?

OL-P: Modular villages are not designed for long-term living, nor for exposure to low temperatures or for socialization. They are a great temporary shelter solution, but more than half of the people who settled in them back in April and May are still living there, because they have nowhere else to go. Some of the people from such camps returned home, to the territories liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, if their houses survived. Renting housing in Lviv is expensive for people who do not have sufficient and stable income. Living abroad is also complicated: living under uncertain conditions, having to learn a new language, and adapting, especially for older people, is difficult.

GW: I understand you are also a professional psychologist and trained in both AVP and POG. War causes great trauma in all of the people it touches. How have you been reaching out to people to offer help?

OL-P: Yes, I have a degree in psychology and am studying for a candidate’s degree [equivalent to a master’s degree] in psychotherapy. I practice alternatives to violence and nonviolent communication, as well as many other techniques, practices, and methods for better results in my work. Being knowledgeable about psychotrauma and teaching to cope with the consequences of such trauma are now a big part of my work.

I always enter into a dialogue with people, which helps determine whether a person needs my active listening, my help, my support. Sometimes people come to me, sometimes I go to them. Displaced persons aren’t living only in Lviv’s modular villages; they have settled all over the city and region, all over the western part of Ukraine. So the camps aren’t the only place where I find these people. As a volunteer psychologist, I also work for the all-Ukrainian online platform “Tell Me,” which provides psychological assistance to Ukrainians. Since the beginning of the war, demand for help increased exponentially, and all of it is related to the war.

GW: What is the greatest psychological need for IDP people right now?

OL-P: It’s hard to generalize all IDPs by a specific need other than safety, acceptance, and understanding. Different people have different attitudes to life.

GW: Are you a person of faith? Do you feel called or led to do this work?

OL-P: Yes, I am a Christian. I feel the calling and the need to do what I can where I can.

GW: When did you start working with Friends Peace Teams? Why did you decide to partner with them now?

OL-P: I got to know FPT in 2015 when the Power of Goodness project, coordinated by Chris Hunter [of Peacebuilding UK], came to Ukraine. I was in the second wave of people who got involved; the first group was formed of participants from eastern Ukraine, the second from western Ukraine. I was in the second one. The goal was to bring peace and understanding into the sphere of people representing those two groups: east and west. Misunderstandings have been brewing for a long time, and with the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, it was high time to reopen the dialogue, to find peace and acceptance in our hearts and carry it forward. Working with FPT means helping to spread peace, bringing understanding, and teaching the culture of peace. It’s very important to me.

GW: How did you come to be a POG facilitator?

OL-P: I became a Power of Goodness facilitator after receiving training that started in 2015 and continues to this day, because there’s always something to learn. I introduced studies in accordance with the Power of Goodness program in educational institutions (schools and kindergartens) where I worked at the time.

GW: Why do you think POG stories are effective at helping bring people together for peace?

OL-P: Power of Goodness teaches people how to adopt and use nonviolent ways of conflict resolution. In the context of the current ongoing war in Ukraine, it sounds contradictory, but if we are talking about peace in communities, in society, about peace and acceptance in the hearts of people from the eastern regions where they speak Russian (which is often a trigger for many) and so on, then Power of Goodness makes sense again.

GW: How are your loved ones and family doing? How are you taking care of yourself during this difficult time?

OL-P: I know many people who are victims of the war—it’s my entire surrounding! We are all currently suffering from this. The fact that we are sleeping in our own homes today doesn’t mean we will continue to do so tomorrow. . . . Because, while the war is going on, no one in my country is safe. But I, like most Ukrainians, am learning to live with the new realities, to adapt to them.

[A few days before Olha sent her answers, she updated Turtle that more missiles were striking Lviv, and people were dying. Olha’s daughter had to spend several hours in a bomb shelter in her school, which is one of the oldest in Lviv, so it has a very solid construction and a strong basement, where the bomb shelter is located. Not all newer schools have that.]

My way of taking care of myself is to listen to myself, meet my needs, and whenever possible replenish my resources, energy, and joy. I am infinitely grateful to everyone for the help and support of Ukraine, for spreading information about what’s happening in my country. I am grateful and inspired, but I would very much love to be able to tell you as soon as possible how my country is being rebuilt, how it’s growing stronger, how the life here is beginning to burst again with love, beauty, and goodness.

Readers can learn more about the Power of Goodness and Friends Peace Teams’ work in Ukraine at friendspeaceteams.org/europe. There will be a virtual POG workshop event on Saturday, November 5, with Olha in Ukraine and other facilitators from West Papua, Central Java/Yogyakarta, and the Philippines. The training will be conducted in English and Ukrainian. Those who speak other languages may bring their own interpreter.

Gail Whiffen

Gail Whiffen is associate editor of Friends Journal. Olha’s responses were translated from Ukrainian to English by Alla Podolsky, graphic and digital designer for Friends Journal.

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