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ARCHIVES  Danyliw Seminar 2016

Danielle Johnson

CNA Corporation (US)

Danielle Johnson is a Research Scientist (Russian Specialist) at the CNA Corporation (US). She received her PhD at the University of Oxford in 2012 for a thesis on diaspora battles for genocide recognition of the Holodomor. She recently published “The Dangerous Game of Truth Telling in Ukraine,” on the Atlantic Council’s blog.



“No One Understands Me”: Investigating Recognition, Restitution,

and Re-Traumatization among Ukraine’s ATO Veterans

There has been no shortage of commentary on the potential psychosocial consequences of recent violence in Ukraine. Much of it has focused on the risks of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) among fighters returning from the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) and its likely impact on public health, particularly a rise in suicides, domestic violence, and alcoholism. In addition, many have noted the ongoing humanitarian needs of large internally-displaced populations (IDPs) and the traumatic effects of protracted displacement. In response, many organizations began providing various forms of mental health services and training local professionals in crisis psychology.


However, a medicalized approach to understanding and treating trauma in the country is insufficient. This is because recovery from trauma also requires a strong community effort to provide recognition and restitution. Laws, public institutions, and commemorative practices affect how traumatized individuals interpret community support and cope with their experiences of violence, and if they are lacking, individuals may feel re-traumatized. This can have important consequences for peacebuilding, statebuilding, and development in the longer term. Nevertheless, existing studies of war trauma in Ukraine fail to investigate what recognition and restitution mean in the Ukrainian context and to what extent they are present.


The paper addresses this important gap in our knowledge. It examines current approaches to psychological war trauma in Ukraine, focusing on policy initiatives undertaken by the Ukrainian government, as well as trauma training and treatment programs implemented by both international organizations and Ukrainian civil society. The analysis evaluates how effectively these various efforts provide recognition and restitution to traumatized individuals, or negotiate their absence. A special emphasis is on returning fighters and their families and IDPs. The research is based primarily on a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with representatives of both international and local organizations working with traumatized populations in Ukraine, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Global Initiative on Psychiatry – Tbilisi, the Federal Global Initiative on Psychiatry, Psychological Crisis Service, Legal Hundred, and Black Tulip.


As the conflict in Ukraine continues and threatens to become “frozen,” this research is critical in considering ways to achieve sustainable peace and development in the country. While there are immediate implications for how the Ukrainian government, Ukrainian civil society, and international organizations can better target their mental health programming, it can also help identify broader policy responses to more effectively mitigate the immediate effects of trauma and longer-term incentives for the re-emergence of violence.

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