Science & Health

Psychiatrists Worry About Ukraine’s Long-Term Mental Health Challenges

Irina, her husband and 4-year-old son hid in the cellar of their house in Chernihiv, north of Kyiv, for three weeks as intense fighting, including a tank battle, raged around them.

“At first my son seemed to be coping okay,” she says. “But then with unrelenting stress, shelling and blasts, there was a deterioration — the boy started to become withdrawn. He became nervous. He started to stutter,” she says.

Their escape from Chernihiv wasn’t gentle either.

“We had to drive along a road, which we knew was mined. And we saw a lot of burned-out cars with people, families, scorched inside. We tried to ignore it all and just continue because we had our kid and just wanted to save him,” she says.

She doesn’t know what her son saw, what he took in from the carnage and how it is churning inside him. He was in his booster seat in the back of their car. She hopes he slept through a lot of the dangerous and terrifying journey from Chernihiv.

“I have not tried to raise anything with him about what he saw,” she added. She has heard that drawing is good therapy for traumatized children and has been encouraging him to do so.

So far, he has been drawing repeatedly the yellow and blue Ukrainian colors.

Many Ukrainian evacuees say they have noticed their children have changed and seemed to be displaying signs of trauma and stress, even those who did not witness at first hand horrifying scenes.  Some exhibit rage; others seem withdrawn. Some are bed-wetting.

“It won’t just be combatants, we will have to help after this war,” says the Reverend Mykola Kwich, a Greek-Catholic priest in western Ukraine. Kwich is a trained counselor and has helped rehabilitate soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.


“Civilians who have gone through bombardments and shelling and have witnessed a lot will need help,” he said. “We are expecting to have to do a huge amount of psychological work. We will have to do this work because it will impact our society and lead to more problems.


“Wars are about destruction. In the same way towns and buildings get damaged during war, so with people inside. After war, you can’t be the same person. But there are methods and therapy we can use to help restore people’s mental health and assist them to pursue a normal life, if they are willing. Of course, you won’t return to being the person you were before,” he adds.


Refugee reception centers in central and Western Ukraine are trying to offer traumatized adults counseling and play therapy for kids. “We do have specialists and priests coming to visit the evacuees” says Valeriy Dyakiv, director of a reception facility sheltering about 300 evacuees in the central Ukrainian town of Vinnytsia.


“Prayers calm people a little bit,” he adds. “And for children there are different types of activities. We had a puppet show the other day, and for some kids it was a huge surprise because they were from small villages and they had never seen puppets before,” he says. The activities for the kids also involve drama and poetry readings.

 The center managed by Dyakiv has the benefit of having as an evacuee a well-known Ukrainian actress, Olena Prystup, who fled her hometown of Kharkiv, the beleaguered eastern Ukraine town. “My favorite role? Prystup ponders when asked. “Ophelia,” she then says.

That seems highly fitting what Prystup is trying to do now — to help traumatized children deal with their stress. William Shakespeare’s Ophelia, from the drama “Hamlet,” is a young Danish noblewoman and potential wife for Prince Hamlet, who, due to Hamlet’s actions, ends up falling into a state of madness that ultimately leads to her drowning herself.

“We have two groups of kids,” Prystup says. “The youngsters are learning some poems by heart and then reciting them at short performances. And the older ones, teenagers, are actually working on a play right now. I don’t know how it’s going to shape out. I hope it is going to be okay, and some of them are talented,” she adds.

Professional psychiatrists worry, though, that Ukraine doesn’t have the health care capacity to cope with what is likely to be needed when the war is over. Even before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine suffered a high prevalence of depression, alcoholism and suicide compared to some other European countries.

A report by the World Health Organization in 2020 noted that mental health disorders are the country’s second leading cause of disability and affect about 30 percent of the population. The WHO also noted that many Ukrainians distrust psychiatry because of the Soviet past when psychiatry was used as a tool of repression — dissidents were often accused of being “mentally ill” and incarcerated in hospitals during the Communist era.

It said in a report, “Challenges include a large institutionalized psychiatric system associated with human rights violations, alongside public stigma and low awareness of mental health. Social services for people with mental disorders are limited or absent in the community.”

Science & Health

Tensions Rise Over Future of Abortion Rights in US

The future of abortion rights is in flux in the U.S. as the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the issue in June. Since September, Texas has banned abortions after six weeks.

Amy, a spoken-word poet, recently had an abortion. And it was no easy task. The divorced mother of a 3-year-old said she barely had time to think once she realized she was pregnant — because she is in Texas.

“If I would have had a little bit more time, lowered my blood pressure a little bit — maybe I would have made a different decision. We’ll never know,” she said.

In September, the state enacted the most restrictive abortion law in the U.S. Amy, who declined to give her last name, knew she had just days to make her decision, find a place to get an abortion, and then go through with it.

“I don’t even think I had gotten the results from the pregnancy test, and I was already googling where to get an abortion in Texas, just so that I could have the option,” she said.

Amy’s experience in Texas may soon become reality for more women in the U.S.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide on an abortion case in June that could spur a wave of abortion rights restrictions throughout the nation.

Worried abortion rights advocates point to life in Texas under the new law, where abortion is illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is around six weeks of being pregnant for most women.

The law also carries the ability to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks.

The reality for most women is the deadline is even shorter. When Amy missed her period, two weeks after having sex, she was considered to be four-and-a-half to five weeks pregnant, since pregnancy is calculated from the first day of a woman’s last period. Amy had less than a week, but after multiple phone calls, she was able to get into a clinic.

“I didn’t even have time to assess my own thoughts, I felt the clock ticking,” she said.

For anti-abortion activists, this time constraint is a big step in the right direction.

“Our goal is to make a society such that no woman would even consider having an abortion because she feels there are no alternatives. We do have vast alternatives,” said Joe Pojman, founder of Texas Alliance for Life.

Instead of seeking an abortion, Pojman wants pregnant women to visit Texas’ nearly 200 crisis pregnancy centers, where he says they can find support.

Brittany Green-Benningfield, who heads the Pflugerville Pregnancy Resource Center, said such groups offer a variety of resources for pregnant women.

“So this is our baby boutique for our moms,” she said while offering a tour of the center. “This is where, when they come and take lessons with us, they get an opportunity to shop. Through classes, they earn points, and then they are able to take what they need. We have a licensed sonographer, and she provides ultrasounds for any of our clients that come in. We are giving our moms a first glimpse to see their baby.”

The centers also help women make doctor’s appointments and offer things like canned goods until the child is 2-and-a-half to 3 years old. Pojman said it’s all a big step in the right direction, but that much more work is needed.

“While the number of abortions has substantially decreased and women are seeking more agencies that provide alternatives to abortions, there are still tens of thousands of abortions in Texas going on,” he said.

In some ways, Amy was a best-case scenario for someone seeking an abortion in Texas. She knew the law, she knew she had to move quickly, and she had resources to get an abortion and possibly travel out of state, if necessary. That’s not the case for poorer women who are being harmed most by the law, say abortion rights advocates.

Sarah Wheat, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said she sees the obstacles women can face.

“Once they find out and are informed that Texas law prevents them from accessing an abortion right here as they’re sitting already in our health center, it’s too much, the barriers are too great, whether that is that they don’t have access to reliable transportation or they can’t get time off of their job or they don’t have somebody to take care of their children. It is totally out of reach,” she said.

In each month between September and December, 1,400 Texas women went out of state for an abortion, according to the University of Texas. That’s more than 4,000 women. Many others who missed the deadline ordered abortion pills online, which come with risks when not taken under medical supervision.

Amy said this makes her worry.

“Women are going to get abortions,” she said. “They’ve done it for centuries, even when they were fully illegal, and that’s how women died from abortions. So if you take away this decision, you’re ultimately just taking away women’s lives.”

Science & Health

Tensions Rise Over Future of Abortion Rights in US

The future of abortion rights is in flux in the U.S. as the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the issue in June. Since September, Texas has banned abortions after six weeks. For women seeking an abortion, many are in a race against time. Deana Mitchell has the story. 
Camera: Deana Mitchell Produced by: Deana Mitchell

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Muslims Prepare for Holy Month of Ramadan 

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan — a time when Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and other activities from dusk to dawn daily, begins at sundown Saturday in most parts of the world

At sunset, Muslims break the daily fast with the iftar, a meal shared with family and friends.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, and start and end dates vary each year. According to conventional Islamic belief, the Quran, the Muslim holy book, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago during Ramadan.

Fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, is practiced by Muslims to achieve a greater consciousness of God. The other pillars include praying, giving alms, professing one’s faith and going on a pilgrimage to Mecca, called the hajj.

This year will be the largest hajj since global coronavirus pandemic restrictions were enacted two years ago.

The Islamic Networks Group, based in San Jose, California, describes Ramadan as “a month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion, during which Muslims spend extra time reading the Quran and performing special prayers,”

Last year, fasting across the world ranged from 10 to 20 hours a day. In many majority-Muslim countries, working hours are reduced and restaurants close during fasting hours.

Ramadan ends at sundown on May 1.


Science & Health

Ukraine War News Effect on Children: How Adults Can Help

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters a second month, social media and television continue to constantly broadcast disturbing images and news about the conflict. That’s raising some concerns about the effect it might be having on children’s mental health. Video: Artyom Kokhan

Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business

Will Smith Resigns From Film Academy Over Chris Rock Slap

Will Smith resigned Friday from the motion picture academy following his Oscars night slap of Chris Rock and said he would accept any further punishment the organization imposed. 

Smith in a statement released Friday afternoon said he would “fully accept any and all consequences for my conduct. My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful and inexcusable.” 

Film academy president David Rubin said Smith’s resignation was accepted. 

“We will continue to move forward with our disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, in advance of our next scheduled board meeting on April 18,” he said.

Smith loses voting privileges with his resignation. But there are other, less tangible benefits to being part of the academy, Hollywood’s most prestigious organization: It bestows industry credibility on its members. It’s invitation only, with a once-a-year membership review. 

“I betrayed the trust of the Academy. I deprived other nominees and winners of their opportunity to celebrate and be celebrated for their extraordinary work,” Smith’s statement said. “I am heartbroken. I want to put the focus back on those who deserve attention for their achievements and allow the Academy to get back to the incredible work it does to support creativity and artistry in film. 

“Change takes time and I am committed to doing the work to ensure that I never again allow violence to overtake reason,” Smith concluded in the statement.

The resignation came two days after the academy’s leadership board met to initiate disciplinary proceedings against Smith for violations of the group’s standards of conduct. Those proceedings could have resulted in suspension or expulsion, and it was not immediately clear what additional punishment he could face. 

Few expulsions

Had he been expelled, Smith would have joined a small group of men removed from the academy: Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby and the actor Carmine Caridi, who was kicked out for sharing awards screeners. 

On Sunday, Smith strode from his front-row Dolby Theatre seat onto the stage and slapped Rock, who had made a joke at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Moments later, he went on to win the best actor award for his role in King Richard. 

Rock, who was about to present Oscar for best documentary, declined to file charges when asked by police.  

The fallout was immediate and intense. Smith had supporters for coming to his wife’s defense, but he was widely condemned for responding with violence and for marring both his long-sought Oscar victory and overshadowing the night’s other winners.