‘EVERY war is a war against children” said Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children. Recently such words have found echoes from International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan who has accused Putin of treating children like “spoils of war”.

I’d add every war is a war against women too.

When along with the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK I spoke recently at the Westminster parliament at the launch of the report I co-authored, Putin’s Invasion of Ukraine: The Psychological Impact, it was pleasing to hear him refer to our work as a “significant’ report. But I could not have predicted the interest it would generate, not only from those interested in Ukraine, but from other parts of the world suffering conflict.

Indeed, we are already engaging with diplomats from Azerbaijan, Colombia and Cambodia and intend to present our report to delegates to a United Nations meeting in Geneva. The following outlines our humanitarian concerns.

As Putin’s Russia on February 24 last year launched its assault on Ukraine by land, sea and air, I wondered what on earth Revive Campaign, of which I am chair, could do. We are a very small humanitarian advocacy group, concerned about the wider impacts of explosive violence in all too many places across our troubled world.

I soon talked with Nigel Ellway, the founder of Revive, but we were uncertain at such an early stage of what the right course of action would be for the campaign. However, help was at hand from a young Ukrainian woman.

A few days after the invasion, I was contacted by Marina, an already internally displaced young mother with a four-year-old daughter. She wanted to volunteer to undertake interviews for us with the women affected by the war. She soon recruited a colleague, Sergii, to assist.

Despite communications and other difficulties, within a month we had a research study designed. At our end, we had recruited Zoe Clack, our intern from the University of Stirling, to help co-ordinate what was inevitably going to be a complex task. We involved others, and not least the Sunday National’s own David Pratt whose photographs have contributed so magnificently to the report’s impact.

Soon it was three Scots, two Ukrainians and one Englishman working together from different locations across Europe. But it would never have happened without Marina and Sergii from Ukraine.

Our focus was not on the women and children who had received direct physical harm, but on the forgotten innocents who had been displaced either internally within Ukraine or to friendly European States. We also wanted to avoid the pitfalls of seeing their plight through the eyes of their hosts, but instead through their own stories. The stories of women and children needed recording, to help us understand the type of interventions that would help them.

The psychological burdens are huge. Put yourself in the shoes a young mother living one day in peace, surrounded by her family and along with her husband sharing the joy and challenge of raising a young family in familiar surroundings. Suddenly and without warning their world comes to an end.

Their new world is one of a family torn asunder. The husband required to stay and defend the homeland, the mother and children forced to flee to safety. That would itself be hugely difficult, but add to it moving to a country where you couldn’t speak the language, where you had lost ties of friendship and the wider family, where the country you had moved to had a very different culture and very different systems of support.

Many things can have a significant negative impact on children, such as leaving behind fathers, grandparents, toys, pets, kindergarten friends and of course developmental disruption that can take place from now living with a traumatised mother, and with language development made more difficult. Our interviewers identified 22 specific psychological symptoms of stress and trauma.

Among the key issues identified, were issues rarely commented upon in news coverage including:

  • Survivor’s guilt
  • Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder as seen in reaction to sudden noise, nightmares and distress
  • Panic attacks, anxiety, aggression
  • Loss of faith and trust in the world
  • Feelings of loss (home, friends, family, homeland)
  • Pseudo-adaption – maintaining popular behaviour for fear of condemnation or being misunderstood
  • The inability to care for oneself and loved ones.

And so the list goes on.

Post-conflict issues will abound in the future. Children often have a need for effective trauma-informed education that can be lacking in traditional educational environments.

Perhaps most worrying of all is the evidence from previous conflicts that it is women who often carry the most long-lasting psychological burdens after a war is over. They become central to rebuilding lives, families, communities.

As we look to the future, I am reminded of the words of Zainab Salbi: “Long-term trauma … is a haunting reminder that health issues and depression can follow decades after the war.”

Roger Mullin is the chair of Revive, which is an awareness campaign, focusing on the individuals and organisations which provide support to victims of explosive violence