Claudia Antonovna Ushakova
MCC photo/Lyubov Varvyanskaya

Claudia Antonovna Ushakova’s son died in combat in 2014 in the conflict in Ukraine. Through Hram, an MCC partner, and a peace club it operates, Ushakova has found understanding, a renewed sense of meaning and an ability to consider dialogue and forgiveness. 

Imagine the pain of losing a child to war, compounded by not having a safe space to express grief.

This is Claudia Antonovna Ushakova’s story. Her son, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, died in combat at the beginning of the war in 2014. 

The conflict began in early 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine. Unrest spread, intensifying from May through November 2014 as waves of people fled fighting in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (provinces), which share a border with Russia.

Ushakova hails from Zaporizhzhia, which is 200 kilometres from the conflict zone and where there are no military operations. Because it’s a peaceful city, some people are in denial about the problems of the war and people like Ushakova find others don’t understand their pain or even reject it.

"My soul was in pain. I had no one to share my experiences with,” she explains.

 

Individuals who have lost family members in the conflict in Ukraine gather for peace club.MCC photo/Lyubov Varvyanskaya

MCC’s partner, Hram was founded in 2008 and began responding to the needs of those affected by the conflict when it began in 2014. Ushakova found a safe place to share her experiences in a Hram-run peace club.

“Regularly attending the peace club meetings for family members of fallen soldiers helped me to understand that in this world I am not the only one with this problem and there are people with whom I can talk about my misfortune. They understand me, share my pain, and support me in difficult moments,” she says.

She adds: “This is where I found a safe place where I could open up and talk about what is really important to me.”

Peace club members gather in Zaporizhzhia.MCC photo/Lyubov Varvyanskaya

According to Irina Sergeevna Dmitriv, the director of Hram, the peace club not only provides some respite for people who have lost loved ones, it also works with veterans and offers tips for conflict resolution.

“With the military background and heightened domestic aggression, it is important to talk to people about the possibility for peaceful dialogue and give them new models of conflict behaviour,” she says. “It’s also important to help the victims, and prevent the spread of destructive behaviour among them.”

According to Dmitriv, veterans without adequate coping mechanisms for their trauma can turn to alcohol or become violent. Suicidal tendencies are also common among veterans.

For Ushakova, the peace club helped her personally, but also motivated her to help others.

“At these trainings, I discovered new qualities in myself and learned to forgive and understand other people, to dialogue with others, although earlier for me it seemed impossible,” she explains. “I have found the strength to help other people in similar situations, and I take part in the peace club, as a volunteer.”

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