War Mental: Lasting Psychological Effects of Russian Invasion

“Polina came to our bedroom awakened by the sound of explosions. I didn’t know and still don’t know what to tell her. Her eyes today are full of fear and terror; eyes of all of us.” Alina shared this reflection on her Instagram account by reminding us that her daughter Polina is just 7 years old.

As of February 24th, the Russian invasion of Ukraine officially started. The lives of Ukrainians changed abruptly: from being a citizen to a refuge. The records state that nearly 1 million Ukrainians have fled from their home country in the hope to go back soon. The situation brings up the need for psychological research on the effects of the invasion.

This writing will touch on the risk factors, dose gradients, and protective elements respectively.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are the negative impacts on a person's or a community's life. They predict undesirable outcomes. Poverty, homelessness, children who witness violence, lack of community services, unemployment, and family distress can be given as examples. Driving from that information, a risk gradient can be created to measure risk factors. It helps to illustrate the numerical background of an impactful event. For the research of the Russian invasion, a risk gradient might look like this:

By looking at the graph, we are trying to predict the behavior problems which are also called externalizing problems. They can include disruptive aggressive behavior or hunger status in the aftermath of the Russian conflict. Scores high up like 80 will predictably need a clinical referral.

Refuge Status

Leaving your country without having a solid return ticket puts people under a lot of stress and pressure. Refugees need to adapt to their “temporary” land and culture in order to maintain sustainable living conditions. However, this big change comes with various social and economic consequences. If we take the Ukrainian migration under consideration, it is possible to guess the limited resources - employment, sheltering and food - they have as refugees. There is no reassurance. Therefore, refuge status is a must-consider risk factor in Ukrainian citizens’ current situation.

Dose Gradients

Dose gradients are used to visualize how much exposure have you had to the terrible situation. For example, in a terrible tragedy where there's a major loss of life like the Russian invasion, if a child knows, and is close to someone who has died, the impact is likely to be greater for that child than if all the people who died in the disaster are strangers to that person. As the symptoms are often higher for people who experience the greatest adversity, the rate of anxiety and PTSD among Ukrainian citizens may increase. Chronic stresses that are detrimental to mental health can be seen as future uncertainty rises.

Children At Stake

I would like to talk more specifically about children since they are the most vulnerable individuals in any community. Think about the despair a child feels as they see their parents' faces in a dark cellar, praying that the next missile does not hit their building. They are been exposed to extreme violence and even the death of a parent. The war forces them to experience an adverse life so that they are more likely to grow out trauma symptoms such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Proximity to danger is related to how many symptoms children had.

Protective Factors

Protective factors, contrary to risk factors, are positive influences that can improve people's lives or a community's safety. These may reduce the chance of psychological problems. Individuals and communities become stronger and better prepared to overcome risk factors by building on existing protective factors. Community engagement, positive parenting, and opportunities for work and school can be given out as examples.


Melis Ata