Brooklyn psychologist treats children marked by Russian soldiers

He’d already lost his community and his country – so things couldn’t get much worse for the crying Ukrainian boy who crossed the border to escape the war with Russia.

Until an enemy soldier spotted the child’s tears, pointed a gun at the 12-year-old’s head and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t stop crying.

The chilling scene unfolded in March when the teen crossed the Russian-occupied border with his mother, according to Brooklyn psychotherapist Alex Yentin, who has worked with Ukrainian children and their parents displaced by the now 10-month conflict.

“He was so traumatized,” Yentin said of the boy, who now lives in Prague with his mother. “He sleeps with his mother, he’s so clingy. . . he wet[s] his bed now.

“[It is an] terrible step backwards.”

Photos of Ukrainian refugees around a fire.
Millions of Ukrainian children have been displaced since Russia invaded earlier this year.

Yentin, who lives and works in Brooklyn, was shipped to the Czech Republic’s capital this week to volunteer his expertise as part of ongoing efforts to help Ukrainian refugees in countries like Poland and Germany.

“I’m in a good place in America and other people are suffering, so there’s something I can do [to help]said the 52-year-old psychiatrist, who has been making trips to Eastern European countries since March.

At least 5.2 million children have been displaced since the Russian invasion began, and 1,148 have been injured or killed since February, according to a UN report.

Psychotherapist Alex Yentin
Alex Yentin has been traveling to Europe as a volunteer since March, helping Ukrainian refugees traumatized by the war.

Yentin has dropped off refugees from cities like Kharkiv and Mariupol, some of whom spent weeks underground without food or electricity as Moscow’s bombs rained down. Others saw the bodies of neighbors lining their streets.

“When I ask them what they’ve been through, their reaction is they don’t want to talk about it,” Yentin said. “They’re closed.”

Yentin works with small groups of refugees, providing them with a safe place to share their bitter memories of the war and exercises to express their anger.

Many children and their parents are trying to adjust to life in a country where they don’t speak the language, or are struggling after being separated by Ukraine’s policy of requiring men to serve in the army.

Ukrainian refugees play with Legos in Prague.
Yentin has given Ukrainian refugees in Prague the space to share their bitter memories of the war.

“In the morning, the first thing they do, children and parents, open the internet and see what was bombed that day and who was killed, who is alive,” Yentin said. “It’s constant stress.”

The Prague operation is led by the Israeli NGO Early Starters International, which, with the support of the Jewish Federations of North America, establishes early childhood and care programs for victims of humanitarian crises.

Despite the pain of war, Yentin finds hope.

“People found jobs even without the right language, and their children learned basic Czech and they made new social connections with others here,” Yentin said.

“They may not see it as much because they’re traumatized, but I see it.” Brooklyn psychologist treats children marked by Russian soldiers


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