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Academics have created a ‘therapeutic children’s book’ to make Ukraine’s young refugees smile

Academics in Poland have published ‘Ola, Boris and Their New Friends’, a “therapeutic tale whose aim is to help children-refugees come to grips with their new reality”.

A free children’s book has been created to help child refugees fleeting the war in Ukraine.

The story is called Ola, Boris and Their New Friends and is described as a “therapeutic tale whose aim is to help children-refugees come to grips with their new reality”.

It was created by more than 20 volunteers in association with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Health and Illness (CIRHI) at Poland’s University of Wroclaw.

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The initiative “arose out of a heartfelt urge to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people who had to abandon their country because of war”.

The book is targeted for children aged between four and eight. It’s available free of charge and can be downloaded here in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish or English – with hopes that a physical copy will be printed soon.

Professor Dariusz Galasiński, head of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Health and Illness, told The Big Issue that he came up with the idea alongside the clinical psychologist, Professor Justyna Ziolkowska, from SWPS University in Warsaw.

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The book is about the story of two children and their mother, who are fleeing the war in Ukraine Image: The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Health and Illness
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He explained: “A couple of days after the war in Ukraine, Justyna said we should do something to help, and why don’t we write a therapeutic tale? I thought it was a wonderful idea, so we got to work. A lot of people just dropped everything and decided to help us pro-bono.”

Galasiński posted a callout to Twitter to find a designer – and the UK-based Rebecca Scambler volunteered to help, as well as Paula Metcalf.

He said: “There are ways in which therapeutic tales should be written. We contacted clinicians to ask what the focus of the tale should be.

“For example, we needed to decide if we should talk about the past, or just the future. The clinical advice was that talking about the trauma was too early. The time would come for that. The main issue for these children, and which unites them all, is that they all came to a different country, with people speaking differently and they need to find their way around and make it their own.

“The tale is about two children with their mother. Their is no mention of a father, mostly because the fathers have stayed back in Ukraine.

“We know from data that most refugees are women with children. The story starts with the two children coming to a rail station, they get off and look around, and everything is different. They find out that the reality is quite similar to Ukraine – people drive the same cars, and they discover they can understand people and make new friends. The book ends as the mum tells them that they are going to go to school and nursery.

“The book is written so the children are in touch with their emotions. We say, yes you will be missing home, there will be sadness, which is normal. But there are also positive things that are likely to happen.”

An animated version of the book will be released on YouTube with English subtitles, and the global audiobook company Storytel have offered to create an audio version free of charge – but for Galasiński, the job isn’t quite finished yet.

The main issue for these child refugee, and which unites them all, is that they all came to a different country, with people speaking differently and they need to find their way around and make it their own. Image: The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research into Health and Illness

He said: “We really want to publish this book in a physical form.”

The Professor is calling on businesses to help support printing costs, so the book can be created as it was first intended.

Galasiński explained: “Our original idea was always that every child arriving by train in our city would be given this book. It was to tell those children, you’re welcome here. We’ve got something for you – a present. It moves me so much when I think about it.

“I think especially because I’m a father, I just can’t imagine the situation of just saying to my children, we need to take all our necessary things, and we’re just setting off to a different country. Who knows what will happen to us, but we can’t stay here because the bombs are coming.

“Politicians worry about the survival of people, and obviously the issues are huge. We need these people to be housed, to be accommodated, and fed. But survival is not enough. We need to understand that if we don’t deal with at least some of the emotional issues these children are experiencing, we will reap the effects of this absence of action in half a year’s time, perhaps in a year’s time.

“It is really important to help those children get to grips with their reality, and show them that what happened to them is absolutely dreadful, but perhaps what awaits them is not as bad as they might think. And making them welcome is really, really important. It’s about trying to get those children to smile.”

He added: “I like the phrase – the one who saves one life, saves the world entire. I think that we’ve got plenty of worlds to save, and we should.”

To download the book free of charge, click here.

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