Providing Ukrainian newcomers in Montreal with support groups, art therapy, activities for kids

“I think the program is very important,” said Natalia Antipova, newly arrived Ukrainian immigrant and coordinator with the Montreal Ukrainian Wellness Program about helping refugees from Ukraine with their mental health.

Two Ukrainian Montrealers have teamed up to provide mental health services to hundreds of Ukrainians displaced by war.

Darya Naumova and Dasha Sandra have been running the Montreal Ukrainian Wellness Program for six months.

The program provides newcomers with free support groups, individual and group psychotherapy, and activities such as art therapy, dance therapy, tai chi and more.

“I hope that the outcome of this is that people will have a little more tools to support their mental health and also have the support of the community that they can turn to for years to come,” said Naumova, co-lead of the Montreal Ukrainian Wellness Program.

“Working with your body instead of your words still has a very important effect on your emotions and emotional processing. Getting feedback from a lot of our participants who are not very open to getting any sort of mental support but starting with movement therapy and then progressing to also joining our talk-based support groups, that’s been very interesting.”

Darya Naumova, co-lead of the Montreal Ukrainian Wellness Program. (CityNews)

‘They live through a lot of distress’

Art therapist Ira Polak Veronneau says it’s about providing resources to victims of trauma.

“I think we all understand the importance of mental health support to the refugees for those who have experienced trauma that had to leave everything that had to leave people behind. Obviously they live through a lot of distress,” said Veronneau. “This program responds to a huge need.

“People say that despite finding a job and having economical and financial support, this is great for them.”

A coordinator with the program, Natalia Antipova, says Ukrainian newcomers can benefit greatly from the services offered.

“I think the program is very important when Ukrainians arrive to a new place, and in this case Quebec,” she said. “It’s so easy to get lost and be bogged down by so many day-to-day things you have to figure out.

“And so it’s like an island of stability that you can come to the community centre every Sunday and have some you time and get some help and get some resources. And I witness people leaving the activities with more energy and more hope for the future. And our goal is to help them with at least part of their integration so they have less tasks on their shoulders.”

Art therapist Ira Polak Veronneau. (CityNews)

Grateful for Canada

Antipova immigrated to Canada in March 2022 with her husband and two children. She says she’s grateful for Canada and the peace and support she’s received.

Her healing process has been found within nature and helping others.

“Yes of course the program is helping me a lot as well,” said Antipova. “I just enjoy meeting a lot of people and the energy exchange that happens here between people is wonderful. But also the feedback that we get and the transformations we see is incredible.”

Veronneau says the activities for children can be hugely beneficial later on in life.

“We rather want the child to express, to play, to imagine, to use their imagination,” said Veronneau. “So we were working a lot with those elements, imagining their safe space, their resource, their interests, using collage, using drawing.

“With parents, I want to understand where they are at, the moment, how they are experiencing their time in Montreal.”

Natalia Antipova, who immigrated to Canada in March 2022. (CityNews)

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