As dreams of peace fade, nightmares bloom in Ukraine’s slumber
KYIV, Ukraine – Russian tanks arrive at the home of 4-year-old Taras and open fire, burying his mother in the rubble. Taras tries, as best he can, to pull her out of the rubble, but she’s too heavy, so he pulls unnecessarily on her arm.
Then he wakes up sobbing uncontrollably.
Taras’ mother, Anastasia Haidukevych, 41, described her son’s nightmare in an interview. “I tried to hide the war from him,” she said, “but the war is all around us.”
For many, even dreams offer no refuge.
A year after the Russian invasion, war is affecting Ukrainians in the wee hours of the night, even those who live far from the front line and have not personally witnessed the violence, such as the Haidukevych family, who live in Kiev.
In a recent online survey, 70% of Ukrainians said they had had a nightmare about the war and 30% said they had seen death in their dreams.
Psychologists say vivid dreams are a common response to a major life change and Ukrainians are likely to still have war dreams long after the fighting has ended.
Ukrainians who have seen fighting or destruction often experience the trauma again in their sleep. “Some people see the disturbing events repeat themselves in their dreams,” DreamApp said in a report on its survey, in which more than 700 people participated.
But psyches adapt to big life changes in different ways. Thus, some who participated in the survey recounted dreams not of distress but of security and comfort, of pre-war life, sometimes experienced during childhood.
These show “that what you’re missing in life right now can come in dreams, and it helps them feel better,” said Victoria Semko, a psychologist who helped found a group of therapists who help people who lived through the brutal Russian occupation of Irpin, a suburb of Kiev.
But even nightmares can be helpful.
“When people dream about traumatic events, it helps to relive them, but in a calmer environment,” Ms Semko said. “It helps to heal.” But experiencing trauma knowing it is a dream re-traumatizes others, she said.
In interviews, more than a dozen Ukrainian civilians and soldiers who did not participate in the DreamApp survey all described vivid, anxious dreams of a type they said they had not experienced before. beginning of the war, in February 2022,
At the start of the war, Olena Bond, a 44-year-old Kyiv resident, had trouble sleeping, she said. A doctor prescribed me antidepressants – and then the dreams began. “A lot of dreams saw me killing people, killing enemies,” Ms Bond said.
They became more frequent in the fall, after Russia began launching long-range missile strikes on critical infrastructure in towns far from the front.
‘I recently dreamed that a very powerful explosion lifted me into the air and then I fell in a long, slow fall,’ Ms Bond said. “As I fell, I thought, I’m alive, I’m still alive.”
Ivan Chuiko, a soldier fighting in eastern Ukraine, recalled his pre-war dreams as generally light and happy.
“Once I woke up in the trench in the middle of the night and couldn’t figure out if I was still sleeping or if it was real,” said Mr Chuiko, 37. “I was talking with my friends, but we couldn’t find a common language. It was as if a demon or an evil force was standing between us. I couldn’t see the devil well, but I knew he was there .
Usually the visions that haunt her sleep are less abstract.
“I mainly dream of tank battles,” Mr. Chuiko said.
But another soldier, Svyatoslav, 45, said his dreams on the front line were mostly extremely pleasant. “I often dream of what will be in the future, after the war,” he says.
Nazar Kuzmin, 33, a soldier, fought in the same unit as his brother, who was killed in action in November.
“I sleep well when there’s no shelling and I can’t remember my dreams,” Mr Kuzmin said. “But recently, I heard my brother’s voice in my dream. It was easier to be here at war with my brother, when we were together.
The dead also come to Anzhelika Vagorovska.
On the very first day of the war, a Ukrainian pilot was shot down by a Russian missile and died. He was Mrs. Vagorovska’s father. “I talk to him very often in my dreams,” she said.
Ms Vagorovska, 34, a lawyer, was evacuated to Germany with two little girls after the invasion of Ukraine, but struggled to get away from her home. She returned in October.
“In Germany I dreamed of home,” she said, “and here in kyiv I dream of my childhood in Lysychansk.” This city was largely destroyed during the fighting last spring and is now occupied by the Russian army.
In Lysychansk, Ms. Vagorovska lived with her grandparents in a house on a hill overlooking the city. At night, they saw the city lights twinkle. Now, she says, she dreams of it.
“Whatever I dream, in my dreams I always know there is war,” she said.
Ukrainians who have endured the worst of the war sometimes find that their nights follow common paths.
“We all have similar dreams,” said Halyna Balabanova, who evacuated the beleaguered city of Mariupol last March and stayed in touch with others who fled.
Ms. Balabanova, a 34-year-old civic activist, lost friends and relatives in Mariupol and barely survived.
“I have a repeated dream that I have very little time and am coming home to pack my things,” she said. “Sometimes in my dream, I go back there to collect only the photo albums and my favorite scarf.”
Other dreams are even more disturbing.
“Often I go back in time in my dream and talk to my friends and loved ones who are dead or missing,” she said. “I try a lot more to persuade them to flee. I tell them that staying will end in nothing good.