Today was an important event in my family’s life. Our ten-year-old son had a graduation ceremony from primary school. My husband, our four-month-old baby daughter, and I came to school to support him during this event. Suddenly, at the beginning of the ceremony, the Russian anthem was played. (This was a surprising new initiative,
implemented in all Russian schools by our government. During my school days, we never had to listen to the anthem being played on the school grounds.) While I was surprised and annoyed by this, I saw how my son tried to sing it well, how focused and sincere he was. It was clear that he had the ideal picture of our country in his head. The country he dreams of being a part of is kind and noble, driven by justice and dignity, where people live in peace and travel the world. Tears welled up in my eyes. Feelings were raging inside me. I love my son very much and I love my country, but to my regret, this ideal country has never existed. On the contrary, the worst oppressive practices of the Soviet Union started to mutate in an ugly way in nowadays Russia.
During my life, I worked hard and have done a lot to move from a small town to Moscow, where, to my knowledge, people were more open to hearing the truth about themselves and their selfhood. For the same reason, I did seven years of analysis with an exceptional IPA-accredited psychoanalytic who affected my way of thinking. I’ve studied for many years, first in medical school, then to earn a psychiatric and psychology license, building my career as a psychoanalyst, creating a place where my patients and I can have freedom of thought and opinions, a place for free associations. And I identified myself with this freedom.
Nowadays, I am acutely aware of the power of the transgenerational trauma that has come to life in new circumstances. I feel like it’s getting scary to speak openly. This is what was passed down to me from my ancestors from the USSR, what the people already lived during the oppressive Stalin years. I can’t speak freely because of the fear of being declared a “foreign agent” or being arrested under the law on “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of Russia abroad” (basically for voicing the truth instead of state propaganda).
I carefully preserve the setting in the office, ensuring confidentiality to my patients so that they can continue to free associate and be truthful with themselves, with me. It helps me get mental safety through these times.
Last week, my son asked me to explain what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine. He wants to know: Are we good or bad? Are we attacking or defending? A few days earlier, the school told children to bring sweets for Russian soldiers who are fighting on the front line and write letters of gratitude for protecting the children from the sounds of bombs and war. My son is no longer a small child but not yet an adult. He wants to draw together with his classmates, write letters, be a good kid, and send sweets to the defenders of the country. He wants to feel like a part of something good.
My husband and I were furious about this initiative of the school management. Clearly, this was state-forced on all schools. On one hand, this was a disgusting manipulation of a child’s fragile psyche. On the other hand, not doing this would create a scandal with teachers and the principal and would pit our kid against other children and their parents who support these ideas. In the end, we forbade him to buy and bring to school any sweets in support of soldiers. Allowing it meant betraying our understanding of what is happening and deceiving our son. He knows our attitude about this war—we are against it. But I see that his psyche wants to not understand this; he asks again and again, as if hoping to get a different answer.
In February, before the war started, he sent many letters to his favorite celebrities in Europe and the United States, asking for an autograph and writing about himself. These were musicians, actors, and writers. It was his way of establishing a connection with the rest of the world, to feel that there are no borders. And he was very lucky because Robert Englund wrote back to him. In the new circumstances of the war, when all projects, businesses, and cooperation began to be curtailed, he still received one letter in response. And it became important for him and for the whole family. He framed the postcard as the most sacred jewel of a ten-year-old kid and displayed it in the best visible place in his room. This is a symbol that he is being heard and that there are connections with the civilized world. Although twenty other people he wrote to did not respond to him, one letter became very important and supportive.
At the end of the graduation ceremony, the pupils prepared balloons; each class had balloons of a different color. And unexpectedly, yellow and blue balloons happened to be nearby. These were the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which were held by children who had recently sent letters to Russian soldiers expressing the support and gratitude as a part of a school initiative.
The tragedy of this war, with all the horror, betrayal, and war crimes, will shape the next generations in our countries. Our children will have to clean up this mess, build bridges, and restore trust over time. Life will put everything in its place. I really want to believe that the constructive forces and the passion to live will win over the destructive forces and the attraction of death. It is very scary that freedom of thought is now under threat in my country. All we can do is look for ways to preserve what’s left of it, support it, and understand how to separate the truth from anything else.
- Elena Ozerova, MD, a psychotherapist and psychiatrist, has a private practice in Moscow. She received a medical degree at the Kemerovo State Medical Academy, Russia. She did her psychiatric training at the Tomsk National Research Medical Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and psychotherapy training at the Novokuznetsk State Institute for Postgraduate Medical Education. She has extensive experience in public and private psychiatric clinics for the last eleven years. She is a candidate of the Association of Child Psychoanalysis Moscow (ACAM) and Society of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Moscow, both accredited by the European Federation of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (EFPP).
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