ROMAN TORGOVITSKY: IT MUST BE UNDERSTOOD WHAT’S GOING ON WITH REHABILITATION IN UKRAINE
The Charitable organization Wounded Warrior Ukraine was established by an activist from Boston, Roman Torgovitsky, in December 2014. The goal was to create a modern system of psychological and medical rehabilitation for the Ukrainian military. He says that he got to the Maidan by chance: he went on business to St Petersburg, and during this time the first victims were reported in Kiev. “In Boston, I heard different opinions about the Maidan. Someone said that the fascists were there, someone – that the people rose up for their rights,” says the activist. “So I decided to skip across to Kiev and see everything with my own eyes and was fascinated by the people whom I met there. He began to record video interviews and send them to a friend in the US. To those who used to say “Why are you, a Moscow Jew, going to the fascists in Kiev?”, he began to give funds to support the Maidan.
– Roman, it was at the time of Maidan that you started the YouTube channel, where you posted professionally filmed interviews with activists and raised money for the wounded. How did you get to know the people?
– Simply approaching them and introducing myself (laughs). Fortunately, there was a great atmosphere on the Maidan. I stood there with the guys at night on the barricades we talked. What seemed the most valuable to me in the Maidan was that after the beating of students, people changed internally through an external factor. I‘ve never seen anything like that and then I went back to Boston. And again, I was in Kiev on February 21. Came off from the work of the 19th to get to Kiev, I could not sit still and watch on television the shooting of the Maidan. Western media concentrated either on burning tires (visual information attracted the audience), or on interviews with politicians. I was sorry that the media did not show the people who are the Maidan. I went there to continue to record the testimony of the Maidan participants and thus convey to Americans the reality of what was happening, that is to influence the behavior of the US somehow, which at that time continued to “express concern”.
When I left on February 19, I did not know when I would come back to Boston. When I arrived in Kiev, I had mixed feelings. I walked through the burned Maidan – there were no tents where I was sitting, the people to whom I spoke. I knew I was too late. I felt guilty. On the other hand, there was the understanding that they gave me a gift of life. Then at the funeral, I promised myself that I would try to not forget. Rehabilitation project is the expression of that promise.
– Why did you become interested in the rehabilitation above all?
– I worked on several projects in Ukraine, but then I realized – it was necessary to focus on one and do it efficiently and systematically. I have a degree of a mathematical epidemiologist, now I teach the methods of self-manual therapy to physiotherapists and coaches. That’s why I founded the charitable organization with the purpose to assist Ukraine in the creation of modern physical and psychological rehabilitation medicine to help soldiers.
Our first project was devoted to the psychological rehabilitation. Most of CTO soldiers suffered from the effects of war hostilities (reduced fighting ability, irritability, aggression, poor sleep, depression), but often do not seek the psychologist’s help.
– Have you created your own system of self-manual therapy?
– Yes. This system is the result of my public and political activity in the United States and the Middle East. As a result of the flow of aggression and numerous threats of physical violence I experienced an emotional breakdown. I Lost the ability to sleep, there were phobias. Interestingly, all this happened while I was working at Harvard University on the thesis for sleep medicine. Modern medicine has proved powerless to help. At that time, my martial arts teacher helped me recover through working with breath and alignment of body structure. I discovered for myself the work of soft tissues through some forms of deep massage and manual therapy. When I first revealed the clamps in the body and began to release, results were incredible. Sleep was quickly restored, I found the spots in the body, which when pressed helped to get rid of phobias and irritability, started experiencing joy and happiness. In other words, I managed to recover from psychological and emotional trauma because of work with the body, and discussions with the psychologist. As a result it evolved into a system that I originally developed for myself, and then began teaching, realizing that I’m not the only one, who needs methods of influencing the psyche through the body.
So the topic of psychological trauma and how the traumas affect us, who we are, and more importantly, who we become as a result of trauma, have been interesting to me for a long time. During workshops on the system, I noticed that a deep impact on human soft tissue, sometimes the traumas, running since childhood, start to come out. Within an hour, I saw tremendous changes in people.
Speaking about Ukraine it is clear that many Ukrainian psychologists gained the basic knowledge since the time of the Maidan. The problem is that traumatized people, especially after the war, are not ready to establish contact with psychologists, whom did not participate in the war and have not suffered the same horrors. So I began to look for psychologists, who work with military trauma. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to meet Ditte Marcher from Denmark, whom had created a specialized form of training to teach soldiers to work with their fellows who had suffered trauma. Ditte is a very interesting person with amazing experience, she is not just a theoretical psychologist, who loves cozy office. She witnessed shootings and bombings, worked in many hot spots – the Balkans, the Middle East, I was also there as a volunteer and myself experienced several times how the nervous system becomes destroyed after work in military hot spots. After Ditte’s training I understood what was going on with me. I used to come home from the Middle East to Boston and for weeks I could not find a common language with friends: they were talking about books, vacations to Europe, while I still couldn’t forget the images of wounded children whom were shot in the eyes.
– Is physical rehabilitation of combatants also included in the plans of your organization?
– Yes, we are planning to bring staffed rehabilitators teams from the US and Canada to establish local offices to provide specialized training to Ukrainian doctors. Howerver we need to understand what’s going on with rehabilitation in Ukraine. What steps should be taken to improve the system or to create a new one. The clash with the Ukrainian system (both military and medical) was perhaps the most shocking for me. When it takes an hour for soldiers to get through to the artillery unit so that it can start to fire on the “Grads” and it starts to shoot at 2:00 pm when the “Grads” have already gone …
There is also a lot of inefficiency in the US, but it is different. In Ukraine, sometimes you do not even know what to do. You can bring in good people, organize training, but if there are gaping holes in the system, it will swallow and destroy everything, because it fights for its own survival. To create an effective system of rehabilitation two elements are needed. First – knowledge and experience, and we can work hard to transfer them. Second – the internal culture and processes of effective medical treatment. It is very difficult to change the system and culture in existing institutions. This is a huge matter of choice: to bring knowledge to the workers of the long-established structures (the existing culture can destroy all this at the source), or to start building everything anew, at least for some minimal projects. After this then you can create a new culture.
– At the time of the Maidan and now there is always a question: why is evil strong, and the good weak? Why good and knowledgeable people often do not act, but only express surprise and outrage? What do we need to start acting?
– I think it’s not about good or bad. The matter is that you have to put a lot of energy to change the system (whether it is good or bad). Before the Maidan the system was completely corrupt. And for a system, by definition, it is important to survive. It survives through the management of its elements – that is, the people who work in it. If the system is the embodiment of evil, then good people need to invest a lot of energy to destroy and change it. As the Maidan has shown, this energy can come from external factors, when there is something so horrible that people wake up from their habitual inactivity and say: enough! But when these things happen they have a short-term effect. When people do not have their own source of energy, external impact gradually dries up, if people do not know how to replenish it. Ukrainian volunteers do a great job, but their energy is not infinite, it can dry out – and then arguments and strife start. In the end they stop their action. This is why it is important for me to create a program to help volunteers, to provide them with methods of self-regulation through work with the body, and techniques of overcoming and preventing conflict.
On the other hand, for people living outside of the Ukraine, the source of energy for action can be a trip here to see firsthand all the difficulties, to identify for themselves a realistic plan, and to act. A trip to the Maidan gave the community the power of collective Maidan energy – to help the Maidan itself. Now we can help soldiers. Visits to Ukraine and participation in aid projects for me, at least, is a source of vigorous energy plus interest. How do I help a person survive and remain human after horror.
– The Medical system in Ukraine, what problem first catches the eye?
The problem is the human factor. I noticed that in the former Soviet republics, many believe that they are “cool” and the whole history of the world begins from them. It seems that in this way they are trying to compensate for the inability to solve the problems they face. It seems that many post-Soviet people have a feeling that “we have no problems.” Especially when it comes to the psyche. With such rose-tinted glasses they won’t go far. The first steps in combating a problematic situation is to acknowledge it. A person should know their limitations. Recognize that while they are a specialist in some areas they are weak in others and that is nothing to be ashamed of. People can generally only have experience in one area if they do not know they can learn. This is the same issue with problems. If the problem is that “I do not know how to fight”, they need to learn it effectively. If the problem is, “I can not sleep after my return from the war, my relationships with family and friends are spoiled” The individual needs to admit that this is a problem that requires attention.
Roman was Born in Moscow in 1976. In 1993, he moved to the United States and holds a BA from Brandeis University and as well as a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He was engaged in research on sleep medicine, brain imaging, and mathematical epidemiology. Roman is the founder of the health improving system, SomaSystem. He currently lives in Boston and is the founder and director of the charitable organization, Wounded Warrior Ukraine.
Transl. Ludmila Sharko
Україна Молода. Слід зрозуміти, що відбувається з реабілітацією в Україні