First of all, I want to thank Sergio for the opportunity to speak this through the pages of the European Journal of Psychoanalysis. I couldn’t finish this article for a long time. New thoughts and feelings appeared in my head, new information from friends and colleagues appeared on the Internet, which it seemed important to add to this article. The first draft was written in February immediately after the outbreak of the war. I am currently physically safe in Turkey in a beautiful location on the Mediterranean coast. But psychologically I don’t feel safe. My eldest daughter, who worked on the project of the branch of the Memorial Museum (about repression in the Soviet Union) is leaving the country fearing the closure of borders and repression, but hoping to be able to come back. My clients and colleagues from Ukraine are in danger, many are breaking ties that have been built over years. Clients in Russia are alarmed by the collapse of all plans and that the future has become extremely uncertain. No one can predict how events will unfold and how many countries will be involved in this conflict. Before the war I had no plans to emigrate from Russia. We lived in two countries – fleeing the cold winter in Moscow. We bought tickets from Antalya in advance to fly to Moscow in May and paid in advance for an equestrian camp for our 12-year-old daughter, which she adores. Our plans collapsed along with the plans of millions of other people. We cannot keep calm because it is unclear how the financial system, which structures interactions with our relatives and clients will be rebuilt after all banking operations are shut down. It is unclear when I will be able to see the people who are dear to me again.
What you will read in this text has been debunked over the past two months. These are my observations, stories and opinions of people and colleagues from Russia. It is information from various sources. It is very difficult for me to remain in an analytical position and calmly talk about the fate of different countries. I am not going to talk about the long history of relations between Ukraine and Russia and the history of the last 10 years especially. I will write about what I personally saw in my work and what people are talking about.
For the last 15 years I have been leading therapy groups and for more than 20 years I have been conducting private psychoanalytic practice with individual clients. For the last few years, I have been working on a project where we have trained students from Ukraine and Russia to work with groups in different formats, in business and in psychotherapy. Our students are all adults who came to us for retraining in the professional field mainly to work with groups. One of the last groups was attended by people from Russia, Ukraine, and the USA. During the group, a man from Ukraine wrote that sirens were sounding, and he had to go down to a bomb shelter. Groups are helping people a lot now. They help them experience the situation together. But it’s also incredibly difficult to lead groups right now. Even groups consisting only of Russians are now torn apart by mutual accusations, misunderstandings and a desire to symbolically kill opponents.
In the fall of 2021, I noticed that publications about the possibility of a Russian attack on Ukraine began to appear on the Internet more and more often. Mostly such publications came from the West. At that time I thought that it was very similar to provocation. And it is profitable for someone to provoke this war. In January, our colleagues and students from Kiev began to say that they were studying bomb shelters and women were also preparing for military mobilization. It seemed surreal somehow. It became clear that we already live in two parallel realities. Ukrainian students in process groups constantly talked about possible war. Students from Russia and other countries lived a quiet life without thinking or believing in this threat.
On February 24, I woke up in the morning and read a colleague’s post on Facebook that many airports in Ukraine had been simultaneously destroyed by the Russian military. All sane, ordinary people, be they Russian or Ukrainian, are against the war. No one wants to live under fire. But for military persons and businessmen, war is a profession and a way to make money. Unfortunately, wars are being waged, people are dying, territories are being seized. The Russians did not believe that this would happen. Among others,I did not believe it either – convinced that the war was not profitable for Russia. I still think so. The whole situation is multi-layered. Unfortunately, those who benefit from it pay for it with the fates of people in Ukraine and Russia. There is not one war, but two: between Russia and Ukraine and the (non-contact) war between some political forces of the West and Russia. Many experts in Russia write that Western countries have long wanted to provoke this real war by ideologically waging an information war for many years. The West showed Putin in every possible way that Russia is not a part of Europe. With numerous slaps on his nose, disregard for the interests of Russia, including the expansion of NATO to the East. Finally, we have a geopolitical crisis, which so far looks like a domino effect for the whole world. Some Russian ideologues talk about the emergence of a new world order and refer to the Samuel Huntington article “Clash of Civilizations” that predicted the emergence of the construction of The West against the rest.
Among my Facebook friends, there is a woman who graduated from my Alma Mater — the Philosophy Department of Moscow State University. For many years she helped people in the Donbass region. She wrote the following on her page: “The AFU’s (Ukrainian Army) active offensive on the LDNR began almost a week before the Z hour ( Z- is the official title of Russian Army military operation). Almost all able-bodied men went to military enlistment offices. We have wards whose “children” are 18 years old. The guys left. The son of our Ira Khizhnyak was a dancer all his childhood and who was wounded in the thigh as a boy in 2014 when they tried to leave Lugansk with the whole family under a white flag. The dancer’s career ended at the same time. He has a disability — so they didn’t take him to the front, of course, but they found a place. Now I’m writing and suddenly I realize that many years ago I wrote about them as children, appealing to an indifferent world, saying that children suffer. And now they have already gone to war themselves. A generation has grown up who that is not interested in our internet disputes. Behind their backs there is something that neither Muscovites nor Kievans will understand. Injuries, loss of loved ones, isolation from the world for many years.”
As a result of what is happening now in front of our eyes, Europeans are suffering (gas and gasoline are getting more expensive), Ukraine is suffering most of all and Russia is suffering too. Russians have suffered financially in Russia but other Russians who are scattered in different countries around the world have suffered more because of the blocking of bank cards. It led to the fact that some Russians begin to see the enemy as the collective West and unite along patriotic lines when the country and its inhabitants are in trouble. Russians are the enemy for many Ukrainians and for many Russians it is the West. We are thinking along the lines of guilt, searching for the enemy and the culprit. There is no reason to hope that a revolution will happen in Russia because of sanctions and the government will change, rather, on the contrary, sanctions lead to the effect of rallying the nation and for those who remain in the country to seek support. On the contrary, those who are against the war and the current foreign policy of Russia write in social networks: let them bomb us for everything we did in Ukraine, just not to end up in prison. We can’t stand a Russian prison.
Let’s talk now about what I’m currently doing as a therapist. I stabilize my clients who are in Russia, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, the USA, Kyrgyzstan, Australia. I’m helping them deal with the situation in the here and now. If they are in groups, then the primary task is to maintain a safe environment, to provide a space to talk and it is very difficult when there is such a polarization of opinions. In the group, I broadcast the following task to the participants — try to understand the other, his or her attitude, what they are coping with now, what life tasks and unconscious impulses. Those clients who experienced their internal war before the real war and expressed aggression to the group, who hated the therapist and other participants now receive a legitimate opportunity to hate. Their internal psychological structure remains the same. The crisis only brings to the surface what was not manifested earlier.
Russophobia and the harassment of Russians based on their national identity
There is so much condemnation, alienation, unwillingness to understand and accept, so much hatred. This is understandable on the part of those whose country has now suffered from the war. The desire to hate is normal and natural during the war, when loved ones die and your house is bombed. There are different points of view about what a Russian or Ukrainian psychologist should be now during a war. Some say: Ukrainian psychologists have the right to hate all Russians, so it’s not surprising that they express it so actively in social networks. A colleague with whom we worked together yesterday, today writes, let all Russian mothers drown in the blood of their children. According to such colleagues, all Russians as a nation became zombified at one moment, so they need to be shown the truth that they do not see, and they must have a certain point of view and behave in a certain way. Others believe that a psychologist is a profession where it is important to show your stability and inner balance. Because in a state of discord, you will not be able to fulfill your task of helping clients.
My words of support to Ukrainians are considered insufficient for many of them.
Yes, the flow of curses and hatred towards Russians from Ukrainians can be understood. But when these kinds of words are expressed by colleagues from other countries, it looks at least strange. There is a poster not in Ukraine, but in Europe: good russian = de@d russian. Since the management of the Instagram social network, contrary to international law, allowed calls for violence for the first time in history and only against Russians, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office decided to ban this social network in Russia.
You are criminals because you pay taxes in Russia. You must go and overthrow your government. At the same time, the first thing that is asked of those who leave the country and want to open their own business in a European country is a certificate of non-criminal record. That is, if Muscovites go to a rally, and are arrested by the police, then they will not be able to present such a certificate when trying to legalize in another country. Not to mention the possibility of mutilation and torture. What gives hatred to everything Russian? How does this restore peace?
In the end let me come back to your article Sergio. Your article has caused a huge response in Russia. Dmitry Sokolov from Moscow (he was the translator of your workshop in Moscow) translated it into Russian and posted it on Facebook. Russian psychoanalysts discuss ethical issues of refusal to supervisors and clients. The refusal of several Western psychologists to work with psychoanalysts from Russia actualized various deep fears of losing a parental figure, as well as abandonment fears. Some colleagues discussed the validity and psychoanalytic legitimacy of the survey of group members about their political views. You appeal to the unconscious desire to be persecuted but the statements of Russian colleagues were about the geopolitical prehistory of this war, the political prehistory as it is seen from their perspective. You wrote in the article: “For the other Western invasions you are talking about, I think there are more subtle reasons”. From my point of view this phrase speaks of double standards.
The Paris Psychoanalytic Community suspended all official collaborations, seminars, courses, as well as the exchange of events on the internet with Russian institutions. The ICF Global International Coaching Federation also announced the suspension of cooperation with Russian coaches, and in such a way demonstrated the support of Ukrainian colleagues.
A French psychoanalyst with Russian and Ukrainian roots Alexander Nepomiachty wrote in response to Benvenuto ‘s article “In these difficult days, I intend to continue my relationship with all my analysants or supervisors, I am interested in the mental reality of the subjects, how they cope with the realities and how I can help them figure it all out. Seminars are also very important for me; they allow us to maintain our ties. The ‘quarantine’ that some conducted against the ‘ship Russia’ departs from everything that Freud wrote.”
Another Russian psychologist Liliya Valiulina wrote: “Sergio refused to lead a supervisory group of Russian specialists, saying literally the following: ‘I prefer Russian friends who condemn Putin’s policies.’ As a psychologist, it will be very difficult for me to work with those clients with whom I have no common – HUMAN – values. But I will never refuse to work with a person because he ‘does not judge’ someone like me. I will not choose – ‘prefer’ – those who think the same as me. I will find the strength to continue working with him if he recognizes the right that the points of view of each of us are only ‘points of view’ that do not give the right to reject one person by another.”
I agree with your words Sergio, that Russians are now in a much more dangerous situation than the Ukrainians themselves! Russians will pay a high price, perhaps too high. Therefore, thousands of people have left Russia in 2 weeks, and businesses are looking for staff relocation options. I agree but West will pay for this also, in fact we are all in the same boat. Russia is a part of Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine and Russia are leaving for Europe without means to provide for themselves. Meanwhile, there are ideologues are making themselves felt more and more loudly here, who express the hope that a flurry of anti-Russian sanctions and an imminent “iron” curtain — economic, political, and cultural one – will lead to the creation of an economic autarchy, a kind of Fortress Russia, designed by these forces for a long time.
I have never voted for Putin, as soon as he went for a second term, it was clear that he did not want a free democratic transfer of power. Over the years, it was possible to use oil and gas revenues to repair and build hospitals, improve the lives of ordinary people. But none of this was done. The money from the export of raw materials went into private pockets. I believe that this war is a failure of diplomats of all countries who participated in the negotiations. But I can understand those of my fellow citizens who, at a time when the country entered the war and faced unprecedented persecution of Russians on a national basis, who at this moment want to unite. I understand their psychology. The economic sanction against Russia is a form of economic terrorism, in which damage is inflicted on the civilian population to influence the policy of the State. The famous Russian poet and actor Vladimir Vysotsky said many years ago during the Soviet period: “I have many complaints against my government, but I will not discuss them with Western journalists.”
When you are thinking whether you impose on Russians democratic and liberal ethics, without respect for them, and when you are talking about an ethnocentric risk of being an arrogant representative of the West, to me it looks like an invitation to dialogue from your side and a desire to hear the other side, like the work of the observing ego. In your denunciation of infidels (adherents of non-democratic methods), you were sincere, and you were in the moment, here and now. Having known you for many years, I think that each of us has the right to affect any reaction, if later there comes the time for reflection and an attempt to look inside ourselves and our dynamic processes.
Some people’s stories from these days
In Paris children started calling Russian-speaking children “dirty Russian”. The paradox is that these are children from international families (mom is Ukrainian, dad is French).
The international community OncoAlert has published a post on the official Instagram account about the termination of cooperation with Russia. It also says that the Union of Oncologists refuses to hold congresses on the territory of the Russian Federation. OncoAlert claims that they are apolitical, but they cannot remain inactive and not speak out against aggression against Ukrainian friends and colleagues.
During the war Ukrainian teachers – tutors from Kiev continue to teach Russian children online – they did not cancel any lessons so far.
My client from Crimea — as a person with two passports (Ukrainian and Russian), I have only one position — everyone must survive. Another client from Crimea supports her – in 2014 there were men from our entourage who protested what was happening. As a result, 400 children grow up without fathers. No idea, nothing is worth such a price to make children orphans. If there is an opportunity to save the future of your family, it is better to save it.
During the war, Ukrainian men are forbidden to leave the territory of the country as a general mobilization has been announced. A Ukrainian colleague who has a small child trying to leave Ukraine with his family. A colleague from the Crimea gives him a recommendation: make a certificate for the death of your wife. You say that the documents were burned in the bombing. You hide yours far away. You demand to write out a copy of your son’s birth certificate at the local registry office. Let them even stamp that copy. And even a fee for a copy can be paid. At the time of issuing the certificate, you agree that they do not write the mother’s name, you can remove the line and put a dash. In the status of a single father, it is more likely that you will be able to cross the Ukrainian border.
“Russian pharmacies are creating a two-month supply of medicines to contain the price increase. The sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation can kill the pharmaceutical market,” said the representative of the pharmacy chain Zhivika in Yekaterinburg. Now the chain’s pharmacies, by order of the company’s management, are creating a stock of goods for two months to try to contain the price increase and “reduce the degree of panic of citizens” due to a shortage of goods.
We can already safely talk about the shortage of drugs. In recent weeks, medicines from the USA, France, Germany — the market leaders in quality and treatment results — have abruptly disappeared. There are mainly domestic drugs that are inferior in quality. Even Russian drugs have always had foreign raw materials — many domestic drugs are made from imported components. What is happening now could kill the pharmaceutical market. If everything is closed, then nothing can be brought to us.
What other language will we speak when other languages don’t work, if not in the language of culture? From the University of Milan Bicocca during a live broadcast on Instagram, a professor, Nori, said that he was to hold a series of four lectures on the Russian writer Dostoevsky on his latest book, The Incredible Life of Fyodor Dostoevsky, next week. But unexpected circumstances prevented these plans. Nori read out a letter from the university administration, in which it was said in black and white that a decision had been made “to postpone the course on Dostoevsky, in order to avoid any form of disagreement, especially internal, at such a tense moment.”
It is the war that forced us to reconsider our identity. It is important to distinguish between a country and a state. My identity was formed by Russian culture. Many of us are now in a state of panic and stress – because of everything – the war, thoughts about our own and someone else’s future, the economy, plans. I’m not talking about those who are being shot at and on whom bombs are falling!
Even those who approve of what is happening in Ukraine now are disoriented – well, at least because of the possible and imminent loss of work, the ruble exchange rate, in the end, because of children and husbands who went to “liberate”. Psychologists are trying not to say anything under the influence of fear and horror, panic, and other emotions, not to break into aggression, not to tear their hair, not to engage in self-destruction. We need to get together now and do what we need to do. I vote for many voices versus “speak with one voice” on such complex issues.
What group leaders have to face now in groups has no analogues. First, because the internet did not previously play such a role in other interethnic conflicts. Now Information, propaganda news from both sides, fake photos floods in a huge stream to our patients. Regression and the use of primitive defenses develops too rapidly. When a part of society plunges into guilt and self-flagellation, others say that you can’t take responsibility for what you didn’t do. Moreover, it is harmful to the psyche. As the leader of not only therapeutic groups, but also a large project for the professional community, I was in a daze and frozen for almost 2 weeks. Then came the active phase, as it turned out to get in touch with Ukrainian colleagues through Facebook. This contact looked like a barrage of reproaches, my position was at first glance simple, although it required a certain courage. I’m here in front of you, I’m not hiding anywhere. I am sorry that my words are not enough and there are no words that would help to survive this pain. If I personally can specifically help those who are online here, I am ready to do it. I could have written these words while in Turkey. Unfortunately, Facebook as a platform is no longer available to Russians. And I don’t even want to figure out if this is the result of Western sanctions or blocking by the Russian authorities. The fact remains that people are being punished, those who often do not know what to spend their wages on now: to buy medicines for a reserve or sneakers for the growth of a child, because every day more and more new companies say we are leaving the Russian market. And unfortunately, people of helping professions, some western psychologists and psychoanalysts have joined this stream of severing ties. Although there are others, and it gives hope that the light will cut through the darkness.
Ekaterina Belokoskova-Mikhaylova, Ph.D., is a leader of The Institute of psychodynamic coaching, a member of AGPA and ISPSO. She has been in private psychoanalytic practice (individual and group psychotherapy) and coaching activities since 1999. She is the Past-President of The Psychoanalytic Association of Psychologists, Coaches and Consultants of Organizations for Russian speaking specialists. She has had more than 25 years of experience in HR, psychoanalytic counselling, and teaching; and 15 years of experience in group psychotherapy. From 2013-2016 Dr. Belokoskova-Mikhaylova worked as an Associate Professor of Psychoanalysis and Business Consulting at a Master’s Program at the National Research University — Higher School of Economics (Moscow). From 2002-2003 she was the Vice President of the National Federation of Psychoanalysis (RF). She was trained as a group leader at The Center for Group Studies (New York, USA) and is a graduate of a two year Online Interpersonal Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Program for Russian Speakers at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis & Psychology (2016-2018, NY).