Natalia Klitschko was born in Ukraine – as an ambassador for the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” she has now visited refugee children in Munich. In the FOCUS online interview, she talks about processing trauma, her concern for husband Vitali and the hope for a peaceful future.
FOCUS Online: Ms. Klitschko, you recently visited the “Refugio Kunstwerkstatt” in Munich as an ambassador for the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation”, which supports refugee children and young people with creative offers. What was your impression of your visit there?
Natalia Klitschko: It was very fulfilling to meet and talk to the children from my home country. They have been in Germany for three or four months and it was very important for me to find out how they are doing. The project and management of Refugio is amazing – it was an enriching visit. The whole team is so human and warm. As soon as you enter “Refugio” you hear children laughing. You can tell they are relaxed and feel safe. That was a great experience for me, I actually wanted to stay there and start as a new employee (laughs)!
“Refugio” offers, among other things, art therapy. You also painted together with the refugee children and modeled them with clay. How does art help heal the soul?
Art therapy is especially important for children who have gone through traumatic experiences. You have to imagine: the children had to leave their homes and their familiar environment. Your entire life is suddenly gone. Very important: You must not swallow what you have experienced. It has to be processed calmly. And psychotherapy can’t always help, because the children don’t have the words for this – and therapy places are rare anyway. Art therapy allows them to process their emotions in paintings or sculptures. What can also help: music and dance therapy. Movement helps release emotions. This is one of the keys to preventing chronic mental illnesses from developing in the first place. “Refugio Munich” has succeeded in creating a place where children can be themselves, let off steam and are simply welcome. Here nobody says: “You mustn’t run here, you mustn’t be loud here!” Here they are allowed to, they feel the cordiality, they feel safe and are simply allowed to be children.
Was there an encounter with a refugee child that particularly touched you?
I consider children to be the most important teachers in my life and I don’t just mean my own. Children carry incredible wisdom within them and always tell the truth. And if you meet them and listen to them with open ears and a big heart, then that can be an incredible lesson. At “Refugio” I met a 14-year-old boy from Kharkiv. And this boy loves ballroom dancing and learned it in Ukraine. Another boy overheard our conversation and absolutely didn’t want to believe that he could do the dances. So he played a waltz number in the courtyard. That was so touching. In his homeland he certainly had to go through traumatic experiences – but here he beamed. And dancing helped him find his laughter again.
“Refugio Munich” is a counseling and treatment center for people with a refugee background and offers psychosocial care. The “Refugio Kunstwerkstatt” with offers for children with art, music and photography is a preventive and development-promoting offer with the aim of protecting children from the chronification of the consequences of their trauma. It is important for refugee children to find forms of expression for their destabilized emotional world. In addition to the artistic processing of their own flight experiences, the children learn strategies such as breathing and relaxation exercises in order to be able to cope better with fear or concentration difficulties. The “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” assumes the costs for additional premises, their equipment and materials in the amount of 15,402 euros.
The war of aggression in Ukraine is omnipresent in the media, and it is also a frequent topic in private life. As a parent, how can I speak to my children about these horrific events?
I have tried with my own children to avoid sitting in front of the screen 24 hours a day and being bombarded with these horrible images. You shouldn’t do this to children – the more they are exposed to it and the younger they are, the more traumatic it can be for their psyche. My children no longer need explanations about what war is, they are big. But they needed my loving company: everything will be fine, dad is safe. And neither I nor my own children experienced the situation on the ground. I am not a specialist in the field or a psychologist, I can only share my experiences as a wife and mother. And from my experiences here at “Refugio”: Psychotherapy is one important pillar – but I would also send traumatized children back to nature. There they can replace the terrible images of their experiences with beautiful moments. In addition, there are the various offers that we just talked about that help the children to cope: art and dance therapy, music offers, singing together.
How do you deal with the fact that your husband is currently in the middle of a war zone – and how do you as a family deal with the current situation?
No matter how old the children are, they need time to adjust to new situations – especially this one. The outbreak of war was unpredictable. Of course it was in the air that the situation could escalate. The first two months were a state of shock for the children. They came to Hamburg, we were all at home together as a family, and grandmother came too. That calmed them down a bit, they got involved in the situation and also realized that they can reach their dad every day. We were able to give them the feeling that Vitali takes care of himself, no matter where he is. Of course, anything could happen at any time. But he is aware that he not only has to take care of his life for himself, but also for his family. So now we’re fine. We are all human and the human mind finds the middle ground between worrying and being able to be happy again.
You’re just bringing it up – how important is it to talk to children about their emotions and feelings?
At home, every emotion is allowed. For example, when raising my children, I never said, “You are a man, you must not cry.” It is only when you cry as a man that you show your strength. Only a strong man can show his emotions and feelings. So if it got too much for my children, no matter what the moment, that was always perfectly fine.
Refugees from the Ukraine have been coming to Germany for a good five months, and the reporting on the needs of these people has waned at times. You had and have contact with refugees – what do people need now, how can we help?
They still need extensive media coverage, we must not leave people alone. I think it would be nice if the press could get even closer to the Ukrainians and ask them directly what they need. From my experience I can say that they urgently need assistance in finding accommodation. It worked well for the first few months, many Germans took in Ukrainian families. It was the same in my circle of friends and at home. But that was mostly just to bridge the gap. But now the people have stayed in the country, cannot or do not want to go back to the war zone and they often do not yet have their own apartment. One must not forget: the people did not leave their country of their own volition, they were and are forced to do so. And now they sometimes live in an emergency shelter instead of in their beautiful apartment at home, which is really difficult for the children. But no matter where you look, help is urgently needed in other areas as well. Among other things, when translating, you won’t learn German in four months. And they need employment. Everyone must have the feeling that they are important, needed and able to help themselves in their temporary new home. Many Ukrainians are currently looking for work.
In addition to psychological problems and concerns about fathers and families, refugee children face very rudimentary problems when they arrive in Germany. They need to be accommodated, as you just said, they need access to education…
I talked to some kids about it at “Refugio”. They are in different integration classes, none of them speak German. I am not a teacher, but I could imagine that learning the language is made easier if there are joint activities or games with German children after school. In my hometown of Hamburg, for example, there is a Sunday school with the support of “Ukrainian Future”. You mustn’t forget: Almost everyone who came here wants to go back. And if you really have to stay in Germany for a year, it’s very important that you don’t forget your mother tongue.
That’s probably the problem – we simply don’t know when it’s safe to return to the Ukrainian homeland.
Exactly, that doesn’t make it any easier. Many sit on their suitcases and think they’ll be going back tomorrow. I very much hope that we will get more certainty about this in the coming months. Zelenskyi said he plans for the war to be over in winter. But it’s not clear if that’s really the case. We want to believe it, but that could also be a protective mechanism on our part.
You are an artist and a singer. Does what has happened in the last few weeks and months flow into your art?
I actually came back to music at exactly this stage. At the beginning of the year I wrote the song “Better day” together with Daniel Léon to support the Ukrainians. We perform with it almost every month and one hundred percent of the income goes to projects for refugees. The music helps me. This is my way of dealing with emotions and processing them. Let’s see how it goes and what else I create. Music is my remedy.
You are a trained sound therapist. What are the effects of a session, how can you help people to relax?
Sound is a very special tool. Sound can penetrate walls and surfaces and reach places on the human body that hands cannot reach. We humans are made up of 70 percent water. And water is the best medium for conducting sound waves. You can think of it this way: as soon as the sound reaches our body, all our cells vibrate. And they bring our body into harmony. It’s like an instrument – we turn on the healthy vibrations, stimulate our body and brain with the vibration. This is how I get into a state of relaxation. And only when I’m relaxed can I activate the natural healing processes and regenerate the body. The body is a very intelligent system, we just mustn’t disturb it. And what bothers us? Stress. We can drive it away again through relaxation, no matter in what form – whether it is sound, singing or dance therapy.
Two weeks ago, more than 20 people died in a rocket attack on a shopping center in Kremenchuk, before that there were more deaths and injuries in Kyiv. Her husband is at the center of the action. As a Ukrainian, how do you deal with such news – does it trigger hatred in you?
It doesn’t make me hate. I don’t know if that’s a natural phenomenon or more of a character trait. I’ve never felt hate. I am angry. I can be very angry. But there is no hate in my anger. I always try to understand why each person committed this or that act. Of course, I can’t explain why the Russians started a war. But I can understand it from the other side, because the country was enslaved for years. A certain mentality developed there. And a slave knows how to manipulate. That’s what Putin did – planted his propaganda in their heads: Ukrainians are fascists and enemies. But I’m still very sad and I don’t relieve the Russians of responsibility for the war. I can’t hate. How should we build a future for ourselves out of hate?
What if people do hate?
I’m not there, but I can understand when people feel hate. If I saw a child being shot next to me… maybe I would think differently. I get a lot of messages from people asking me how to transform their hate. Hatred eats you up inside. My advice is to just scream to get rid of those negative feelings. Hit a punching bag. let go If you must cry, then cry. But don’t let hate rule you.
Do you feel hope?
The hope is always there. And Ukraine is fighting for all of Europe, and all of Europe is looking at Ukraine and wanting to help. Ukraine must now fight for us, for peace and for democracy. I can’t express myself politically, but I know that this country will rise again. These people are incredible, they will keep rebelling and they will rebuild the country. When I speak about it, I feel that this is how it will happen. Maybe not immediately tomorrow, but it will happen. I also wrote about it in my song – “From the ashes of the flame a new land shall rise” – and I believe in that. We just need patience and must not look the other way. Because if Ukraine falls, it will soon be the turn of the next country.
Let’s stay with hope. You are currently working as an ambassador for the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation”.
I was very positively surprised by the offer and after a few personal conversations I agreed to be an ambassador for the campaign
What do you appreciate about working with the Tribute to Bambi Foundation?
I can only be an ambassador for a project where hearts beat the same. At the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” I can practically touch the projects. I can get to know those responsible and I know what their needs are. “Refugio Munich”, for example, has lived on donations for almost 30 years. This is very important for me, because now I can drum to collect donations (laughs). In my projects, it is also important to me that the cooperation is sustainable. Not just one visit and tomorrow everything will be forgotten, no – I would like to stay in touch with those responsible. And I’ve already heard that “Refugio” also has a music studio, and of course that’s what my heart beats for. When the kids there record a song together, I immediately get on the plane and join in (laughs)!
As part of the special funding, the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” supports aid projects for refugee Ukrainian children throughout Germany. The aim is for refugee children and young people to receive exactly the support they urgently need: The focus is on regular everyday life with psychosocial care, a child-friendly environment for playing and learning and a lot of warmth. The foundation wants to help offer the children security and prospects – two crucial factors in dealing with traumatic experiences.
If you would like to support the foundation with a donation, you can do so here.
Like Bunte.de, the “Tribute to Bambi Foundation” belongs to the Hubert Burda Media group.
The original of this article “Natalia Klitschko explains what the children of Ukraine need now” comes from Bunte.de.