The destruction of veterans’ and military servicemen’s families in the war zone is a complex and controversial topic. On the one hand, a divorce is a dramatic event, because it is almost always associated with the psychological trauma of all family members, including children, and on the other hand, it is a conscious decision of two people, who at certain times for certain reasons realized that to be happy, they must go through life separately. But if the trigger mechanism for the couple’s separation is war, it seems, if it was not the war, the family would live in peace and harmony. But is it really so? Let’s understand it together. 

In various media, statistical indicators for divorces among veteran couples range from 40% to 90%. Such a discrepancy in figures is not accidental, because such statistics are not maintained by any institution. But in any case, the fifth year in a row the number of divorces in the families of the military is off the scale. This is discussed in veteran and volunteer circles, Ukrainian psychologists and sociologists are sounding the alarm.

It should be noted that at the beginning of the war this situation shocked the Ukrainian peaceful society. How is it, he – went through the hell of war, returned as a hero, she – selflessly was waiting and finally she got him – and now they divorce. But over time, psychologists, investigating this issue and studying the experience of other countries, explained that this situation is quite typical and common, and to some extent even natural. After all, a person usually comes from the war as a completely different person, not only on a psychological level but even on a physiological level, carrying a considerable baggage of traumatic events. The wife is also changing because she is experiencing her special traumatic experience, connected with the expectation and resolution of many problems that were previously overcome together. Therefore, there are absolutely different people with different experiences, with changed value systems, emotionally and physically exhausted. They do not just understand each other, it is difficult to compromise, there is no strength to restrain their feelings. Only love can help here. No wonder they say that war is the catalyst for human relationships. Fragile relations that somehow held in a peaceful life, after a trial of war – disintegrate, but strong ones are tempered and become even stronger.

Divorce with a plus sign

В Україні лютує епідемія розлучень у ветеранських родинах

Military psychologist, chairman of the NGO “Pobratymy”, organizer and head coach of educational therapeutic trainings on overcoming shock, trauma and prevention of PTSD for veterans and their wives Artem Denysov is sure that divorce is not a drama, if it is a common choice of two conscious people, even if one of them, if he’s a veteran. The head of the NGO “Sobor” says: “I know veteran couples, who were divorced and remained friends, they continue to live and build their lives. And for me, as for a psychologist, who works with this target audience, it’s positive. It’s about courage, about responsibility, about the resource to grow further. Such a decision is probably not very socially acceptable in our society, because we still have a branded stigma in our minds that we cannot divorce – what people will say. But this is your life, and only you make decisions, and the consequences of these decisions, this is strictly your responsibility”.

Another question is when a veteran couple, despite the difficulties, decides to save the marriage. These people should realize that they have changed during the time of separation. Artem Denysov is sure that modern psychology has tools that help to live with conditions that have become a traumatic baggage for people, facing war. The psychologist explains: “There are techniques that help to get to know each other, get acquainted. There are also exercises for obtaining an additional psychological resource that is necessary in difficult life circumstances. And the result largely depends on how much the couple is willing to invest in this process. In order not to be so, that only one of the spouses works hard and almost doesn’t live one’s own life – nothing good will come out of it. This is also destructive, which can lead to psychological exhaustion and again to a break in relations. At our training for veterans and their wives, we are not talking about the preservation of marriage, we teach to live with the traumatic experience, listen to ourselves and be honest with ourselves first. Otherwise, divorce is just a matter of time”.

Infidelity – not infidelity

Infidelity is a very personal and very individual thing. Here the issue of preserving the family is even more complicated. It should be noted that infidelity is sometimes caused by prolonged separation and extreme conditions of hostilities. At the forefront, it happens that infidelity is a matter of banal physiology. After all, combat stress is the cause of activation of the hormonal outbreak in the human body. A huge amount of adrenaline and testosterone is thrown out into the blood, which provides a quick reaction to the danger, therefore help the warrior survive in an extreme situation. Therefore, in the conditions of constant or periodic combat stress, when questions of life and death stand, human instincts sometimes become stronger than moral and common sense. Of course, this is not an excuse for the infidelity and fraternization in military units, but so it is.

Artem Denysov argues: “How to learn how to forgive and whether it is worthy at all – there is no right answer. Here, a person should realize whether one is ready to live with it or not. But it should be noted that in most cases, infidelity on the front line is a fantasy of wives or even just gossips. The spouses should have a question of trust and of finding the strength to speak on these topics. And with respect to military field wives – I have a funny story. Yes, there really is such a phenomenon. But it seems to me that this fact is somewhat inflated. One day the old veteran soldier once told me, laughing, that sometimes on the front line they could go to the dugout to women only because nobody is messing with you there and you just can get enough sleep. After all, to go to women is a good reason for a man. And one should not explain to anyone that he is just tired”.

Anton, a veteran, whose marriage lasted a little more than a year… The reason for the divorce was uncontrolled aggression.

– We met through friends-volunteers. She also volunteered a little, but she didn’t go to the front line. Then I was wounded and concussed. I was demobilized and came home. We met and decided to live together. Adults, what should we wait for? But we also had our honeymoon phase – how can it be without it? (Smiles) Then she started to work, and I made out a disability and became registered in the employment center. We have trouble with doctors in our country. You may have all the documents for obtaining disability, but when it comes to the reception, they are not enough. Then you go, you bow, you get that piece of paper, you bring it – and again some paper is missing. I was sick of them in the hospital. And I was sick of them in the center of employment. Yes, I started to take a little alcohol. I repent. Once we quarreled with my wife and I broke a chair. She cried. If you only knew how it hurt me when she cried. And I decided that I would never again allow this to happen. Then, for a while, everything was fine between us. But I went to the hospital, and there again these doctors and papers. Well, why should I prove to everyone that I was injured during the fighting? This is also so clear – I have everything written on the body with fragments, I have a concussion. Yes, I drank again. And I came home. And hit her. I do not know how it happened. She cried again and told me to go away. I had nowhere to go. But I left. And then I returned again. And she forgave me. We had to have a child. But I drank again,  and I hit her again. She lost the child. No, not at once. A week later.

We officially divorced. I registered a disability, I am working as a security guard at a private enterprise. Everything seems to be good. I try not to drink. Absolutely. Because my head is aching. The ex-wife is dating someone, I don’t. I feel so sorry that it all happened… I’ve started going to church.

When the spiritual connection is lost

В Україні лютує епідемія розлучень у ветеранських родинах

The military chaplain, the organizer of the resource support groups for the wives of veterans, Lora Kohut says that women are more likely to seek spiritual support. Perhaps this is because they are more open and emotional. And for veteran men, who performed risky tasks in the war, it is more difficult to admit that they cannot cope in the family sphere and the family is in danger. Lora Kohut says: “During the time, when a person is on the front line, sometimes spiritual connection in the family is being lost, and it seems to the couple that they have nothing to do together. It happens, when the wives of the soldiers do not stand the pace of their husband’s life and simply leave them. Also, the painful cause of divorce is drinking and drug addiction among veterans, who find it difficult to adapt to a peaceful life. And here we may have uncontrolled aggression, deviant (socially unacceptable) behavior and deep depression.

The task of chaplains is to convey to those who in crisis and despair the idea of the value of family life as a God’s gift. There were cases when I literally kept together a man, who was at the front, and his wife, that complained, was nervous and struggled with the thought of divorce”.

Military chaplains provide not only spiritual support to those, who need it. According to Laura Kohut, the priests are building bridges between the hearts of people, advising on the changes that the war brings to the psyche, worldview and spiritual sphere. The chaplain explains: “We teach women patience and understanding that they are given to men by God as blessed helpers, and without their help, a veteran will find it difficult to go through a tough period of adaptation and start a new peaceful life. I also believe in the power of prayer, the fact that the Lord gladly helps those, who turn to him with an open heart and faith”.

В Україні лютує епідемія розлучень у ветеранських родинахLyudmyla Shvaika, a former soldier’s wife, and present… also soldier’s wife

– It was August 2014. Then a war came to my family. My husband, who spent only an hour at the military enlistment office was given 10 minutes for gathering his stuff and in 3 hours he was already on the train to the training center “Desna”. The exercises at the training ground and barracks took place only seven days, and on the eighth, he got into a mechanized brigade, which at that time only came out with great losses from the ATO zone. Then there were battles for Stepanivka, Saur-Mohyla, Ilovaysk.

Then there were 13 months, full of tears, sleepless nights, the joy of being alive, the search for volunteers and the endless sending of parcels. On the phone, I learned to recognize, weapons or equipment that worked next to my husband, fully studied the map of Donetsk region, to know where my husband is.

Scary and sleepless week – the exit and cover by his team of Debaltsevo defenders. Every conversation is like the last one. And then Gorlivka, Zaitsevo, Artemivsk, Kramatorsk, Popasna, Svitlodarsk arch… Dozens of kilograms of coffee, hundreds of pairs of socks, jam jars, boxes of meat and canned food, homemade cookies, children’s letters for the military and bracelets-amulets… And then in September 2015, the long-awaited demobilization came. A meeting, joy, tears, and happiness that he returned unharmed. And the smell of war, with which all his things stunk.

The usual family life began again. Work, repair, friends, rest, the cat Atoshka, who appeared in our house since August 2014. And after a year and a half, it became clear that my husband and I didn’t have anything in common, and there was no common goal to live together. Divorce.

Actually, I would never give those long months of the war and almost 10 years of family life for something else – it was a test, love and just a life.

My ex-husband has already married a second time and I’m happy for him. I also have another life full of new inspiration, dreams, travel, and love. The cat Atoshka every day pleases with his fighting restlessness.

The mission of the state: education and support

В Україні лютує епідемія розлучень у ветеранських родинах

Head of the organizational and legal work of the Cherkasy Regional Center of Social Services for Families, Children and Youth Lyudmyla Pona organizes and holds meetings and seminars with veterans and their wives in the Cherkasy region. In addition, she is one of the organizers of the support group for the wives of veterans “I’m near”. These capacities at the level of the region are sorely lacking. And in most regions of Ukraine, she said, there is not even that things. Lyudmyla says: “All we do is an amateur performance. There must be programs to support veterans and their families at the state level. Specific performers should be appointed, the responsibility should be assigned to them – trained specialists. Of course, the state cannot save the families of veterans from outside. But we can tell wives why and how their husbands changed in the war, we can support them, teach the basics of conflict-free communication, show the limits of our own security”.

It should be noted that at present real volunteers, public associations and individual enthusiasts from state structures are engaged in real psychological support and assistance to the families of veterans. They don’t wait for state programs and money but simply work for veterans and their families to find themselves in a peaceful life. Therefore, it is logical that in the fifth year of the war the state should join the process.

By Yulia Vovkodav

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