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Social Work for Peace – profession responds to the war in Ukraine

World-renowned social worker specialising in disaster work Lena Dominelli highlights a social work-led initiative to support people affected by the crisis and calls on other practitioners to volunteer their support

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 7 March 2022

The cacophony of Putin’s war resounds over a peaceful Ukraine bringing appalling loss of life, destroying infrastructures, jeopardising nuclear plants, and bringing devastating environmental degradation in its wake.

President Putin is perpetrating these deliberate acts of aggression to assert his imperialist ambitions and revive acts of atrocity that many had thought had been confined to the dustbin of history as nations that had liberated themselves from the Soviet yoke sought to live in harmony with their neighbours.

The discharge of incendiary devices, missiles, bombs and other lethal weapons by a ruler with one of the world’s largest military arsenals on unarmed civilians sheltering in bunkers while their houses are smashed to smithereens, alongside the destruction of kindergartens, university buildings, and architectural structures must be condemned as atrocities against humanity.

Putin must face trial for these and be held accountable for substantial greenhouse gas emissions by releasing all manner of military ordnance to destroy buildings and liveable spaces in complete disregard of the duty to care for our planet, a planet that belongs to every inhabitant on Earth, now and into the future.

The sustainability of Ukraine’s future has been compromised by the debris created through Putin’s assaults on its territory, as was Syria’s and Chechnya’s previously. Reconstruction will exact a further toll on the environment because resources that had already been consumed to sustain human civilisations will have to be re-consumed to re-build.

Such wanton destruction could have been avoided by peaceful dialogue and the diplomatic approaches that Putin rejected through a dance of fake amity.

Despite the overwhelming hardship, suffering and grief caused by such devastation, Ukrainians remain strong and committed to defending Ukraine.

I am in contact with brave social workers in Ukraine striving to meet basic needs, re-establish livelihoods and communities, restore people’s human rights, secure social and environmental justice, and build peace while enduring curfews and Putin’s military ordinance.

In solidarity with them, the Social Work for Peace network has been created. Based in Stirling, Scotland, it has links with the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) as well as connections to social work organisations in other countries. It was set up to support Ukrainian social and community workers providing services and hope to people surviving Putin’s war, whether they are defending their homes within Ukraine, or flee to other lands for safety from endless bombardment.

IASSW and BASW have been supporting victim-survivors of disasters for many years. Through their networks, committees and committed individuals, they have reached out to social work educators, practitioners and students in Ukraine.

Social Work for Peace is part of the Virtual Helpline for Disasters that social workers have activated during different types of natural disasters since 2010. Discussions with those delivering services to people in Ukraine has produced a list of support activities we can provide to these courageous professionals so they can continue serving those in need. These are:

  1. Asking for donations to purchase food, clothing, water, shelter, medicines such as insulin, painkillers, oxygen and power generators that run on diesel or petrol, through organisations including the Ukrainian Red Cross, British Red Cross, and Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine
  2. Creating a space where people who wish to speak about the impact of Putin’s war on them can be heard in confidence and be referred to other services
  3. Preparing various countries to welcome Ukrainian refugees with understanding, respect and dignity, and assisting them to living in another land and culture, an experience that will vary from person to person
  4. Assisting refugees to settle down, adjust to being away from home and learn how to access the services they need
  5. Helping people demanding an end to Putin’s war through their elected representatives
  6. Securing scholarships (donations needed please) for students from the Ukraine
  7. Obtaining bilingual speakers who speak Ukrainian
  8. Responding to other requests for help that arise

In the UK, Social Work for Peace will work with other organisations offering practical aid at local, national, and international levels.

This covers inter-agency working with medical practitioners responding to the medical needs of refugees, and schools endeavouring to help children who have fled traumatic conditions to adjust to a new cultural environment and educational system.

It will also support local communities receiving refugees from Ukraine in welcoming them with respect, dignity, and appreciation of their ability to rebuild their lives and make positive contributions to these communities.

Social Work for Peace will also offer training within an inclusive framework that values equality and diversity in responding to refugees from Ukraine.

At the same time, Social Work for Peace will facilitate people experiencing forced migration through Putin’s war to collect their stories and share them with others through social media, artistic and other means of communication to ensure that their experiences are not lost.

Social Work for Peace will also engage local communities in facing the consequences of Putin’s war and their impact on local and national communities who only wish to live in harmony with others across the globe.

Qualified and registered social workers are encouraged to volunteer to work within Social Work for Peace.

Non-social workers are also welcome to apply. They will be required to undergo vetting by the Disclosure and Barring Service to ensure that those fleeing war will not be subjected to secondary trauma or institutional harm.

Anyone interested in volunteering up should email lena.dominelli@stir.ac.uk.

Professor Lena Dominelli is chair in social work at the University of Sterling