Hroza – a Ukrainian village where “the volume of grief per square meter goes off scale”
Several hundred residents in Hroza (Thunderstorm in Ukrainian) in Kharkivska oblast have lived through many dramatic events since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion in February 2022. For months, their village remained under the military control of the Russian Federation before the areas were retaken by the Government of Ukraine. However, the Russian shelling continued relentlessly, causing displacement and despair. Yet, about 300 people remained in Hroza, including families with children.
On 5 October, their lives were shattered into pieces when a Russian missile hit a cafe and a store where dozens of people attended a wake after a funeral. Having claimed at least 59 civilian lives and wiping out almost a fifth of Hroza’s population, the Russian attack became the deadliest to date in 2023.
“There is mourning in every house,” says Tetiana Buhaichuk, a psychologist who works for UNHCR’s NGO partner Proliska. As the families have started burying their loved ones, she shares what she witnessed in Hroza during the first days after the attack.
Day 1: Shock and silence
“We arrived in Hroza a few hours after the missile attack, when it had turned dark. Emergency services were working at the site. Almost all bodies were recovered from the rubble. They laid there in plastic bags and were loaded on trucks. We started to go from house to house, talking to people. Some had their windows or roof damaged, and almost everyone lost someone they knew or their family members,” Tetiana recalls.
During the first hours, it was critical to assess and collect the needs of people. Proliska’s team provided families with emergency shelter kits to fix their damaged houses, as well as hygiene items and blankets.
Tetiana has eight years of experience as a psychologist and after having worked for Proliska for a year, she has counselled people who witnessed horrible and traumatic events during the war. In Hroza, however, the level of suffering she witnessed was the worst she had ever encountered, and she knew that her help would be needed even more in the days to come.
Day 2: Grief in every house
Tetiana and her colleagues returned to the village in the morning.
“I had a feeling that the volume of grief per square meter was going off scale. Some lost their family members, others their neighbours, in some families only children survived, and the adults died. This tragedy has affected almost everyone in Hroza.”
Tetiana’s role was to identify if people needed psychosocial support:
“I assess the state of the person, whether there is someone nearby who can support them, to what extent they can cope with what had happened, and whether they will need psychosocial support during the grieving process. It can be difficult for a person to understand what happened to their loved ones, especially when the tragic event was so unexpected. I explain that it is important to experience grief, not to freeze your feelings. If a person is confused, I explain what is happening and how to support themselves.”
Day 3: At the morgue
The identification of the victims of the attack was still ongoing, and Tetiana with a colleague worked with families who arrived at the morgue to receive bodies of their loved ones. There is still a lot of disbelief, she says, as some people remain in a state of denial.
“Some of them will realize that their loss is irreversible only at the funeral or even afterwards. If a person is worried that there was no time to say important words to the deceased, this can be done by writing a letter. The grieving process itself takes place gradually, and there are special rituals that help people more easily cope with the loss of a loved one. We always remind them that they can call us at any time so that they are not left alone with their grief.”
Tetiana also warns about too much public and media attention, and the importance of being ethical and taking into account that not everyone is ready to talk about their loss in public:
“Those moments of saying goodbye to our loved ones are very private, and it is important that everyone shows empathy and respect.”