Ukraine’s Ministry of Education recently granted approval to a Milwaukee-based humanitarian nonprofit to begin a new mental health program for Ukrainian children based on the book “Freeing Freddie the Dream Weaver.”
The project, designed by Kim Normand Dobrin, Co-Founder and CEO of Free the Mind Co, was proposed by Anya Verkhovskaya, Director of Friends of Be an Angel, during a series of June meetings in Kyiv.
“Freeing Freddie the Dream Weaver” is part of an online educational program for children that teaches social and emotional learning and well-being. Dobrin and Verkhovskaya felt it was suitable for Ukrainian children who are struggling to cope with their daily situations.
“Ukraine is fighting a brutal invader to save its national independence, while at the same time struggling to provide so many vital social services,” said Verkhovskaya. “To quote the Ukrainian Department of Education, ‘Adults weren’t ready for this war. Neither were the children.’ This initiative, based on “Freeing Freddie,” is a way to fill a gap in mental health care with a desperately needed program.”
Since the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, children of the war-torn nation continue suffering from significant emotional turmoil. The aim of “Freeing Freddie” is to help Ukrainian children build the skills and resilience to navigate the challenges of war, and reduce the impact of PTSD.
“Freeing Freddie the Dream Weaver” is an online program and beautifully illustrated series of books that captivates children through the character of Freddie, a young boy who lives in a magical rainforest. The reader accompanies Freddie on a journey of discovery as he meets Mr. Cotton, the giant friendly spider who teaches Freddie how to let go of his fears, become part of a loving world, and create the life of his dreams. Throughout the magical tale, the child learns important life lessons and acquires tools that enhance development. The companion Workbook and the Activity Book engage children in dozens of games, puzzles, and craft projects.
Over the past 17 months, nearly all the children of Ukraine have seen their lives upended. Loss of home, loss of family and friends, loss of all the aspects of life that as a society we think of as normal.
“This has had a devastating impact on their psychological growth. Displaced, either in-country or as refugees throughout Europe, these children need the ability to recognize their emotions and channel them in a positive way,” said Verkhovskaya.
Already in use in the United States, the Ukrainian version of “Freeing Freddie” has been offering a way for displaced Ukrainian children to learn about their emotions while engaging with teachers and classmates.
The educational program is filled with avatars, games, and activities, all wrapped around a magical story that brings joy and fun – something Ukrainian children desperately need to address with their emotions and dreams, as well as fears and anxieties.
“Unless appropriate support is provided, their distress can last well beyond the end of the conflict. Specifically, the prolonged activation of stress hormones in early childhood can reduce neural connections in areas of the brain dedicated to learning and reasoning, affecting children’s abilities to perform later in their lives. In this way, conflict imposes a huge social cost on future generations.” – Save the Children International
Verkhovskaya said that the goal of the pilot program was to reach at least 10,000 Ukrainian children, ages 5 to 12, in their own Ukrainian language.
“We originally envisioned using only a digital platform, but it was decided that an addition of the books would be more effective,” added Verkhovskaya. “While digital content offered the ability to reach children living anywhere they have been displaced to, in the hardest-to-reach areas of Ukraine, and even under Russian occupation, the Workbook and the Activity Book offer the ability for children to address their emotions in times of crisis, like in the bomb shelters without Internet access.”
Series: Return to Ukraine
- Return to Ukraine: A trauma loop of travel from Milwaukee to a country still at war a year later
- From Weddings to War: How Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov photograph Ukraine's daily horrors
- Being Friends of Angels: The Milwaukee nonprofit saving lives and offering hope in Ukraine
- Mayors of Milwaukee and Irpin expand Sister City cooperation after visit by nonprofit delegation
- Interview with Tom Barrett: U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg reflects on forging ties with Irpin
- Wisconsin Ukrainians host annual fundraising picnic to support homeland on 500th day of war
- Advanced Wireless to donate 840 access points to rebuild Irpin's citywide Wi-Fi network
- Children of Irpin begin planning mural for Mitchell Airport to showcase Sister City friendship
- Irpin is not forgotten: Residents thank Milwaukee Independent for reporting on their "Hero City"
- Milwaukee photojournalist on assignment in Kyiv during July 2 Russian drone strike targeting civilians
- Russian cruise missile attack kills residents far from front lines in Western Ukraine city of Lviv
- Ukraine arrests man accused of directing Russian ballistic missile strike on Kramatorsk pizza parlor
- Milwaukee offers Ukrainian refugee family life-saving treatment for son's genetic condition
- Nikita Pirnach: Irpin student hopes to help his country after finishing education in Milwaukee
- Sick children wait for overseas medical treatments as a new generation is born in Ukraine during war
- Iryna Suslova: The superwoman saving Ukrainian children abducted by Russia
- How a group of Ukrainian mothers, wives, and daughters are distributing vital humanitarian aid
- Freeing Freddie: Educational program aims to reduce PTSD for Ukraine's war-weary children
- The trauma of living: When being killed is the preferred choice to being disfigured from battle
- President Zelenskyy offers gratitude and awards to wounded soldiers while visiting Lviv Hospital
- Former Vice President Mike Pence visits Irpin during unannounced campaign trip to Kyiv
- Military Hospitals provide vital care for Ukrainian soldiers in need of hope and healing
- Combat surgeons pioneer advances in maxillofacial reconstruction of Ukraine's injured heroes
- Milwaukee donors cover cost of reconstructive surgery for American volunteer wounded in battle
- In their own words: Listening to the Voices of Children talk about their experiences from war
- Traumatized by War: Children of Ukraine carry on after losing parents, homes, and innocence
- Widespread Torture: U.N. report documents Russia's systematic executions of Ukrainian civilians
- Wisconsin volunteers sort and pack donated medical supplies for use in Ukraine's hospitals
- Lviv warehouse serves as vital link in medical supply chain from Milwaukee to frontlines
- Aid from Milwaukee is providing internally displaced people in Ukraine with food and clothing
- Iryna Pletnyova: How the city of Uman transformed into a hub for refugees fleeing war
- Bombs in the night: Why children in Uman are still traumatized by Russia's missile attack
- School Bunkers: When a national flag becomes a memorial to dead Ukrainian students
- Hasidic life in Uman: A journey across Ukraine to the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
- Tetiana Storozhko: Being a witness to the history of Roma culture in Ukraine
- Remembering Oskar Schindler: A photojournalist’s diary from the streets of Jewish Kraków
Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.