Tips to Navigating Complicated Feelings Surrounding the War in Ukraine

Author: Kelly McHugh-Stewart

For families who have lost a loved one to war, turning on the news right now can be a challenge. The images and headlines out of Ukraine are devastating and can bring up unexpected emotions of anger, fear, helplessness, and grief. 

In my case, it's been the constant images of bombed-out vehicles on the nightly news. Though it's been 12 years since my father's death, these images have been a reminder of my own loss and have brought up unexpected feelings of sadness. Maybe for you, it's something else about the news coverage that's triggered unexpected emotions. Maybe for you, simply the thought of Ukraine makes it hard to concentrate on anything else like work, family, or day to day tasks.

I struggled with whether or not to write this because, as I watch the suffering happening overseas, considering my own grief and needs didn't feel right. Then I was reminded that our community of military survivors has a unique, complicated connection to war, regardless of where in the world it takes place, and it's okay to not be okay right now. It's okay to hurt when the world hurts, especially in an age of constant information - with news sources sharing updates almost by the minute and social media filling our feeds with one heart wrenching story after the next.

Daisy blooming in dirtPhoto: Unsplash

So what can we do? This list is by no means conclusive and not everything will work for everyone, but here are a few things I have found helpful:


Focus on the Bright Spots

Did you know TAPS has a sister organization in Ukraine? TAPS Ukraine was founded in 2018 and today, in addition to being a support system for Ukrainians grieving the death of military loved ones, they are also providing care and relief to those in need. Over the past four weeks TAPS Ukraine has helped establish the Coordination Headquarters of Dnipro, where they have been providing food, medicine, and housing to more than 10,000 people daily. These Ukrainian Gold Star family members are a huge inspiration to me right now, and are a reminder of the strength inside of all of us.


Find a Healthy Outlet

I'm a writer, so naturally journaling has been one of the ways I make sense of the world, especially during dark times. If journaling isn't for you, maybe it's creating art, playing or listening to music, exercising, dancing, playing games, or cooking.


Get Outside

With spring having arrived, I've tried to get outside for a walk every morning. I take this time to be present, breathe, and laugh at my dog who has to chew every single stick he sees. I work in communications, so I know when I'm at work I'll be largely "plugged in" to the news throughout the day. But, taking this time outside to unplug, step away, and just enjoy some fresh air really helps.


Stay Connected

Earlier this month, TAPS families gathered virtually for the forum “Coping with Current Events in Ukraine.” TAPS leadership talked about the current events and gave the community the chance to reflect and connect about their feelings. TAPS has many additional ways to connect with other survivors through their online community. Find an online group of your peers or a workshop series that speaks to you. And, follow TAPS on social media for additional resources and information using the handle @TAPSorg (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn). 


TAPS Founder and President Bonnie Carroll recently said something I won't forget, "TAPS is like a Fire Extinguisher, just having it available as a resource provides comfort." I hope you take comfort in knowing you are not alone and there are resources available to you through TAPS now and always. I know I certainly have.

TAPS is here for you 24/7 through our National Military Survivor Helpline at 800.959.TAPS (8277).

Kelly McHugh-Stewart is a writer based out of New York City. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CNN Opinion, and Sports Illustrated, among others. Her father, U.S. Army Colonel John M. McHugh was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 18, 2010.