"This work is about empathy" - the operators of the helpline Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime

Even with all the modern technology available in this era, it is difficult to imagine this work being done by robots. That is because this profession is about empathy. The ability to really see a person and their problems even from thousands of kilometers away, the ability to find the necessary words for clients in a difficult psychological state, and the ability to separate emotions from facts. The operators of the helpline Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime, Valerii Rybak and Valentyn Bobruyko, talk about their experience.
From Monday to Saturday, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, the specialists from the helpline receive requests from people in need, and help to solve psychological or legal issues for people with disabilities, their relatives, and legal guardians. This is done with a telephone conversation, an online form, or messaging on Viber, Telegram, or WhatsApp (+38050 224-72-36) — whatever is most accessible for those who need help.
Valentyn Bobruyko describes this process, from first interaction to real help:
“People in need of our help choose the most convenient way of communication and tell us about their issues. For example, when I receive a phone call from a client, I ask the name and surname, age, and region of residence, to find out what kind of help the person needs. I construct a request and send it either to our lawyers or to our psychologists. People often call in a distressed psychological state, or they need to talk things through first, and afterwards we form a request. It also happens that people often need not legal or psychological help, but material help, then our work comes in handy, and we provide contacts of government and public organizations. This is an important component of our work, and in this way we make life easier for those who turn to us. Even if it is not a core issue of our work.”
Valerii Rybak supports her colleague:
“I am a practical psychologist. Often, the first call is the first psychological aid. It is important to find the right words and explain to the person that they will, in fact, be able to cope with these problems, and that we will help them with this. People with disabilities, like other citizens who find themselves in crises, despite reaching out, often find themselves in an information vacuum, they do not know and do not understand where to go with their questions, how to get help, what to do about their problems.”
Both specialists emphasize that their work is not just a mechanical process of receiving applications in written or telephone form. During and after processing the application, the operator makes clear and concise notes, records the necessary details to inform the lawyer or psychologist, and fills out a special form about the client.
“If a person calls me a second time, I not only recognize them, but also address them by name, and remember what their question was. It is very nice for people to understand that they are not just an impersonal client and a number in the report — but they appreciate it and trust me when they hear their name and understand that I remember their situation. I am very pleased that during the survey, a large number of clients of the Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime helpline reported that their problems were solved, difficult situations were resolved and they received the help they needed from us. We are sincerely grateful for the capability and effectiveness of the project,” notes Valentyn Bobruyko.
During the day (and often outside working hours too), Valerii Rybak and Valentyn Bobruyko communicate with clients and do everything they can, plus a little more, to help. Both of them shared their thoughts on what is the easiest and hardest part of their jobs.
“Empathy is, in fact, both the easiest and most difficult part of our work. The profession requires a high level of empathy, the ability to empathize, and an understanding of what a person needs. I am a practical psychologist, and my profession helps me a lot in communication. We spend between 10 and 40 minutes on each phone call — everything is very personalized. Based on what we have heard and noted, we fill out the questionnaire and prepare a resume for our colleagues with a brief history of the person who contacted the helpline, along with a formulated request for help. This can take up to an hour. Often, we look for information on an issue completely unrelated to the core of our work, because we understand that we are here to help this person. All of us, Ukrainians, must work together: some volunteer, some help materially, some with information — everyone contributes their own share to Victory. This project is about how to survive the war and remain human,” explains Valerii.
“The technical aspect of this work is the easiest, but it is impossible to remain completely detached in communication with clients. Even with a large number of calls, you do not become callous, but you find yourself concerned about each person's problems,” shares Valentyn.
Valerii Rybak and Valentyn Bobruyko both believe the activity of the online helpline is necessary.
“Psychological and legal support for people with disabilities is needed not only during the war, but also after its end. There were, are, and will be people who have relocated from occupied territories, have destroyed houses, lost relatives or loved ones, and will need attention, energy, and care. Our task is not only to help them, but also to explain that they will endure, cope, and that we will help them in this”, emphasizes Valerii Rybak.
Valentyn Bobruyko expressed himself succinctly:
“The operation of the online helpline continuing into the future is not just a desire, it is a necessity. The 100% positive feedback and the many sincere words of gratitude from people are especially inspiring!”
For reference:
Psychological and legal assistance for people with disabilities during wartime is provided within the project “Hotline for People with Disabilities During Wartime”, implemented by Human Rights Vector NGO in collaboration with Fight For Right NGO, with support from the project “Human Rights For Ukraine” implemented by the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine and funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark during 2019-2023.
The helpline operators have already received a lot of positive feedback and many words of gratitude from people with disabilities who applied for legal assistance within the project. This is the result of the work of the whole team. We have also prepared a useful infographic for those who are currently in or are planning to go to Hungary: “Information for people with disabilities who left for Hungary escaping the war. We invite you to watch the video with subtitles and read the notes of the webinar Social guarantees in Ukraine for people with disabilities in wartime. You can also learn more about psychological help in the article «Psychological challenges of people with disabilities today: how the helpline ‘Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime’ came to the rescue”, and about the legal aspect of the support in the article „Liliya Oliynyk, Lawyer of the online Helpline ‘Psychological and legal assistance to people with disabilities in wartime’: this work is about human support”.
You can also learn more about psychological assistance in the article “Psychological challenges of people with disabilities today: how the helpline ‘Psychological and legal assistance for people with disabilities in martial law’ came to help”.
How to apply for help at the helpline Psychological and Legal Support Available for People with Disabilities in Wartime:
— fill out the online form at bit.ly/36ZxDPd, after which the operator will contact you in the chosen method;
— call (within Ukraine): +38050 224-72-36;
— or call or write with Viber, Telegram, or WhatsApp: +38050 224-72-36.
The hotline is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, from Monday to Saturday. The operators will accept your request and find a specialist who will help.
Author: Natalya Mishchuk
Translation: Ben Murdoch, Kateryna Prokhoda

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