In 2009, UNICEF will open 17 new psychosocial recovery centres in Chechnya

A young girl and a boy throw their hands in the air, giggling as they perform a traditional Chechen dance. A large circle of kids clap encouragement around them. The room is bright, and filled with toys, a karaoke machine and coloured pictures on the walls. Watching the children is 18-year-old Zaur, a special “psychological volunteer” distinguished by his bright-blue UNICEF t-shirt.

With their dancing, singing and giggling, these kids are just like any other kid their age. But sadly, many of these students at the secondary school in Vedeno, a large village in south east Chechyna, are suffering from psychological traumas caused by war. Like many children and teenagers in the republic, they have lived through bombings and shellings. Some have lost mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters to war; others are orphans. Many of them lost their homes or lived in refugee camps.

But with Zaur’s help, some of these kids are finding new ways to talk about their problems. Drawing on world-wide experience which shows the effectiveness of using young people to help other young people with their psychological trauma, UNICEF has selected 38 adolescents to volunteer at psychosocial centres at schools in 15 districts across Chechnya.

Zaur, a student in his final year at the Secondary School, took up his post in May 2008. “Some of the children here are too afraid to talk to psychologists but they feel comfortable with people like me,” says the boy. Clearly inspired, he says he now wants to be a psychologist when he leaves school. When asked about his own memories of the war, he remarks: “I try to forget what happened.”

A surprise earthquake in October 2008 has struck fresh fears into Chechen children's minds. The impact is especially striking in Kurchaloy district where another UNICEF supported psychosocial centre is located. Kurchaloy district was one of the worst hit in the earthquake. The aftershocks lasted for another three weeks. Roza, psychologist at the centre, says that many children in Kurchaloy and neighboring villages complained about insomnia and fear of spending a night inside the house.

In 2006, UNICEF conducted a study of the psychosocial state of conflict-affected children in Chechnya. The survey found that across Chechnya, 80% of children were in need of some form of psychological assistance, many of them complained of tiredness and dreams of war. The survey also found that 92% of schools are lacking qualified psychosocial services.

To respond to these needs, UNICEF together with the ministries of education and science, health, labour and social development of the Chechen Republic and with funding from ECHO, USAID and US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration started establishing psychosocial centres for children and their families. The first such centre was established in June 2006 and today there are 29 of them, comprising two complementary networks - school counseling centers and rehabilitation centres, working both with groups and individuals.

In 2009 17 more centres will be established, aiming at expanding the coverage to include even the remotest villages of Chechnya. Volunteers, who play a key role in the process of rehabilitation, will work at the new centres as well. UNICEF will also continue involving psychology students at the Chechen State University and Chechen State Pedagogical University in Grozny in the work of psychosocial centres as interns. Fifty young specialists from these schools already did such internships in 2008.

For more information contact UNICEF Communications Officer Andrei Muchnik at: or +7 928 796 6133