used to train psychologists in Armenia, Chechnya, Chernobyl,
Kosovo and Liberia.
She moved to the United States in 2000. She now teaches at
Cambridge College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she
developed one of the first certificate programs in trauma studies.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the psychological roots of
civil wars and their aftermath, probably because of my own
family history back in Russia,” she says. “The scariest part is
that these atrocities are committed by people who used to
be good neighbors, friends or even family members. All my
memories of horrors of civil wars that I worked with flashed
back when I heard about the developing conflict in eastern
To help, she reached out to the local psychological
association in Ukraine and offered her expertise via Skype.
Over the past year, Cherepanov has trained more than 170
psychologists, mental health workers, social workers and
psychology students in Kiev and eastern Ukraine.
Many of these professionals and students are refugees
themselves. So far, they have set up clinics in refugee camps,
opened a hotline for mental health questions and started
therapy programs for children. “People are calmer than you
would expect. They say, ‘This is our country. This is our home.’”
Cherepanov remains in contact with the mental health
professionals and students she’s trained, offering additional
guidance when she can on how to spot signs of burnout.
As the conflict continues, psychology faculty in Ukraine have
faced the challenge of teaching the students who can’t regularly
attend classes because of travel and housing problems.
“They’re the ones in the armed conflict zone, and they have
to figure out how to help themselves and others,” Cherepanov
says. “From here, we can only encourage, support and share
what we know. In spite of continued raging battles, professors
continue teaching, students continue studying, and they’re
eager to build a sense of normalcy in their community once
Kathleen Smith is a journalist in Washington, D.C.
Cambridge College faculty member Dr. Elena Cherepanov conducts psychological first-aid training via Skype with mental health
professionals and students in Ukraine.