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Narradrama Amidst the Turmoil of War in Russia

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

R: It's nice to meet you. Are you currently doing Narradrama with groups in Russia?

K: Yes, I'm doing Narradrama with groups. And individually, actually. I'm a narrative therapist. I was working in narrative for many, many years. Before that, I was a systemic family therapist. I met Pam at a conference of narrative therapies in Brazil, and it was something really, really special in my life because narrative therapy is very verbal. It's about talking, talking, talking. And as I entered into this classroom at the conference in Brazil, I saw a lot of bright scarfs - and it was so unusual for me.!

After being in touch for a while, Pam said, “Why don't you just become a facilitator in Narradrama?” And I was like, “Is it possible?” The possibility of working professionally in Narradrama was exciting. It has really helped a lot for me personally, and for me in my professional life.

R: I have those scarfs in mind. I could see how the scarfs might just jump out at you. Do you use the scarfs in your own work?

K: Yes, sure. Of course. When I returned home, I ran to the shop and bought a lot of different colors, and materials. They asked me, “What is this for? Do you want to make a dress?” I said “No, you wouldn't believe it. I'm psychotherapist.”

They probably decided I was crazy, but I really use the materials a lot and it really helps, especially when I work with young people, with children, and with those who are not using words a lot. Scarves and different objects really help me to create a play space in my work.

R: So it sounds like people you work with took right to it.

K: Yes, I think that Narradrama brings a lot of hope. It really does a lot for people, probably because I really believe in it. People that I work with jump right in to it, and get a lot from acting things out.

R: I wonder, because you're talking about moving beyond words, is there a tableau or any kind of movement or sound that you might make to describe what's happening in your homeland right now for you?

K: (Thinks and then creates moving gesture) Well, it's something like that when it's really difficult to understand, you know, where it's up, where it's down and how to orient and what's going on.

R: Yeah, it's just occurring to me that everybody had COVID or the pandemic, and then now you have another trauma on top of that, another huge event on top of that.

K: Yeah, that's true. And actually not only me, but many of us are very surprised. For many people it is like it's impossible, it can't be true. Because it seemed like we had taken such big steps away from the repressive times of the Soviet Union - and now and I don't know. It seems like a nightmare that you cannot wake up from, like some zombie movie from the 20th century knocking on your door again. It's crazy. How it can be? But it looks like it is reality. And it's really hard to believe and hard to understand.

R: How does this play out with the people that you see? Do people talk about what's going on or is it like people might not even want to talk about it?

K: Well, now it's like we are in the middle of the trauma and it's not really the time to talk. And I think that some of the traumas of previous generations that influenced Russians are still a factor, because during the 20th century we had a lot of waves of repression and the strategy around how to survive was just to be invisible, to be mute, to be like “I'm not here”. In recent years, we psychologists have been working here in this country trying to help people to express themselves more fully. Through acting, we were somehow helping them to feel themselves more. And now the situation happening today just shuts people down all over again.

R: When I tried to look on the news on youtube, the things that I was tuning into is a lot of people leaving, a lot of people leaving so they don't have to go to war.

K: Yeah. I'm very happy that there are so many people who feel able to make that choice for themselves. Not that I really love to see people going away, but I'm happy they are able to have a choice to do something. The choice to live in other ways. And I think that it's great because people need to have the right to make choices. I think that is what make us human beings and not objects. That I have choices. That's really great for them, but of course not everybody can do that. For example, I have three kids, two of them are in university, so I just cannot move them. And there are a lot of people who just don't have possibility to do that because they will not have any job.

R: My perception is so when we protest here, we might go to jail, but mostly we know we're probably going to be okay. It's very uncomfortable to go to jail, but when I see people protesting in Russia, I feel like, whoa, that's an act of big courage. When people protest in Russia, the stakes are higher. Am I right about that?

K: Yeah. Some days ago I watched a video of a demonstration in Russia. But now we don't see such demonstrations because you will be put just immediately in jail. You will not have good work now. You just go straight to Ukraine, to the war, if you're a man.

R: Has the work you're doing changed at all? Like, if you're working with a group now, now versus before, has it changed or are you doing the same kind of approaches with the group?

K: It's very interesting. I had a Narradrama educational group last week, and we were drawing a good place to live in. What was so interesting for me to see that a lot of people were drawing a small room in a mountain.

R: A small room on a mountain - a “cave”?

K: Yes, a “cave”. And when they talk about it, they say that it is so good to be in some place like a cave, one with very heavy walls where you can have a small fire and that's all that I need. For me it speaks of a primary need to feel safe. Before getting to a stage of considering what action to take. And unfortunately now I don't have a psychotherapy group. I would like to have a support group, but it's very strange that I cannot find enough people for the group.

R: Oh, you can't find enough people? You want to create a support group right now for people and not enough people are willing to yes?

K: Yes. But some months ago it was not a problem for me at all. I think that it's because of this traumatic situation. I mostly work individually or I do some educational groups like the Narradrama group, which is more academic. I don't run a support group right now because they are not ready yet. It could be very helpful for people to be in a support group. A group can do a lot to help to overcome this situation, to overcome the feeling of isolation and this freezing because of trauma. But this is how it is now.

R: Do you feel that in your own body that kind of freezing as well, or no?

K: Yes, sure, I catch myself sometimes sitting or standing and thinking about nothing. Actually, it's pretty strange for me because I always have a lot of things to do, many directions to run simultaneously and so on and it's very strange for me to find myself in that position.

R: Really hard times. And people aren't ready for a support group, but the more academic teaching around Narradrama continues?

K: Yes. I think that the educational projects are very helpful now because they are not so emotional and you can just tell yourself that you're just listening. It's not about my life. It's just about some ideas. Let's talk about ideas. And I know a lot of people who are in this situation just try to dive in educational processes and it really helps them to move away from this situation, from this reality. It's probably something about getting away from reality. But I think that in this situation that's a good decision. Any decision can be great if it helps people to feel better.

R: Is there any way people can support you? People from like my world and other worlds that aren't going through it?

K: Thank you very much. Actually my supervision group is very supportive. It was so surprising when the war began. I received some letters from Pam and from Kamran. He was writing to see how I was doing, and just saying “I'm with you.” And it was so great because when the war began I was absolutely overwhelmed by shame because everybody said that Russians are “monsters” for what they are doing. It was great to feel that there are people who support you and who believe that you are not a “monster”.

I go, oh my gosh, it looks like I have a place here. It looks like I'm not so invisible. It looks like I exist. I really don't know if you can understand how it feels because it's really a lot - because our government seems to treat us like we do not exist, and I don't know how people in other countries may view us. So when I found someone who believes and who sees me - with my values, with my senses, with everything, it's so great and it feels really fantastic.

So thank you very much for all these words and that's really a lot for me. Pam always help me because now it's impossible for us to find new articles, to buy any books on Amazon and so on, so on. So we are isolated, we are cut from books, from libraries, from everything and we're trying to find some ways through friends in other countries and all that. For example, I just bought four books from Amazon and it was like a four month project because it's impossible to send money or pay.

R: Yeah, I almost forgot about the sanctions. I'm sorry. That sounds really hard. Has your life changed in any other ways because of the sanctions?

K: Well, unfortunately it's really difficult to get access to educational courses from outside, and traveling is much more difficult now. It's difficult and more expensive to book a flight. It's fantastic sum of money. It's almost like going to Mars. But the most important thing is that they just stop killing people and we will overcome all the rest. The most important thing is just to finish this war and to keep our people and the Ukrainian people safe. That's the most important thing. It's really strange to talk in this situation about some inconveniences. That's not the point.

R: I hear you. The most important thing for you is that the war ends and that Ukrainians are safe, Russians are safe. Is that something you'd be able to say amongst people, you know, or would it be controversial?

K: No, you know, it's impossible to say the word “war” because if I say they word war on the street, I can be prisoner for 15 years.

R: Anything else that your heart wants to express?

K: Yes. Probably the only way is just find your tribe, to find your people that you can talk with, that you can talk in your language and keep your values. I really appreciate that. I have my tribe not only here with my friends and my colleagues and my clients, but with you, also with Pam, with my colleagues at the drama therapy institute. And I think that's really a lot because it means not being isolated in this world; to be with someone, to be connected with someone. And that means that it's possible to have a future, to possibly be able to move somewhere.

R: What I hear is how important connection with tribe, with likeminded people is to you right now. When you said “move somewhere”, do you mean do you mean just move into the future? Do you mean like to move to another location at some point?

K: I think most important is to move to the future. And probably for some of us it's well, yeah, it may include relocating for some period of time. And of course I'm making steps toward that, but it's not as fast as I want to. But I think it doesn't matter if it's about relocation or not. Everybody chooses their own ways to the future, to still feel yourself, as a human being, to have life, to construct your story of life, and not to have your life under the control of others; to build what you want, to build your preferred story, your story of life. Sometimes it's very important to relocate. For some of us, it may not be the way, but the most important thing is just to stay building your life stories.

R: I'm wondering how to send you some good energy. (Makes movements)

K: (Making movements) Yes, please. Thank you. Thank you very much.

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