Psychiatrist: Disillusionment with refugee wave is inevitable

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago, Czechs have shown a remarkable wave of solidarity with the thousands of people seeking refuge in the Czech Republic. But with no end of the conflict in sight, experts warn that the Czech society may soon enter a phase of disillusionment.

Photo: René Volfík,

More than 220, 000 Ukrainian refugees have fled to the Czech Republic since the start of the Russian invasion, and more people are likely to come in the next days or weeks.

Until now, Czechs have put on an incredible show of support, providing shelter to Ukrainian families, opening schools to their children and making it easier for the refugees to find jobs on the labour market.

But with the influx of people fleeing the conflict likely to continue, experts are warning that the initial wave of solidarity may soon be replaced with a feeling of disillusionment.

Jan Vevera | Photo: Luboš Vedral,  Czech Radio

Psychiatrist Jan Vevera, who focuses on emergency psychiatry relating to disaster and war, says it is a natural phase of every disaster, which follows the heroic phase, in which people and communities mobilize their strength in order to survive:

“The response to any disaster, whether it is was in Ukraine or the Covid-19 crisis, typically involves a phase of preparation. That is followed by a direct impact phase, which is short and quick and the most important thing in this phase is to prevent panic.

“The direct impact is typically followed by the heroic phase. The affected communities mobilize internal reserves, raise funds and volunteers get involved. That is what we have seen in the Covid 19 pandemic and what we are seeing again today.

Photo: René Volfík,

“But unfortunately, this heroic and idyllic phase doesn’t last for too long and is naturally followed by disillusion. I am very much afraid that this is what we will be seeing now.”

Jan Vevera, who used to serve as a health care coordinator for the NGO People in Need in Kosovo and as an army psychiatrist and general practitioner in Afghanistan, says that while it may be natural for Czechs to feel near their limits, they should bear in mind that the Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom as well.

He also encourages people to try to understand the situation of the refugees by imagining what it would feel like to be in their shoes:

Photo: René Volfík,

“They come here and they are not usually visibly wounded. In many cases, they are even nicely dressed and have cell phones. And they don’t look like this archetypal example of war refugees, as we know them.

“People may also be surprised that they might respond in an angry way. If I was to leave my home with only 20 kilograms of things, I would be frustrated. And if you are frustrated, you are sometimes not responding in a polite way. You are angry.

“So we should not be surprised if some of the refugees are frustrated. That’s a normal reaction. They are not frustrated with us. They are frustrated with the war.”