The Silent Battle: Ukrainian Seafarers Grapple with War’s Psychological Toll

As the war in Ukraine marks its third year, the effects of the conflicts are felt far beyond its borders. The lives of Ukrainian seafarers, including clients of the Herd Law Firm, have been no less affected by this uncertainty and fear. The charitable organization Stella Maris is trying to address this escalating crisis of loneliness and depression among these seafarers, made even more daunting when facing the possibility of conscription upon their return home.

As maritime personal injury attorneys dedicated to advocating for the physical and mental well-being of seafarers, we sympathize with and support the men and women in this difficult situation.

The Strain of Sustained Conflict

Charles Stuart and Gregory Hogan, regional port chaplains with Stella Maris in Southampton and other southern UK ports, have seen this growing distress firsthand during their daily visits to ships. What began as shock at the initial invasion has morphed into a deep-seated anxiety, due to the prolonged nature of the conflict. Many seafarers dread returning home, haunted by the risk of being drafted into a war they watch unfold daily from afar.

“The initial shock has given way to a compounded pressure with no end in sight,” Hogan explains. He shares heart-wrenching encounters, like that of a ship captain who broke down upon hearing that his mother-in-law’s area was being bombed, all while he had to attend to his work responsibilities.

With better access to WiFi on ships, some would assume that better connectivity could offer seafarers more comfort. However, it can often heighten ufeelings of helplessness and anxiety. As seafarers consume real-time and sometimes graphic or troubling news updates, some find themselves engulfed in a paradoxical mental state, being well-informed and yet unable to act. “They feel powerless, which is profoundly distressing,” Hogan notes.

The Younger Generation and Mixed Crews: Maintaining Morale

Younger Ukrainian seafarers face their own challenges as well. Faced with the threat of conscription, many feel compelled to stay at sea, far from family and their homeland. Though a necessary sacrifice to avoid the draft, this places immense psychological strain on the affected crew members.

The issue also extends to the ship crew as a whole, which often house both Russian and Ukrainian crew members. Despite the geopolitical tensions, Stuart has observed a professional decorum among the seafarers. “We are seafarers; we conduct ourselves properly and don’t let world events impact our working relationships,” Stuart reports. However, the undercurrent of unspoken tensions, as well as strictly-imposed rules against discussing the conflict among the crew, often can result in a bottled-up psychological dynamic.

Support Through Stella Maris

In addressing these challenges, the role of organizations like Stella Maris become crucial. As the world’s largest ship-visiting network and the official maritime charity of the Catholic Church, Stella Maris offers both practical and pastoral care across 353 ports in 57 countries. This organization continues to advocate for industry-wide awareness and action on these mental health issues by emphasizing the importance of shore-leave for seafarers and access to independent support.

As Stella Maris continues its mission, the urgency for the maritime industry to address these psychological and emotional burdens grows. The story of Ukrainian seafarers is a poignant reminder of the far-reaching impacts of conflict and the critical need for compassionate intervention. It is a call to all involved to not only navigate the physical waves but to also tenderly chart the turbulent emotional waters experienced by those who find themselves inadvertently caught in the crossfire of history.

We at the Herd Law Firm are proud to fight for seamen, maritime workers and passengers in all types of personal injury claims. As maritime personal injury attorneys located in northwest Houston, we never waver in our commitment to help these maritime workers and their families when they are injured.


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