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How can linguists and non-linguists help Ukrainian people

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

No matter our specialism, humanitarian crises can affect our private life and our work. That’s why it’s incredibly important to take good care of ourselves – after all, in order to help others, we must be feeling well. You cannot give from an empty cup.

Today, together with my ITI Polish Network colleagues Ania Marchwiak and Aleksandra Chlon, we organised a webinar about vicarious trauma. Run by Justine Mason, an expert in interpreting and mental health, the event was open to our colleagues working into and out of Ukrainian – this was our way of helping interpreters and translators who have been dealing with the traumatic events to do with the Russian aggression on Ukraine.

Some of Justine's suggestions included constructive debriefing, using peer support and, if possible, not taking on only trauma-related assignments.

Here are some other ways to help yourself and others during these hard times.


Stay informed, but protect your wellbeing

Once the war in Ukraine started, I couldn’t focus at all and kept refreshing the live feed on both The Guardian and Gazeta Wyborcza websites. Needless to say that getting work done was difficult, if not impossible.

Reading news, listening to the radio and keeping up to date with events is extremely useful, until it’s not. When you feel it all becomes too much, unplug or only allow yourself to check news once or twice a day. Turning off the news doesn’t mean you don’t care – it means you’re taking good care of yourself. In a recent Smart Habits for Translators episode Veronika Demichelis talked about deleting apps from her phone to prevent her mindlessly scrolling through news and social media feeds full of news about the war.

Black woman resting her head on her hands

And yes, that is a very privileged position, as the people in the centre of the crisis cannot simply switch off from it and lie down with a good book, but you need to preserve energy and sustain your mental health. Otherwise how will you be able to help others?


Donate your skills and time

After you’ve figured out how much or how little news from the crisis zone you can take to avoid feeling overwhelmed, you can start thinking of ways to use your professional skills to help in the crisis. There are many ways linguists can get involved: from Translators without Borders to Respond Crisis Translation, you’ll find plenty of information on the Institute of Translation and Interpreting website. An ITI colleague Katarzyna E Slobodzian-Taylor has been facilitating medical translation between Ukrainian and Polish, as well as Ukrainian and English. For translators in Poland, it's worth checking out the Facebook group Translators for Ukraine.

The cover of the Polish language version of "When the War Came"
"When the War Came" is available in English, Polish and Romanian.

Among other initiatives, volunteering work can come your way through a colleague or a friend. Kate Sotejeff-Wilson, another Polish Network committee member, posted about a great pro bono project on our forum: Books Beyond Words, a publisher of wordless picture books was looking for translators of various languages to work on the instructions for their “When the War Came” book. I’m very happy to have been able to offer my help with something that might help children and adults talk about their trauma with their hosts in Poland. To access the book, head here.

Five Ukrainian pedals on the workspace

If you’re not a linguist, you can offer other skills. My partner, who’s a guitar pedal builder, designed a limited series of pedals with all the proceeds going towards DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. The project, with translation into Ukrainian done by Svitlana Genina, has helped him raise over 800 pounds!


Donate money or items

Money is a good way to ensure that aid organisations buy things that are actually needed. If you can’t afford to donate a lot, wire just a few pounds. Can’t donate at all? Don’t worry, there are many other things you can do. Or you can simply wait until you get a few invoices paid and send some cash then. Alternatively, try to organise a group and donate a little bit together with friends or family. Global Citizen has posted a few links to organisations you might want to consider.

Asian woman putting clothes into a cardboard box.

If you’re donating items, make sure it’s actually needed. Often times aid organisations get flooded with items that are either inappropriate to donate (for example high heels for people fleeing a conflict zone, winter jackets in the middle of the summer, etc.) or are not needed anymore (for instance, there might be too many shampoos being donated but not enough deodorants). Check social media/website of the organisation you want to donate items to – they often publish lists of required items. And make sure everything you donate is of quality you yourself would like to receive!

Want to donate straight to Ukrainian translators and interpreters? Have a look here.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know!


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