Pershi Lastivky [Early Swallows] is a hit television drama series in Ukraine. It focuses on the lives of secondary school students and their struggles with bullying, cyberbullying, suicide, and other problems which have never been publicly addressed in Ukraine.
The show focuses on five teens who are cyberbullied from an anonymous account. They struggle to define their sexual identity, to deal with dysfunctional family relations, and suffer from loneliness. With more than seven million viewers, the series has proven quite successful.
Scriptwriter Eugen Tunick is happy that the show has helped so many Ukrainian teens. The show, the first in Ukraine to discuss homosexuality, has given many teenagers the courage to come out to their families and friends. It also highlights a non-governmental mental health helpline at the end of each episode, which has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help. Most of the calls concern self-harm, violence and sexuality. Alyona Kryvulayk, one of the helpline psychologists, says that many of the messages and calls are shocking. One involved a teen who said she had already made 15 attempts to end her life. Teens have told them: ‘I have been self-harming for two years. I have no-one to talk to’, and ‘I have had a bad relationship with my parents. I have been bullied at school. I had a friend but she betrayed me’.
Ukraine and School Bullying
Bullying among schoolchildren is a major problem in Ukraine; according to UNICEF estimates, Ukraine has the highest rates in Europe, with 70% of Ukrainian schoolchildren having either witnessed or been the victim of bullying.
A year ago, Ukraine started giving fines for bullying at school, and now parents have to pay for their child’s behaviour. This was met with some apprehension and aggression from parents, who threatened children's rights activists. One campaigner claimed that her car was set on fire due to her activism.
On the bright side, the series has been successful in conveying the seriousness of bullying, and has let teens know that professional help is available for those who need it. It also drives home the importance of communicating with your children as it makes them less vulnerable to bullying and other social problems.
If you know someone who needs to talk with a mental health professional, the helpline for children and youth is 116 111.