Minnesota man helping children cope with trauma of war through art

A Minnesota man is helping children in eastern Europe cope with the trauma of war.

For the last few years, he's used art therapy with young refugees in Beirut and Syria.

Now he's headed back to Ukraine and Poland.

The pictures on the wall of the Ukrainian American Community Center may look like child's play, but to Howie Dotson each and every one is a work of art.

"It makes my heart shine when I hear them and they are so proud to send their picture to America. I call them my little Picassos," Dotson told FOX 9.

The interfaith chaplain who is also a U.S. Army veteran originally went to Ukraine last month to help train soldiers in air defense. But after seeing how many children were traumatized by the Russian invasion, he set up art circles at five train stations to help them work through their emotions through art therapy. 

A Minnesota man is helping children in eastern Europe cope with the trauma of war.

"The kids can't express or process feelings like adults can. You can't treat them like little adults. You have to use a therapy tool that is developmentally appropriate so play and art are the tools we use with children," Dotson said.

Some of the young artists drew scenes of violence like explosions or tanks rolling through, while other pictures show signs of hope and solidarity.

In all, Dotson says about 400 children took part in his art circles and he brought most of their pictures back to the U.S. to raise money for more psychological first aid responders to be sent to the region.

"They are in fight or flight mode. They have these feelings that they need to express and get out that they need to relax and get their childhoods back," Dotson said. "Sometimes you just can't put words to it but art can express what is going on inside." 

An example of an art submission. 

Dotson plans to return to Ukraine later this week to help his little Picassos and their moms get from Lviv to Warsaw. But creating safe spaces where children can support each other... might be his greatest masterpiece.

"It's like they are telling me 'this is what I've been through' and through my eyes and non-verbals, they know I get it," Dotson said. Click HERE to view a GoFundMe dedicated to the effort.