Ukrainian soldiers are rolling out their yoga mats on the frontlines of the Ukraine war. At the command post of the 225th Separate Assault Brigade, their 37-year-old commander says yoga transformed his life. “Before the beginning of the full-scale war, back in 2014, I was drafted into infantry operations and I hurt my spine. I started practising yoga regularly in 2016.All my problems disappeared,” says the young commander. Yoga now helps him with his responsibilities in the war. “I always try to do asanas, nauli and pranayama, and I read the Hare Krishna Mahamantra. It helps me have better control over my emotions and plan things in my duty.”
In conflict-hit Ukraine, yoga is witnessing a rise in popularity for wellness, recovery and healing. There are projects to support Ukrainian yoga teachers and provide them with tools to deal with trauma and PTSD. Some special forces units of the Ukrainian army, like the Falcon Force, are even integrating yoga into their training.
The ‘Healthy Ukraine’ programme, an initiative of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that started in 2021, gave yoga a serious boost. Active Parks, a project under the programme, transformed public parks into weekend fitness clubs, with instructors holding free classes. “The response for yoga was overwhelming,” says Elena Siderska, responsible for developing yoga in the project. “Active Parks now supports studios and clubs that work with trauma, PTSD and rehabilitation of soldiers,” Siderska adds.

Siderska’s father, Andrii Siderskyi, the doyen of yoga in Ukraine, says the roots of the Indic practice are long in his country. “Actually, people in Ukraine came in contact with yoga as far back as the 19th century. Following World War II, Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv became some of the main centres of yoga in the Soviet era,” says Siderskyi.
Today yoga has travelled across the world and looped back to Ukraine. Yuliia Denisova works with the charity Fierce Calm. She has been using yoga to help injured Ukrainian soldiers at four rehabilitation centres. “Yoga nidra and pranayama have had huge benefits for war veterans dealing with sleep disorder, PTSD, and amputation-related challenges,” affirms Denisova. Valeria Samborskaya, who is running a project to promote trauma-sensitive yoga for Ukraine, concurs. “We have seen affected soldiers being fearful of going near parks because they were injured in forested areas on the frontline. But after a few sessions of yoga, especially pranayama, they are able to overcome their mental trauma,” she says. Denisova adds, “I as a Ukrainian can’t thank India enough for giving the world and keeping this wonderful ancient knowledge.”