The Song of the Nightingales: stories for Ukrainian refugees

The Song of the Nightingales: stories for Ukrainian refugees

Last year, Australian author Susan Perrow was invited to partner with a social worker based in Romania, Didi Ananda Devapriya, on a story project for Ukrainian refugees. Over the past nine months, they have written and collated a therapeutic story collection entitled The Song of the Nightingales. Here they introduce the book...

Therapeutic stories are a healing medium that allow children, teenagers and adults to embark on an imaginative journey, rather than being lectured or directly addressed about the issue. By identifying with the main character or characters, the listener is empowered as obstacles are overcome and a resolution achieved. This is a gentle, easy, yet often effective means of addressing challenging behaviours and difficult situations.

As medicine is used to help restore wholeness or balance to out-of-balance physical conditions, story medicine (therapeutic or healing stories) can be an imaginative and effective pedagogical strategy. Story medicine uses metaphor and story as an indirect tool for regulation of behaviour and helping with trauma through individual and group work.

Working with a creative journey and a specific selection of metaphors, a therapeutic story approach has the potential to shift an out-of-balance behaviour or situation back towards wholeness or balance. The story may help considerably, help a little, soothe, motivate, strengthen resolve and sow invaluable seeds for future change.

In my first two books, Healing Stories for Challenging Behaviour and Therapeutic Storytelling, a story-making model is shared in detail – a three-fold framework of metaphor, journey and resolution – to guide the writing of therapeutic stories. In this model, the journey is the formative part of the therapeutic story construction. An eventful journey is a way to build the tension as the story evolves. It can lead the plot into and through the behaviour “imbalance” and out again to a wholesome, proactive resolution (that is not guilt-inducing).

However, in situations of grief and loss, including the current situations of trauma in Ukraine, to offer a specific framework or method for writing therapeutic stories does not seem possible or appropriate. It would be insensitive to suggest that a story journey could lead to a “wholesome proactive resolution”. It would be inappropriate to claim that a story could be “healing”.

A more subtle, reflective, intuitive approach is required in these difficult times. Story therapy may only give a whisper of comfort, a whisper of support, but is well worth the creative effort if it can offer such whisperings. Susan Perrow

The stories gathered together for the collection were selected with great care, love and respect for the determination of the Ukrainians I have met to overcome the hardships of war and build a better future. It is my hope that these stories will help to provide mirrors to readers, both young and old, of their own inner resources and light pathways towards a better future. As pure gold is refined in the fire of the furnace, I hope that the pain faced today can transform into a dedication to building a world based on justice, compassion and solidarity with all. Didi Ananda Devapriya

The Song of the Nightingales

by Didi Ananda Devapriya 

Nightingales are the national bird of the Ukraine. Their song of optimism and hope as they rebuild their nests is intended to reflect the resilience and strength of the Ukrainians who have fled their homes to rebuild their lives in new, safer places.

Once there was a beautiful dense pine forest, the air freshly scented with the soft fragrance of the tall trees. There were many, many nightingales that had built nests safely hidden in the thickets of the forest.

Two nightingales were busily gathering twigs and leaves from the abundant forest to build their nests. Then they carefully lined the nest with soft, sweet-smelling grass. Soon the mother bird laid three tiny olive-green eggs and after some time, three baby birds were born.

The family was very happy, and every day, when the moon rose, they gathered together and sang the song of nightingales to welcome the comforting safety of the darkening evening and greet the great shining moon.

“The evening moon has risen, all the birds are singing, let’s sing together in tune and greet the shining moon, sing together in tune and greet the shining moon.”

During the day, mother and father bird would fly off into the forest to gather berries, beetles and worms for the little ones.

Early one morning, the family of birds woke up suddenly to shouting voices and a loud, frightening, buzzing sound. There was a terrific cracking and the whole forest seemed to shudder as great trees came crashing to the ground. The air was filled with smell of cut lumber and the loud, angry buzzing of chainsaws. 

Suddenly, hundreds of birds in the forest were scrambling to fly away and the nightingale family joined them. It was hard for the baby birds to keep up and there was so much confusing commotion everywhere as the flocks of birds rushed away from the frightening sounds. It was very scary for the little baby birds, and they flew close under their parents’ wings, afraid of getting lost. 

They left the forest and entered a strange new land. There were no trees, or shade and the sun was burning harshly. The bird family were all so tired from their journey to escape the forest. They could not find a fragrant pine tree to rest in, but, finally, after searching, they found a building with a crack in the wall just big enough for all five to enter. It was a very small space and they had to squeeze to get inside. It was uncomfortable and dirty, but they were at last safe and grateful to be together.

That evening, as the cool blanket of the evening fell over the city, and the moon began to rise over the tops of the buildings, the nightingales went outside and gathered together to sing and greet the shining moon.

“The evening moon has risen, all the birds are singing, let’s sing together in tune and greet the shining moon, sing together in tune and greet the shining moon.”

The angels in the sky smiled and the moon was pleased by the beautiful song of the nightingales, sending silver moonbeams which soothed their tired wings after the long, frightening journey. In the forest, hundreds of nightingales sang together to greet the moon, but here they felt so lonely. Still the nightingale family sang bravely together. As they sang, more nightingale voices appeared and joined in. They sang and let the lovely darkness absorb their sadness. They sang and let the beautiful moonlight guide them towards a new day. Their melodious song delighted the little children peering out of the windows of city apartment buildings. They ran outside to better listen to the beautiful birdsong. Then they ran back inside to find seeds to share with the birds so that they would stay and keep singing.

The mother and father bird then flew off to gather berries and beetles and look for twigs and dried leaves for their nest. It wasn’t as easy to find twigs and leaves in the city as it had been in their beloved forest. But they kept gathering scraps and bits of twigs wherever they could find them and soon they had enough to build another nest. In the garden of the house where some of the children they were friends with lived, they found a bush where they could build their nest.

It wasn’t the same as their nest in the dense forest thicket and they missed the big branches and fresh scent of the pine trees. But their new nest was clean and safe and they were happy to be all together. Every evening they sang their song to the shining moon and the city was filled with the magical song of the nightingales.

“The evening moon has risen, all the birds are singing, let’s sing together in tune and greet the shining moon, sing together in tune and greet the shining moon.”


Susan Perrow is an Australian author, with four collections of therapeutic stories in 12 languages. English versions are published by Hawthorn Press.

Didi Ananda Devapriya is a social worker who lives in Romania and works with Ukrainian refugees.

Edited extract from The Song of the Nightingales: A Collection of Therapeutic Stories for Children and Families Fleeing the War in Ukraine is available in English, Ukrainian, Romanian and Russian as a free download from


First published in Issue 83 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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