Hiding in an air-raid shelter in Ukraine, Iryna Parkhomchuk had no idea what the future held for her.
“Honestly, it’s (a) horrible experience… You don’t know if you’ll be alive,” she told CTV News Channel on Sunday.
Parkhomchuk spent her time playing games on her phone as a distraction from reality, she said.
Now a student in Canada, Parkhomchuk uses that past experience, along with her expertise in robotics and artificial intelligence, to help others struggling with their own mental health issues.
Parkhomchuk is one of more than 60 Ukrainian interns in Canada participating in the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship program this summer.
Set to be her first trip to another country, the Ukrainian software engineering student applied for the Canadian internship months before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his war on Ukraine.
Thanks to his internship, Parkhomchuk finally landed at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ontario.
She says she spoke to one of her professors about what she was planning to do during her internship and he suggested something around Ukraine.
Parkhomchuk says there are many projects going on at the lab that help people with different physical issues, so she started thinking about how she could help those with mental health issues.
“And I started thinking about it and I recalled my memories of my experience, which I was hiding, I didn’t know if I would be alive tomorrow and I would try to distract myself with my phone,” he said. she declared.
Parkhomchuk then developed an app tailored to the social robot Zenbo to act as a therapeutic companion, providing its users with visuals of green spaces and seascapes, slow melodies, meditations and breathing exercises.
She says the robot looks like a big toy, which also makes it something kids can enjoy.
Her hope is to continue her research and create an app for laptops and mobile devices.
“I am grateful to Mitacs for supporting my research internship and for the opportunity to do something to apply technology in ways that help my fellow Ukrainians distract themselves from the horrors of war, or even lift their spirits” , said Parkhomchuk. in a press release from Ontario Tech University.
“Ultimately, I hope the academic connections I made at Ontario Tech will help me return to this university to complete my master’s and further develop the app.”
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