Ukrainian children living in bunkers get ‘Christmas cheer' from UK volunteers
Children living in underground bunkers in Ukraine have experienced a “bit of Christmas cheer” after receiving gifts from a group of UK volunteers and being visited by an iconic children’s character.
On December 11, a group of independent volunteers from the UK set off to areas in Ukraine, including Irpin and Bucha, to provide children with gifts including crayons, cuddly toys and clothes in time for Saint Nicholas Day, which falls on December 19 and is celebrated in eastern Christian countries.
One of the places visited was Saltivka, on the edge of Kharkiv, which suffered heavy missile attacks and where children are still living with their families, as well as an underground metro station.
Children were given presents including chocolate, winter jackets, colouring books and sweets, and even got a surprise visit from a dragon.
“My friend Jakub (Sochujko), who is a Polish volunteer from Cornwall but is based in Kharkiv, dressed up in a dragon outfit and was entertaining the kids,” Wendy Warrington, a nurse, midwife and humanitarian aid worker, who organises the visits to Ukraine, told the PA news agency.
“The children absolutely loved it.”
“We want to be able to spread a little Christmas cheer – it is not going to change the world, but for an hour or two it is going to give the kids a bit of reprieve and a sense of normality.”
A famous children’s character also paid a visit to children in a bunker underneath a school close to Kyiv.
“My friend Angie Sutcliffe from Tottington (Manchester) dressed up as Peppa Pig and [her and the other volunteers] were all entertaining the kids as sirens went off outside, and handed out presents”, she said.
Mrs Warrington added that, as a grandmother, seeing the children’s eyes “light up” when they received the gifts was a “worthwhile” experience.
“Christmas is the most important time for most children and seeing children not have to worry about what is going on in Ukraine for a little while and just being allowed to be children for that short period of time and play and engage with other children makes everything feel so worthwhile”, the 56-year-old who lives in Bury, Manchester, said.
“For those children, playing in an underground bunker becomes a norm, but it’s not normal.
“The reason why I volunteered was because of my grandchildren – I would want someone out there to help them if they were in that situation.”
On December 25, the group have plans to organise a Christmas party for around 300 children in Kharkiv to spread more “Christmas cheer”.